Last evening (August 27, 2019) the Lowell City Council chose the two finalists of the six voting system options presented by the settlement of the federal Voting Rights lawsuit brought against the city in 2017. The vote was unanimous, 8 to 0 (Councilor Cirillo was absent) for the two finalists which were:
Option 2B – Mixed District and At Large (8/3). Eight council districts with one elected from each plus three councilors elected citywide. Four school committee districts (each consisting of two council districts) with one member elected from each plus two members elected citywide. Mayor elected as before and serves as seventh member of the school committee. Membership of council would increase from current 9 to 11.
Option 3 – Ranked Choice Voting. Same system as currently in place with nine councilors and six school committee members all elected at-large citywide, except ranked choice voting is used.
These two options will go on the ballot as non-binding referendum questions in the November 5, 2019 city election. I believe they will be presented as two separate questions rather than a single “either/or” question. Regardless of how people vote, councilors will be required to select one of these as the system to be used in the 2021 election and beyond. That selection must be made by December 3, 2019 in accordance with the terms of the settlement.
I’ll revisit this issue from time to time to discuss the good and bad of both of these options. For now, I’ll close by saying that my prediction in Sunday’s blog post was accurate. Here is what I wrote then:
What do I think is going to happen Tuesday night? I predict that Option 2B (8 district and 3 at large councilors) will be one of the finalists selected by councilors. This “hybrid” system seems to be what everyone was expecting, mostly because that’s what is used in other Massachusetts cities like Boston, Springfield and Lawrence. While councilors voting for the 8/3 mix might get some grief for increasing the size of the council by two members, the other mixed options provide only one or two at-large councilors, hardly enough to make any difference (and much harder to get elected to if you’re an incumbent).
I predict that Option 3 (Ranked Choice Voting) will be the second finalist. This option seems the least disruptive in that it does not require districts to be drawn and it also gives current incumbents hope of re-election in the future since at least some of them would be ousted in a mostly district system given where they all live.