Logan Municipal Council Member Jess Bradfield wants to switch voting in future city elections from at-large to by-district. However, the mayor and other members of the council aren’t sure right before an upcoming election is the best time to have the discussion.
“We can always have a conversation,” said Logan Mayor Holly Daines. “If it is going to happen, I think maybe January would be a good time. There will potentially be some new people there in the decisionmaking seats.”
According to Bradfield, the issue of by-district voting in Logan has been on his mind for a while. Any changes made to the process would not go into effect until the city’s 2021 election, however Bradfield said he wants to have the conversation now while residents are thinking about voting.
Currently, Bradfield is the only member of the council who lives on the west side of Logan. During his campaign two years ago, Bradfield said he ran on the platform of being a voice for the west side of the city and it is important to him to ensure this representation continues.
“This proposal (for by-district voting) is a more fair and equitable distribution of city council members throughout the city,” Bradfield said.
History of Logan Municipal Council elections
Logan Municipal Council candidates have always been elected through an at-large process. Currently, candidates do not run for a specific seat, rather, residents can vote for as many candidates as there are seats open. Those with the most votes in a primary then move on to the general election, and those with the most votes in a general election are elected.
Prior to 2008, the seats on the Logan Municipal Council were numbered and candidates chose which seat they wanted to run for. The seats were still all at-large, so all Logan residents voted for all of the council members and anyone in the city could run for any of the seats. In theory, this meant a candidate for one seat could run unopposed while multiple candidates ran for another.
According to Logan City Attorney Kymber Housely, when the ordinance was changed in 2008, the hope was this would lead to better candidates being elected and keep the elections more civil since candidates would not be running head-to-head.
The first public mention Bradfield made of his proposal for by-district voting was at the Oct. 1 Municipal Council meeting, although he said he had discussed it in private with some of the council members on other occasions.
When it comes to creating voter districts, Bradfield has said he would either like to see the entire city split up into five voting districts or see there be two districts, one on the east and one on the west, which would each elect two council members and then have one council member elected at-large.
According to Bradfield, the west side of Logan is home to more lower income, minority and transient members of the city. Because these populations are statistically less likely to vote, this makes it harder for them to have representation on the council, Bradfield said. He sees voter districts as a way to address this challenge.
“This is an opportunity for west-side residents to feel like they have a voice in the process,” Bradfield said, “to feel like somebody is listening to their concerns and try to get them energized, to show up and vote and have a voice. And that is why it is so important that it is right now.”
At the previous council meeting, Bradfield said he would be presenting his ordinance idea and the reasoning behind it as a workshop item at the next Municipal Council meeting, scheduled for Oct. 15.
Concerns and objections
Discussion on the issue has been included on Tuesday’s agenda, however, it is listed as an “other consideration,” rather than a workshop item because Council Chairperson Jeannie Simmonds said it isn’t ready to be a workshop item.
“When we workshop things they have been vetted through legal, they’ve been vetted through planning or gone through Rich (Anderson, the city’s finance director) or something like that, and they are ready for us to vote up or down,” Simmonds said.
In the case of Council Member Herm Olsen’s proposal to ban single-use plastic bags earlier this year, Simmonds said Olsen also took the time to meet with council members one-on-one in private before the ordinance became a workshop item. This meant that by the time the council was discussing the matter, they knew what to expect.
When it comes to Bradfield’s ordinance, Simmonds said the Oct. 1 meeting was the first time she heard about it.
“There was no conversation ahead of time, so we were all pretty startled. We didn’t know why now. We didn’t know where it came from,” Simmonds said.
Although Daines does remember Bradfield mentioning this issue in private before the Oct. 1 meeting, she said she was also surprised when he brought it up. Beyond that, she said, it is not a proposal that she supports.
“What could be more democratic than letting the voters choose between all of the candidates?” Daines said.
Daines is opposed to the proposal for a few reasons, including a concern about what would happen if no one ran for a seat in one district and a concern about not getting the strongest candidates elected to the council. She also said head-to-head races seem to lead to more personal attacks on candidates.
“I’ve seen from the council races they tend to be much more issue focused because they don’t have to run against a particular individual,” Daines said.
During the Oct. 1 meeting, Olsen said he had “always liked the notion that regardless of where I live, when I run, I run to hopefully represent all of the citizens.”
Daines and Simmonds agreed with this sentiment.
“I care about the whole city, and my view in general is our council members have done the same,” Daines said.”
Simmonds echoed the concern Daines had about what would happen if no one in a particular district ran for office. Right now, Daines has been working on reinstating neighborhood councils and has not been able to find a chair for the Bridger council.
“I think everybody is willing to consider the idea” of by-district voting, Simmonds said. “I don’t know whether they are in favor of it or not. But that is to be seen. It is a huge change for Logan.”
A statewide view
Across the state, the majority of city council members are elected at-large. Cameron Diehl of the Utah League of Cities and Towns said approximately 15 cities utilize districts in their council elections. In some communities this is a hybrid where a few at-large members are also elected, while in others each council member is elected by one specific district.
Although by-district voting happens in the minority of municipalities throughout the state, in Salt Lake County most of the city councils have districts. There may be a historic reason for this pattern, but Diehl is not familiar with what it would be.
Diehl said many larger cities in Utah use by-district voting, however, this is not a rule. Orem, St. George and Layton are three examples of larger cities where all council members are elected at-large.
Many of the cities in the state that are comparable to Logan in size, such as Herriman, Murry, Millcreek, Draper and Riverton (all Salt Lake County cities), use by-district voting on their councils. However, Roy and Bountiful are also similar in size and elect their council at-large.
Diehl said there are pros and cons to each form and it really depends on how community members feel they are best represented.
“If you have a city that elects by district, you ensure that there is geographic diversity on your city council,” Diehl said. “That’s the pro. A potential con of geographic diversity is the perception that you are only looking out for your district and not the whole city.”
While many of the council members want to slow the by-district discussion down, Bradfield doesn’t feel there is a reason to wait.
“You can always make that argument (that it isn’t the right time), that there is more data that you need to wait for,” Bradfield said. “But the data that is publicly available as of right now all concludes that now is the time to have this discussion before we get too far into the next council session and people move on from the thought of voting.”