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The city could shift from electing councilors by position to electing them from an at-large list.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Citizens of St. Helens can take a survey on how to elect city council members. St. Helens is seeking citizen input on exactly how City Council members will be elected in the future.

Currently, St. Helens and Scappoose have different methods of electing councilors.

In 1986, St. Helens adopted code amendments about election rules, creating specific four-year council positions that candidates can run for in an election. There are four council positions, plus the two-year mayoral term. Council terms run four years.

In Scappoose, it's a majority vote system. Under this system, if there are at least two council positions open, all of the candidates run in the same race. Candidates do not pick a specific seat to run for. During election night, voters can vote for as many candidates as there are seats open. Whichever candidates get the most votes are elected to the council.

St. Helens officials say they are considering adopting that model.

"St. Helens is considering moving to a majority vote election process for councilor positions," the city said in a statement announcing a survey for residents, which is intended to gauge public interest. "This would mean that every two years, registered voters of St. Helens would vote for their top two councilor candidates. The two councilor candidates with the top votes would fill the two open councilor's seats."

The change in procedure would, among other effects, prevent elections in which a councilor runs unopposed for his or her position because no one files to challenge them. As long as more candidates are running than the number of seats available, all of the seats will effectively be contested.

The mayor position would still be voted for separately from the four councilor positions.

Ginny Carlson is more than familiar with the current system in St. Helens. She was elected twice to the City Council but lost her position 4 seat to Jessica Chilton in the 2020 general election.

"I like it the way it is," Carlson said when asked about the election options. "The only way it might be better is if you divided it regionally. Senators and representatives represent their district, so they represent things that are unique to that area."

As an example, Carlson said, "I think a lot of people feel the push for the waterfront district, and if people live in the outskirts or suburb areas of town, they feel like nobody hears their voice."

Whichever election system St. Helens adopts, Carlson is happy citizens get a chance to provide input.

"I think more engagement is good," Carlson said. "I think any way you can engage the citizens to offer how they really want it is good. Negative or positive, feedback is good."

If you wish to register your opinion, you can visit the city website at sthelensoregon.gov and look for St. Helens Elections Survey.

The survey will be available until Sept. 13.


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