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Nonpartisan city election on the ballot


October 21, 2013

According to Havre City Councilman Andrew Brekke, there is a growing belief among Havreites that there is no Republican way to run the sewage treatment plant or a Democratic way to plow the snow off of streets.

So why, he asks, are we still electing the mayor and City Council on a partisan basis.

So Brekke proposed a referendum to change city elections to be nonpartisan. While Brekke doubles as Hill County Republican chair, his proposal has received widespread backing from people in both parties.

When he presented it to City Council, the first to speak out in favor was Councilman Allen “Woody” Woodwick, vice chair of Hill County Democrats.

No organized opposition has surfaced.

Voters will decide on the proposal in ballots that were mailed out last week. They must be returned to the Hill County Clerk and Recorder’s office by Tuesday, Nov. 5.

While sometimes council has gotten involved in partisan bickering, Brekke said, most issues that come before council do not have Republican or Democratic solutions.

Partisan tumult in Washington, D.C., has turned people off to partisan politics, he said.

Under the proposal, he said, Democratic and Republican organizations would still be allowed to recruit candidates and campaign for them, but not donate money, he said. But party designations would not appear on the ballot.

The political designations are what discourage potential candidates from running, he said.

He said if people did not have to be listed on the ballot as a Republican or Democrat, they would be more willing to come forward, he predicted.

In recruiting candidates this year, Brekke said, many people were reluctant to run because of the partisan designations, he said.

Of the five City Council open seats in this year’s election, only one — Ward 4 — is contested. In the other four races, Democrats are unopposed.

The present system discriminates against people who want to run as independents, Brekke said. While Republicans and Democrats have to only declare their candidacies, independents have to circulate petitions to get on the ballot.

Under the new system, everyone would be considered an independent, but no one would have to circulate petitions.

Most Montana cities have already adopted nonpartisan elections, he said.

“As far as I know, no one who has adopted nonpartisan elections has gone back,” he said.

Havre voters have turned down the idea of nonpartisan elections in the past, but only as a part of a larger package of city government reforms.


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