Boise has actually held at least four mayoral runoff races. How they played out

The upcoming mayoral runoff election in Boise isn’t the city’s first after all.

City and county officials consulted by the Idaho Statesman said they thought it was, and the Statesman reported that, as did other news outlets in Boise. On Thursday, though, a Statesman reader with a long memory pointed out that it’s not true.

“Many of the local news outlets say that this the first runoff for Boise mayor in history,” Sidney Asker wrote in a letter to the editor. “They must mean recent history.”

Alas, we wish we did mean that. We were simply wrong.

On Thursday, we consulted a higher authority: Brandi Burns, history programs manager for the Boise Department of Arts and History. She said runoffs have decided at least two elections. Asker pointed out a third in his letter; the Statesman independently found a fourth.

The first that city officials are aware of was in 1939, Burns said. That was between Mayor J. L. Edlefsen and James Straight, the top two vote-getters in a field of five. Straight won the runoff and was mayor for two years.

That second that Burns found was in 1959 between incumbent R. E. Edlefsen — son of J.L. — and Robert L. Day, whom the Statesman described as a “real estate man and a newcomer to city politics.” Day won.

In 1963, Mayor Eugene Shellworth sought a second term. He faced two candidates: C. Leo Holt and Jay. S. Amyx. Shellworth faced Holt in a runoff and won. (A Statesman reporter found this one Thursday.)

Two years later, Shellworth, Holt and Amyx all faced off again. (Mayoral terms were still two years then.) This is the runoff that Asker told us about.

The Statesman called the 1965 election the “same race re-run” and a “relatively dull campaign.” Shellworth came up only 243 votes shy of an Election Day victory when he won 48.3% of the 14,126 votes cast. Amyx took second place, but he won the runoff, leading a wave of defeats for every incumbent candidate in the city.

Amyx held the job until 1974, serving two four-year terms.

At some point by 1969, the runoff was stricken from city code. (Burns was unable to say when, and a search of the Statesman’s archives did not immediately turn up an answer.)

The runoff requirement that Boise has now went into place in 2003.

Although mayoral and City Council races are nonpartisan, Republicans Chuck Winder and Vaughn Killeen were running against a Democratic state legislator, David Bieter, that year. Members of the GOP-dominated council were worried that Winder and Killeen would split the vote and Bieter would win the seat by winning a plurality — not a majority — of the votes.

So the council changed city code a few months before the election to require a runoff if no candidate won a majority, defined as 50% plus one. Bieter ended up taking 52%, winning the seat outright. He was re-elected in 2007, 2011 and 2015.

It’s that 2003 ordinance that determined Tuesday that Bieter would have to face City Council President Lauren McLean in a runoff. In a field of seven candidates, McLean took 45.7% of the vote, while Bieter took 30.3%.

The runoff will be held Dec. 3.

And if you uncover any other runoffs we’ve missed, let us know!

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.