Letter from Rob Richie
Dear Supporter of Fair Elections,
Thanks to support from you and from literally hundreds of other volunteers and donors, San Francisco made history exactly one year ago, on March 5, 2002 , when it became the first major American city to adopt instant runoff voting for all major offices.
It was a great victory, won over the opposition of downtown leaders who spent more than $100,000 in their efforts to maintain December runoff elections. These interests apparently prefer traditional delayed runoffs that, when compared to same-day instant runoff voting elections, increase candidates’ reliance on campaign donors, increase opportunities to attack opponents, decrease voter turnout and decrease opportunities to build coalitions across racial lines.
But the campaign is far from over. We need your renewed support to head off a below-the-radar campaign to keep the status quo.
Yes, implementation of instant runoff voting (IRV) is very much at risk. Despite ongoing pressure and assistance from our San Francisco staffers Caleb Kleppner and Steven Hill, opponents have started a whisper campaign that IRV won’t be in place this fall, leading to several news articles repeating these doubts – never mind the unambiguous language in the charter amendment approved by voters. Even more worrisome, city bureaucrats have completely stalled in establishing new voting procedures, apparently counting on the fact that the City will have to postpone this year’s IRV elections if they aren’t ready to hold them.
Fortunately, we have many allies, including a majority of the Board of Supervisors, new California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and the City’s leading civic groups. We also know that there is absolutely no technical reason to avoid implementing IRV. But the clock is ticking.
We are taking several steps to ensure San Francisco respects the will of its voters. Tonight, we will pack a meeting of the Election Commission, with letters from a wide array of civic and political leaders calling for implementation of IRV. We are preparing for the possibility that if the City fails to adapt its voting equipment, it must count IRV ballots by hand, not postpone the elections. We are working every possible inside connection, yet at the same time are planning for public protests at City Hall and even a major lawsuit.
In short, in the tradition of our campaign to win IRV last year, we simply will refuse to lose.
Once we win the battle assuring a 2003 election with IRV, our job in San Francisco of course will be far from over. We must keep the pressure on to ensure instant runoff voting is implemented well. We will pursue effective community education efforts to help voters understand IRV, partnering with groups that work with people of color and language minorities. We will track and assist the City in every step it takes to run these elections, highlighting and correcting any decision that could undercut a smooth election.
The stakes in this year’s effort are high. The future of the IRV movement may well depend on a successful IRV election in San Francisco because so many cities, counties and states are watching this election. If things go smoothly, we expect the reform to spread rapidly in the next few years to cities around California and states across the nation. But a poorly run election could kill interest in many areas currently considering IRV.
Ann Arbor, Michigan provides one example. Its 1975 mayoral race was the last public election in the United States using IRV. Even though voter error decreased in half from the previous mayoral race held under traditional plurality rules and even though the system worked exactly as planned in ensuring the majority party won despite a split vote, a poorly run election killed IRV It took the city an entire week to determine a winner. Controversy swirled around the election, and IRV was repealed in a low-turnout special election the following spring.
We must avoid that fate in San Francisco, but it requires work. Since before Proposition A passed in March 2002, we’ve been working with the Department of Elections and other city officials on all aspects of implementation, including designing a comprehensive voter education program. We have held numerous meetings with community leaders and potential candidates.
We confront these great challenges in San Francisco even as at the same time we promote fair elections around the country. A dozen states have introduced IRV legislation this year, and several bills for IRV and full representation systems have a real chance to pass at least one house of a legislature. Colleges such as Duke, Vassar, William and Mary and University of California – Davis have adopted IRV. We are an indispensable resource for backers of these efforts.
Unfortunately, we face sharp reductions in foundation support. This is a problem affecting almost all non-profits, but particularly groups promoting new ideas. Last year for the second year in a row, we doubled our support from individuals, but lost several major grants. To maintain our current momentum for fair elections, we need even more support from individuals in 2003.
In short, you played a key role in passing Proposition A in San Francisco, and we need your support once again to make fair elections a reality in the United States. Could you make a generous contribution to preserve last year’s victory for IRV and ensure implementation goes successfully?
Finally, we are attaching an action alert to generate calls, faxes and letters to public officials urging them to sign a contract with the voting equipment vendor. We hope those of you in San Francisco can take a few minutes today to contact the public officials listed.
Rob Richie, executive director
P.S. Please note that two generous donors have joined to provide a $20,000 matching grant that ends on March 31. Every dollar you give this month will become two!
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