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Blackfoot, Idaho Falls will pay for mayor, city council runoffs

Election Day was Tuesday, but two cities will still have to decide on a few of their elected officials in a runoff December 3. But what is a runoff election and, more importantly, how much does it cost?

Three local cities have a “50 plus one” rule. That means a candidate needs to get 50 percent of the vote, plus one additional vote to get the seat available. Some cities have that both for the mayor and City Council, others for just the mayor. Blackfoot, Pocatello and Idaho Falls are two such cities.

Because Blackfoot’s mayoral candidates, and the Idaho Falls City Council candidates did not get that “50 plus one,” there will be a runoff election.

With a runoff election, each position only has two people running for each: the two people who received the most votes on Tuesday’s election. But for each city, the runoff will cost several thousand dollars.

One of the main questions with a runoff election is why it exists in the first place. Many people feel if you’ve already cast your vote and a candidate has the majority, that should be enough. But current Blackfoot Mayor Mike Virtue said that’s not always the best way to go.

“Shouldn’t the mayor who’s going to run the city have some size of a mandate?” Virtue said Wednesday afternoon. “Shouldn’t it be at least 50 percent of the population or the voters that want them? You could argue that, too.”

With Blackfoot’s mayor race now between Paul Loomis and Dan Cravens, Blackfoot residents will have to hit the polls again, this time for a cost. Idaho Falls residents will have to do the same to decide their City Council.

Every May and November there’s an election, Bingham County will run the election at no cost to the city. Because Blackfoot has this special mayoral runoff, that’s going to cost about $7,000.

Virtue said the city budgeted for that cost, as they assumed there would be a larger candidate pool without Virtue bidding for mayor again. That cost is 20 percent of Bonneville County’s project cost for the runoff — $35,000.

The money pays for the equipment, and ballots, but the majority goes to pay the poll workers, and their rate of pay varies by county. Bonneville County pays $8.50 an hour, with about 140 poll workers on the job for 16 hours.

Blackfoot is a little different, as Virtue said the paid people usually hand-count the ballots and they have a large amount of volunteers.

“Once all the ballots are collected, put in the box and transferred, you’ve got people who are primarily paid to do the counting side,” Virtue said.

Virtue also addressed low voter turnout, as he said it’s common for local elections. Blackfoot had about 12 percent of registered voters actually vote.

“The people have a voice, and the voice and the power is in the vote,” Virtue said. “If you don’t take advantage of that, then where are we in terms of exercising that right and freedom we were given?”

The runoff elections for Blackfoot and Idaho Falls will take place on Dec. 3. There will also be the option to vote by absentee ballot.

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