Task force to look at instant runoffs

By Craig Gustafson
Published February 7th 2006 in San Diego Union Tribune
For the first time in months, no one is actively campaigning in the city of San Diego.

With the short respite, the City Council yesterday unanimously approved creating a citizens task force to look at ways to make it easier to vote in the city.

The 10-member panel will examine the potential use of mail-only ballots and instant runoff voting for certain elections. It also will emphasize voter outreach and investigate the practicality of using a private vendor for election services.

The break from elections won't last long for city voters. Four council members are up for re-election June 6, and candidates can pick up nomination papers from the City Clerk's Office beginning tomorrow. Runoff elections, which occur when no candidate in a race receives more than 50 percent of the vote, would be Nov. 7.

Councilman Brian Maienschein, who voted against the task force when the idea came before a council committee, changed his mind yesterday, saying the panel could yield some results.

“I don't feel strongly enough that we couldn't get some, maybe one piece of good information out of this that might make it worth it. And I hope we do,” Maienschein said.

He reiterated his earlier position that many of the panel's duties could be performed by the city clerk or elected officials.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer said he strongly supported the task force, especially if it looks at instant runoff voting.

“Under the right set of circumstances, that's something that can definitely work in the city,” Faulconer said.

He said it could save time and money.

Instant runoff voting allows voters to rank candidates by preference – first choice, second, third, etc. – on a single ballot. If no one receives a majority, the candidate with the least amount of first-place votes is eliminated. Voters who select that candidate have their second choice selected in an instant runoff. The process continues until one candidate has a majority.

Each council member and the mayor will appoint someone to the task force, which also will include City Clerk Elizabeth Maland as the chairwoman. Maland said the council's Rules Committee would develop a timeline for the panel's work.