Instant runoff voting (IRV) has come to the fore in Long Beach.

By Gautam Dutta
Published September 26th 2009 in Press-Telegram

Instant runoff elections

Thanks to a bizarre City Council debate, instant runoff voting (IRV) has come to the fore in Long Beach.

Currently, Long Beach runs costly, two-round elections for its city and school elections. While taxpayers are stuck with a tab of up to $1.7 million per election, few people actually vote — in part because of voter fatigue. By year's end, Long Beach will have had nine elections in just two years.

By allowing voters to rank their choices (1-2-3), IRV not only elects a majority winner, but eliminates costly runoff elections. This way, if your first choice is eliminated, you do not need to vote again in a separate runoff election. Instead, your vote automatically goes to your second choice.

IRV has been successfully used in San Francisco for five straight elections, and has also been adopted by Oakland, Berkeley, Santa Fe, Memphis and Minneapolis.

Some critics, such as Long Beach Councilmember Tonia Reyes Uranga, claim that many voters will not understand IRV. However, after San Francisco adopted IRV, its voter-error rate did not go up. And in a recent poll, San Francisco voters preferred IRV to the previous runoff system by a margin of 3 to 1.

Simply put, voters understand and prefer IRV. We urge the City Council to promptly put IRV on the April 2010 ballot. The voters have a right to decide whether IRV is right for Long Beach.

Gautam Dutta

Deputy director, Political Reform Program

New America Foundation

Los Angeles

IRV Soars in Twin Cities, FairVote Corrects the Pundits on Meaning of Election Night '09
Election Day '09 was a roller-coaster for election reformers.  Instant runoff voting had a great night in Minnesota, where St. Paul voters chose to implement IRV for its city elections, and Minneapolis voters used IRV for the first time—with local media touting it as a big success. As the Star-Tribune noted in endorsing IRV for St. Paul, Tuesday’s elections give the Twin Cities a chance to show the whole state of Minnesota the benefits of adopting IRV. There were disappointments in Lowell and Pierce County too, but high-profile multi-candidate races in New Jersey and New York keep policymakers focused on ways to reform elections;  the Baltimore Sun and Miami Herald were among many newspapers publishing commentary from FairVote board member and former presidential candidate John Anderson on how IRV can mitigate the problems of plurality elections.

And as pundits try to make hay out of the national implications of Tuesday’s gubernatorial elections, Rob Richie in the Huffington Post concludes that the gubernatorial elections have little bearing on federal elections.