solution to the electoral meltdown
For the past month, San Diego voters have been witnessing the
breakdown of the method used to elect the mayor. That method is so
confusing that San Diego still does not know the winner four weeks
after the election. Blame and finger pointing are dividing the city.
The legal costs of several lawsuits, as well as the expense of an
unnecessary second election to determine the winner, is hitting
taxpayers in the wallet.
The fundamental problem springs from using a March primary
followed by a November runoff between the top two candidates to
elect the mayor. The goal of the November runoff – to make sure
the winner has support from a majority of voters – is
praiseworthy. But when a third candidate, Donna Frye, entered the
November election as a write-in candidate, it threw a wrench into
Some are trying to blame Donna Frye. But Frye's reasons for
entering the runoff as a write-in also were praiseworthy – she
wanted to offer a choice to voters. Based on her winning over a
third of the vote and placing second, it would appear that many
voters agreed with her.
In a sense, both sides are right. Unfortunately, the current
method for electing the mayor pits two praiseworthy democratic goals
against each other – giving voters adequate choice in the voting
booth versus electing leaders that have support from a majority of
Fortunately, it's possible for San Diego voters to have their
cake and eat it too. There is another way to elect the mayor and
other offices that not only would preserve voters' choice and
majority winners, but also would save San Diego taxpayers millions
That method is called instant runoff voting. It achieves the goal
of a runoff election – majority rule – in a single election,
even as it allows multiple candidates to run, offering real choice
With instant runoff voting, voters rank their favorite candidates
on their ballot, 1, 2, 3. If your first-choice candidate is
eliminated, your vote goes to your second choice as your backup
candidate. If any candidate wins a majority of first-rankings, she
or he wins. If no candidate has a majority, the "instant"
runoff begins. Last-placed candidates are eliminated one by one,
until one candidate ends up with support from over 50 percent of the
voters, and he or she is elected – without the cost and hassle of
a second election.
Using instant runoff voting, San Diego could decide the mayor's
race in one election in November. By making their choice in just one
election, San Diego taxpayers would save millions of tax dollars
currently spent on running two elections instead of one. Candidates
wouldn't need to raise more money for a second election, which would
hold down campaign costs. And candidacies like those mounted by
Donna Frye could be encouraged rather than suppressed, so that
voters feel like they have a real choice and turn out to vote.
Voters would be liberated to vote for the candidates they really
like instead of always picking the "lesser of two evils"
or worrying about spoilers.
On Nov. 2, San Francisco used instant runoff voting to fill seven
seats on its Board of Supervisors. Not only were majority winners
announced in one election, but the Los Angeles Times and San
Francisco Chronicle reported that it had another surprising effect
that will be of interest to San Diego voters – reducing negative
campaigning and fostering more positive, issue-based campaigns.
That's because with instant runoff voting, candidates must seek
to win by attracting the second or third rankings from the
supporters of other candidates. This incentive caused many San
Francisco candidates to build coalitions together, even hold joint
fund-raisers and rank each other on campaign literature, instead of
tearing down their opponents through attack-style campaigning.
The Utah Republican Party also uses instant runoff voting to
nominate its congressional and gubernatorial candidates, and Ireland
and Australia have used instant runoff voting for decades to elect
their highest offices. Santa Clara County and several other
California cities also have passed pro-instant runoff voting
measures. Instant runoff voting has been drawing national attention,
with support from Republicans and Democrats such as John McCain and
Howard Dean. Legislative bills have been introduced into 22 states.
As the mayoral race lumbers to a finish, it's a good time to
reflect on the current electoral method that has broken down so
badly. Instant runoff voting would elect mayors with majority
support in one election, encourage innovative candidates and the
voters that support them, and save millions of tax dollars currently
spent on an unnecessary second election. That sounds like a real