Even its detractors have been treating the first election under the Voter-Owned Elections (VOE) system as a test run—a dress rehearsal, in a sense, to get the city ready for the day it goes live with multiple qualifying candidates. And with Erik Sten, the proverbial director of the drama, taking the lead role, anti-VOE watchers were crossing their fingers for the curtain to fall early.

A week after polls closed, the county's elections numbers are still being treated as unofficial, but it appears certain that Sten managed to barely squeak past the 50-percent-plus minimum he needed to avoid a run-off with VOE foe Ginny Burdick. Many of Burdick's campaign backers were the same people who funded the First Things First Committee's failed repeal of public campaigns—their failure meant that the public still wouldn't be able to vote on the system. But, in March, Burdick said in an interview with the Mercury that if Sten won the race by a large majority (he did, 50.5 percent to her 27.3 percent), she would take it as proof that voters approve of the system.

However, in the other contested race, incumbent Dan Saltzman handily trounced Amanda Fritz—who, as the first candidate to qualify for public funds, was largely seen as the poster child for the VOE system. That she lost didn't come as a surprise to most observers—winning against an incumbent is extraordinarily difficult. The only way to unseat an incumbent (assuming they're not universally hated) is to considerably outspend them; with Fritz limited to $150,000 in public funds and Saltzman pledging to keep his spending to a similar number, Fritz had no opportunity to spend more money.

What did come as a surprise, however, was the overwhelming margin by which she lost (24.5 percent to Saltzman's 57.6 percent).

"Regardless of the count, we had the chance to compete with an incumbent," Fritz said on election night, an hour after the first numbers were released. "Without Voter-Owned Elections, we really wouldn't have had that chance. There's so much more to incumbency than just money, but at least the money makes it possible to compete."

The downtown business community is expected to attempt another repeal of public campaigns during this November's general election. If the system survives, it'll get its next trial run in May 2008.