IRV for Austin, TX
  • Guarantees majority winner in a single election
  • Eliminates costly second round runoff
  • Saves taxpayer money
  • Increases voter participation
  • Decreases cost to campaigns
FAQ

What’s the Law?

In a city with over 200,000 citizens, candidates must be elected by a majority.

How do we interpret this law?

Currently with more than two candidates, this law is interpreted by a second round runoff when a majority of first place votes is not obtained by a single candidate. The candidate(s) with the least support is eliminated, and the people are required to come to the polls again to cast their vote for the remaining candidates.

What are the drawbacks of the current system?

High Taxpayer Costs          
In the last 13 city elections since 1981, we have had 12 second round runoffs. The most recent runoff in 2000 cost the taxpayers $420,000!

Low Voter Participation         
A vast majority of second round runoff elections result in a much lower voter turnout than the initial election. With the initial election rarely being definitive, voter participation has dropped from 38% in 1981 to less than 5% in 2000.

High Campaign Costs
We would all like to make running for public office less expensive, which would even the playing field for candidates. Eliminating the need for an additional campaign for the second round runoff will do this. Recent runoff candidates have spent an additional $20,000 to $50,000.

What is the solution?
Instant Runoff Voting provides a majority winner with multiple candidates in a single election, eliminating the need for a costly second round runoff.

How does IRV work?
Instead of just voting for a single candidate, you rank the candidates in order of your preference, 1-2-3.

Scenario One
Initially, only the first place choices of the candidates are tallied. If a majority winner is reached, the election is final.

Scenario Two
If a majority winner is not obtained by the initial count of first choices, the candidate with the least support is eliminated - just as in the current system. But instead of asking all of Austin to return to the polls for a runoff, ballots are simply recounted after the elimination. If your first choice has lost, your vote counts for your second choice. This process of counting and recounting the votes continues until there is a majority winner.

Who’s on board?
Austin community groups who have endorsed IRV:
NAACP * PODER * Gray Panthers * Libertarian Party
Austin Neighborhood Council * South Austin Democrats * NOW
Austin Democracy Coalition * Green Party

State-wide organizations who have endorsed IRV:
Sierra Club * Public Citizen * Texans for Public Justice
Common Cause * Texas Campaign for the Environment

In addition, distinguished Austinites such as:
Jim Hightower
State Rep. Glen Maxey
Former City Council Member Bill Spelman
Director of “Slacker” Richard Linklater
Community Activist Clint Smith
Former City Council Candidate Clare Barry
Neighborhood Association Jim Walker

What’s the plan, Stan?
We are lobbying city council to place Instant Runoff Voting before the voters. We need the support of 5 of 7 members before November.

What can I do?
  • Call and write city council. Tell them you would like IRV placed before the citizens on the next ballot with other city charter amendments.
  • Write the local papers with letters to the editor or an op-ed.
  • Call radio chows to discuss IRV election reform. It saves Austinites money and time with better representation. 
Contacts

City Council
kirk.watson@ci.austin.tx.us 499-2250 (term expires May 2003)
jackie.goodman@ci.austin.tx.us 499-2255 (term expires May 2002)
raul.alvarez@ci.austin.tx.us 499-2264 (term expires May 2003)
daryl.slusher@ci.austin.tx.us 499-2260 (term expires May 2002)
danny.thomas@ci.austin.tx.us 499-2266 (term expires May 2003)
will.wynn@ci.austin.tx.us 499-2256 (term expires May 2003)
beverly.griffith@ci.austin.tx.us 499-2258 (term expires May 2002)

Please read through the talking points below and contact the council members and local papers about this issue.

Stay informed: Join the Texas IRV listserve

IRV State Contact: David Cobb o 713.880.3219 m 713.444.6592 cobbweb@fairvote.org

IRV Travis County Contact: Jim Reed 512.472.1059 politicalwhip@yahoo.com

Resources (below)

  • IRV talking Points
  • Appendix A Relevant sections of the Austin City Council created Charter Commission in 2000 to look at Austin's elections, which unanimously endorsed IRV.
  • Appendix B: How to contact Austin City Council
  • Appendix C: Letter to the Editor Information and Sample Letter
  • Appendix D: Austin Runoffs Since 1981
IRV talking Points
  • Guarantees majority winner in a single election
  • Eliminates costly second round runoff
  • Saves taxpayer money
  • Increases voter participation
  • Decreases cost to campaigns
Many institutions and governments use this type of election process: Academy Awards, American Political Science Association, Mayor of London, Australian House of Representatives, and Presidency of Ireland.

Oakland, California voters passed a charter amendment to use IRV in special elections to fill vacancies on the city council as soon as the county completes the deployment of touch screen voting equipment.

Voters in Santa Clara County (CA), Vancouver (WA) and San Leandro (CA) have all passed charter amendments to allow the use of IRV in local elections.

IRV allows each voter to rank their candidates in order of preference.  If a candidate gets a majority (50% plus one) of first place votes, s/he wins.  If no candidate receives a majority, rather than have another costly election, the Instant Runoff begins.  The candidate who received the fewest first place preference votes is eliminated, and the second place votes of the eliminated candidate are transferred to remaining candidates.

For example, let’s study a 3 candidate race for a single office.  Using IRV, the public ranks their candidate in order of preference, i.e. 1,2,3, etc.  After all the first place votes are added up, A received 45%, B received 40% and C received 15%.  Since none won the majority, the candidate with the least first place votes is eliminated, and those people’s second place vote is now applied to the other two candidates.  So the 15% of votes of Candidate C are now transferred to Candidates A and B.  Continuing with the example, of the second place votes of Candidate C, 10% voted for A and 5% voted for B.  Now the total A has received is 55% and B has received is 45%, with A being the winner by majority.

Appendix A –Recommendations for City of Austin Charter Revision

JANUARY 15, 2000

The Charter Revision Committee recommends to the Austin City Council that a Charter Election be held in May, 2000 in order for the voters to vote on the following  recommendations:

1. That the City Council consist of a mayor elected at large and ten members elected from neighborhood (single member) districts; that all district members have three year terms  and must live in the districts from they are elected for at least six months prior to the filing deadline for the election in which they are candidates; that one third of the district representatives be elected each year except for the first year of implementation when all district candidates will be elected with terms for each district determined by lot; that the number of districts be increased to twelve when the population of the city increases by 25,000 above the population determined by the year 2000 Federal decennial census.

2.  That the term of office of the Mayor be four years.

3. That an independent Redistricting Committee be appointed by the City Council to perform the decennial and interim redistricting.

4.  That, in the year preceding the year in which the Federal decennial census is conducted, the City Council appoint a Charter Revision Committee to examine and recommend on possible changes to the method of election of the City Council.

5.  That Instant Runoff Voting be used to resolve general elections in which no candidates receives the required majority of the votes cast and that this item be a separate ballot item from the above.

MEMBERS:
Barbara S. Hankins, Chair
Fred Lewis
Charles Miles, Vice Chair
Mark Anthony McCray
Raymond Chan, Secretary
Eddie Rodriguez
Robert Chapa
Diane Spencer
Jim Harrington

Appendix B - How to contact Austin City Council
When contacting City Council members, be polite but insistent that this is a very important issue to you.  When speaking to an Aide by phone, ask that your call be recorded as supporting IRV, and then ask the Council member to call you back. If they (or their aide) gives anything but an unequivocal "Yes I support having IRV placed before the voters" express your understanding that they may or may not personally support IRV, but ask if they are willing to let Austin voters decide the issue.
Austin City Hall
City Council Member  ________
124 West Eighth Street
Austin, Texas 78701-2300

Appendix C - Letter to the Editor Information and Sample Letter

Letters to the Editor for Austin American-Statesman
PO Box 670, Austin, TX 78767
512.912.5927 (fax)
letters@statesman.com

The Rules for letters to the Austin American-Statesman:  Please include a name, address and daytime and evening phone numbers so that authorship can be confirmed if your letter is chosen for publication. We edit letters for brevity, grammar and clarity. Edited letters typically address a single idea and do not exceed 150 words. Anonymous letters will not be published.

Letters to the Editor for Austin Chronicle
PO Box 49066, Austin TX 78765
512.458.6910 (fax)
mail@austinchronicle.com

The Rules for letters to the Austin Chronicle: It needs to be 300 words or less, and it needs to address our readership or our editors. Letters which respond to something we printed have the best chance of getting printed, and topics which directly relate to Austin or Central Texas have the next best chance.  Also, letters must have your name (which we will print) and your phone number (which we will not print).

Daily Texan (UT Paper)
fireline@www.utexas.edu

The Rules for letters to the Daily Texan: Letters must be under 250 words and should include your major and classification.  Please include daytime and evening phone numbers with your submission. The Texan reserves the right to edit all letters for brevity, clarity and liability.

Example Letter 1:

    There are many steps toward creating an election process that better represent citizens. One is campaign finance reform, which is being done locally (cleancampaigns.org) and at the federal level. But I am writing to support an alternative approach to the voting process called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which is widely used in other democracies such as Ireland, England, and Australia (fairvote.org). With IRV, one lists the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins the majority of first place votes, the candidate with the least first place votes is eliminated and their second place votes are tallied. This process continues until a candidate receives the majority.

    IRV guarantees majority representation in a single election, saves people's time and tax dollars without a need to return to the polls for a runoff (Austin 2000 runoff cost $420,000), and allows voters to express the full range of their opinions. There is a campaign now to encourage the city council to place IRV on the next ballot. Please see fairvote.org/irv for more info.

Example Letter 2:

    Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is an election system that is more efficient and more fair than the election method Austin currently uses. In Texas, all elections must be decided by a majority. If there are more than two candidates in a race, and no one receives more than 50 percent of the votes, a runoff election is required (usually between the top two candidates.)

    Say there are four candidates in a race. Everyone votes in a four-way election, but no one gets a majority. So the candidate in last place gets kicked out, and everyone votes again in a three-way election. If there's still no majority, then the third-place candidate gets kicked out, and there's a final election between the top two candidates.

    IRV does all that automatically in one election. Voters rank their candidates in order of preference. The counting process automatically simulates the runoffs. If your #1 candidate gets kicked out, then your #2 candidates gets your vote after that. If the #2 candidate gets kicked out, then your #3 candidate, and so on. It provides the same result as if everyone kept coming back for runoffs. Since 1981 Austin has held 13 municipal elections, twelve if which have required a runoff with voters making an additional trip to the polls. Registered voter turnout has declined from 38% in 1981 to 5% in 2000, whose last runoff cost $420,000. IRV would offer significant savings of taxpayers' money and time.

Appendix D - Austin Runoffs Since 1981
  • Austin has held 13 municipal elections since 1981.
  • 12 of 13 muncipal elections have required a costly runoff.
  • Voter turnout was lower in declined in 10 out of 12 runoffs.
  • Voter turnout has dropped steadily over the last 20 years, from 38% in 1981 to 5% in 2000.

YearPrimary Turnout
Runoff Turnout
1981
38%36%
1983
39%33%
198528%30%***
198724%27%***
198823%23%
199016%
14%
199123%22%
199329%27%
199426%16%
1996 13%12%
199717%12%
19998%
(no runoff)
20005.2%
4.7%

*** Turnout declined in 10 out of 12 runoff elections.  Not since 1987 has turnout risen in a runoff.

Election results for the City of Austin from May 11, 1926 through 1997 are available at the Austin City Connection, Rita Noak, Public Information Office, 499-2220. They are posted at http://malford.ci.austin.tx.us/election/search.cfm. Data for the elections in 1999 and 2000 were obtained from the research section of the Austin City Clerk's office.