I have heard a lot of talk recently of partisan municipal elections. There seems to be a lot of excitement about this as an opportunity to build the Republican brand. However, I’m concerned that this opportunity will favor Democrats.
Municipal elections are at large. Taking advantage of a partisan at-large election requires a disciplined, unified party. Republicans currently seem to be less unified than Democrats in Tennessee these days.
Let’s play out the math. Say a municipality is 70% Republican, 30% Democrat. Three city commission seats are on the ballot. Ten people run. Seven republicans and three democrats are on the ballot.
Say one of the seven republicans is immensely popular. Every republican gives him one of their three votes, and he comes away with 70% of the vote. The remaining six republicans get an average of 23% of the vote.
The democrats on the other hand all vote for people with (D)s after their names, and each candidate picks up 30% of the vote. Democrats take 2 of the 3 open seats.
Of course a divided Republican Party hurts us even in nonpartisan elections, but in the above example, all things being equal, republicans would win 2 if not all 3 seats in a nonpartisan election. Voters casting their second or third pick randomly would cancel each other out. However, if only 25% of Democrats who would have otherwise chosen a third democrat in a partisan election voted for a republican in a nonpartisan election due to name recognition, republicans would be favored to pick up all three seats.
In sum, I fear that the current state of our party will be harmed by partisan elections in the municipal level. We may be handing Democrats the very advantages we hope to gain by this legislation.