By Mary Thurwachter
Lantana Town Council members say it’s time to ditch election runoffs and have approved putting a voter referendum on the issue on the March 14 ballot.
Currently, a Town Council candidate must receive at least one more than 50% of the votes in a race to be elected. If no candidate gets a majority, then a runoff election is held between the two candidates receiving the most votes in the race.
The majority vote requirement has been in effect for decades, but a forced runoff in two council elections this year has council members wondering if that’s the best option. Freshman council member Kem Mason and Vice Mayor Pro Tem Lynn “Doc” Moorhouse both won runoffs in 2022, the first time a Lantana election needed a runoff.
Many municipalities no longer have runoffs. Instead, they use a plurality system, where the candidate receiving the highest number of votes in a race — whether or not it is a majority — is the victor.
Town Attorney Max Lohman said changing the election system requires a change in the town’s charter, something the council cannot do on its own. Voters get to decide the fate of any proposed charter changes.
Mason asked to discuss the issue at the council’s Nov. 14 meeting. He said he had to spend extra money for his runoff, but he said that wasn’t the reason the move toward plurality should be considered.
“It’s costing the town money,” Mason said. He didn’t think it was necessary.
Moorhouse said the extra trip to the polls in 2022 cost taxpayers $50,000 — although Town Clerk Kathleen Dominguez, reached after the meeting, said it was actually $21,728.55 for two runoffs.
“It’s going to save the town some money,” Moorhouse said of the proposal, adding, “A lot of people didn’t even know there was a runoff election.”
Council member Mark Zeitler, who is seeking re-election in March, had concerns that the issue was added to the Nov. 14 council agenda at the last minute.
Zeitler questioned the fairness of plurality. While it may be quick, Zeitler said, more people can vote against the eventual winner than for him or her. He felt the system could be manipulated.
He also said he felt misled following former Mayor Robert Hagerty’s Oct. 12 resignation. At the time, the council decided to continue with four members until the March election. Zeitler said he was told that nothing major would be coming up for a vote before March, only “housekeeping in nature” matters would be addressed.
“I don’t think this is housekeeping in nature,” he said.
Vice Mayor Karen Lythgoe, who is serving as temporary mayor, said she was ambivalent about which voting system was better. “I’ve talked to voters and some are for the change and some are against it. It’s not often voters can make a decision on something we do. This is one time they can.”
The council held a special meeting Nov. 29 for the needed second reading on the proposal. Several residents spoke both for and against the change. The council voted the same as it did at the earlier meeting. Moorhouse, Mason and Lythgoe voted for, and Zeitler voted against, meaning the question will be on the March ballot.