City Council Elections And Municipal Government

City councils are the elected legislative bodies in many municipalities across the country, but they aren’t always organized the same way. Although they universally are populated by officials who are elected by a vote of the city residents, their term lengths, districts and even titles can vary from one city to another.

Generally, a city is divided into political subdivisions called wards, the lines of which are usually re-drawn every ten years following the census reports. The elected Mayor usually has the sole task of redrawing those ward lines, although in some cities the mayor will do so with the advice or approval of city council. In partisan cities, the power of re-drawing ward lines can allow one political party to gerrymander wards to make sure that their representatives remain in power throughout the decade.

City councilpersons can be elected as representatives of a single ward or at-large. Ward councilpersons are elected only by the residents of the wards they reside in. At-large councilpersons, however, are voted upon by residents of the entire city. An example of division between ward councilpersons and at-large councilpersons could be something like this: in a city with four wards, council could be made up of four ward councilpersons, and three at-large councilpersons.

If a city has three at-large council seats, the usual way to elect representatives is to award the seats to the top three vote-getters in the race. In most instances, city council members are elected to two-year terms before they have to present themselves to the voters again for re-election.

Additionally, some cities also have an elected President of Council who acts as the leader of that legislative body. The way this position is selected differs from city to city; some cities make the top at-large vote getter the President of Council, others have it as a separately elected position, and still others allow the members of council to choose their own president.