Now that the Madison School Board election is over, the board should take a serious look at reforming how elections are organized. The system of electing members on a districtwide basis from numbered seats worked reasonably well until this year. But the challenges that arose in the District 5 race after one of two primary winners quit the contest identified vulnerabilities in the process.
T.J. Mertz and Sarah Manski won a primary that also included Ananda Mirilli. Manski then quit, leaving Mertz in a noncompetitive “contest.” We urged Mirilli to mount a write-in campaign and she seriously considered doing so. But she and her supporters determined that mounting a citywide run would be expensive and difficult. That was a credible conclusion. And it raises a question: Might there be a way to avoid such circumstances?
For instance, what if School Board members were elected from districts? With a smaller pool of voters in relatively tight-knit neighborhoods, it would be easier for all candidates, not just write-in contenders, to mount grass-roots campaigns. That could reduce the cost of campaigns and get candidates back on the doorsteps.
Another fix might be to have all candidates run in one citywide race, rather than for numbered seats. If six candidates were contending for three seats, one candidate could exit the contest and the competition would remain.
Some communities have employed instant runoff voting, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference rather than simply selecting a single candidate. Votes cast for the weakest candidates are transferred to stronger contenders, creating the purest reflection of voter preferences.
Much more on the 2013 Madison School Board elections, here.