Sparta voters nix municipal run-off elections

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:14

    Sparta — Voters will no longer get a 'do-over’ in municipal elections if one candidate does not win 50 per cent of the vote plus one. Run-off elections are unique to municipalities with Faulkner Act forms of government and Sparta has had its share of eventful run-offs. In 2006, 2008, and 2010, Sparta’s run-off elections have been game-changers for some candidates. But from now on, for Sparta Township Council candidates, that second chance to make a first impression is a thing of the past. The municipal question posed to voters on Nov. 8 was whether or not to abolish the practice of run-off elections. Of Sparta citizens who cast ballots last week, 2,365 voted yes while 585 voted no. That means that 80 percent of voters opted to do away with those notorious Sparta 'do-overs’ in municipal elections. The run-off elections cost just as much as the regular elections, which is around $15,000 each, and they were held only one month later. The speedy turn-around kept municipal clerks spinning as they raced to manage all the administrative tasks necessary for an election. Mayor Jerry Murphy said the change in practice is good for the sake of efficiency, and added that it is also better for the economy. He said, “It’s a good thing to save taxpayer dollars.” Since Sparta has had run-offs in the last three council elections, the township has spent an extra $50,000 for voters to re-think their decisions. However, Murphy is one who benefitted from the run-off election of 2008. Voters were asked to select two candidates for council seats and in the general election, Murphy came in last in a field of four, with Chris Curry as the top vote-getter. In the subsequent run-off election, Murphy came in second, with Scott Seelagy as the top voter and both were reelected. Curry dropped to third place. In 2006, only eight votes separated Ailish Hambel and Michael Spekhardt in the number three spot in the general election, with Hambel at 1,030 votes and Spekhardt at 1,022 votes. Manny Goldberg was the top vote-getter with 1,279 votes and Brian Brady was number two with 1,150 votes. In the subsequent 2006 run-off, Goldberg kept the top spot with 1,624 votes, Brady kept the number two spot with 1,323, but Spekhardt edged in front of Hambel for the third council seat with 1,252 votes, just ten more than Hambel’s 1,242 votes. In 2010, John Schon and Molly Whilesmith were the top two vote-getters and retained those positions in the run-off. But it was the third spot which was very close and the results changed in the run-off. Robert Spetz received 941 votes, Gilbert Gibbs received 835, and Jesse Wolosky was a close third for the third council seat with 829 votes, which was number four in the field of eight candidates. In the run-off election, Gibbs was the winner of the third council seat with 1,025 votes, just ahead of Spetz who received 1,007 votes. Wolosky dropped to 693 votes, which was last in the field of six candidates remaining in the run-off. Going forward, Sparta voters will no longer get to re-scrutinize candidates for council seats. No matter how close the votes are, and even if no one gets that 50 per cent plus one vote, the top vote-getters the first time around will win.