Commentary by Ken Russell, Candidate for District 2 Commissioner in Miami
At the moment there are eight candidates running for City Commissioner in Miami's District 2. The narrative is shaping up to be an incumbent by proxy (wife of current Commissioner Sarnoff) challenged by seven new candidates. Although the Snow-White-and-the-Seven-Dwarfs jokes have not yet begun, I have heard the cynical thought many times that the more challengers there are, the more the vote will split, allowing an incumbent win. The thought is that since the seven challengers may have a similar anti-incumbent-vote-for-change platform, that the actual anti-incumbent votes will be diluted amongst them, allowing Sarnoff the majority and the win.
That's no joke, but it is a false argument. If our election system were a simple plurality with the most votes determining the winner, it would be correct-- but it's not. In such a case, for example, the seven challengers could hypothetically each average 12% of the votes totaling 84%. Sarnoff could get the remaining 16% of the votes and still win because her 16% would be greater than any of the individuals with 12%. This would be a classic case of splitting the vote. Had there been only one anti-incumbent candidate, they would have garnered the 84% and won.
However, This does NOT apply to our system of voting for this race. We do not use a simple plurality to determine the winner. In a Miami City Commissioner election, the winner must have more than 50% of the total votes cast in November-- Otherwise, a second round run-off election is held between the top two candidates. In that runoff, again, the candidate with more than 50% of the votes is the winner. If the hypothetical split above were to happen in this case, Sarnoff would not win with 16%, but would be forced to a runoff with whomever was closest to her. If it can be assumed that the seven challengers are gathering the anti-sarnoff vote, then the supporters of the six candidates not in the runoff would tend to vote against Sarnoff and flock to that remaining challenger.
The 2011 election is often referenced as a splitting of the vote that allowed Sarnoff to beat four challengers. Again, however, this isn't true. Even if there were only ONE challenger that combined all of the anti-Sarnoff votes from all four challengers, they still did not add up to a majority that would have beat Sarnoff. He received 52% of the votes in the initial round so there was no runoff. It was a pure majority. The fact is that his absentee ballot count made up for half of his votes and were the true determining factor. Don't blame it on a split.
In this race, we have seven unique challengers who, yes, will have many over-lapping votes in the anti-incumbent pool. But they will also grow the overall pool, attracting more voters and thus diluting the strength of the incumbent's existing votes. So I think it's a good thing. The more the merrier. It's a call for change.
The only merit to the vote-splitting argument is if the challenging candidates do not make a name for themselves. If they collectively spend their time talking about Sarnoff and not their own platform, the only name that will be remembered by the voters is Sarnoff... Wait a second... I've just spent an entire page mentioning her name a dozen times. Great. I've got some work to do. Should I type "Vote for Ken Russell" twelve times now?
Regardless, let's stop bashing the multiple candidates for getting involved. Meet them all, choose one, and for the love of the Lord, get out and VOTE. If your favorite candidate doesn't win in the first round, vote for your second favorite in the second round. If we don't show up on election day, we can't blame the outcome on the splitting of the vote, and the only winner will be APATHY -- And who wants four years of Commissioner Apathy?
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