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How are city councils elected?

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Quick Answer

There are three common types of city council elections: an at-large election, a district-based election and a combination of the two. The type of election varies by municipality but is influenced by the nature of the constituency and the type of ballot used.

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How are city councils elected?
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Full Answer

Municipalities utilize either a partisan or nonpartisan ballot. A partisan ballot indicates the candidates and their affiliated party, while a nonpartisan ballot does not provide party labels.

Proponents of the more popular nonpartisan election process claim that political parties are irrelevant to public service and the absence of political affiliation encourages cooperation between elected city councilmen and women. Opponents of nonpartisan process claim that the absence of party labels can confuse voters and turn an election into a glorified guessing game.

The majority of American municipalities use some form of an at-large election to nominate their city councilmen and women. These elections feature candidates from the entire city: candidates are not nominated or representative of a particular district. The at-large system elects city council members to serve the entire city and not specific districts or neighborhoods.

A district election selects single councilmen and women form corresponding geographical districts or wards of the municipality. Larger cities with populations exceeding 200,000 are more likely to employ district elections.

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