Election Proves Instant Runoff Voting Is Catching On in California and Other States

By Steven Hill
Published November 27th 2006 in California Progress Report

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), an idea advanced by the New America Foundation, a California and Washington DC-based think tank, and by FairVote, a national nonprofit, to give voters more influence and more choices in elections, continued to gain favor in California and elsewhere as four cities strongly approved Nov. 7 ballot measures supporting the idea, the foundation says.

In California, where San Francisco became the state's first Instant Runoff Voting city in 2004, voters in the cities of Oakland and Davis approved the idea, which would allow voters to rank their first, second, and third choices for office. Oakland overwhelmingly supported the measure by 69 percent of the returns, meaning voters will use Instant Runoff Voting for all local offices in November 2008. The Davis measure was an advisory recommendation.

Elsewhere, voters in Minneapolis passed their ballot measure with 65 percent support. And in Pierce County, Washington, voters supported the move to IRV for their partisan county elections with 54 percent of the vote.

New America staff Lynne Serpe and I played a key role as advisers to several of these campaigns. New America joined other organizations in these efforts, including FairVote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization that is the national clearinghouse on electoral systems like instant runoff voting.

The elections clearly affirm a growing trend toward Instant Runoff Voting as a response to public frustration with unresponsive and unaccountable government leaders. Instant Runoff Voting discourages negative campaigning and opens the process to candidates and ideas that may not be viable in a traditional winner-take-all election.

"Clearly there is strong interest among voters in political reforms that open up the political system and make voters feel like their vote counts," said Lynne Serpe, deputy director of New America's Political Reform Program. "What was interesting about the four victories for IRV was that they happened in four very different locations. Oakland is a very diverse and working-class city; Minneapolis is a Midwestern values city; Pierce County is a mix of rural, suburban and urban areas with many independent minded voters; and Davis is a smaller, university town. Yet in every place Instant Runoff Voting provided a unique solution to problems with representative government and democracy."

Instant Runoff Voting already is used in San Francisco, which on Nov. 7 had its third election using Instant Runoff Voting for local offices. Burlington, Vermont elected its mayor using Instant Runoff Voting in March.

Steven Hill is the Director of the Political Reform Program of the New America Foundation and author of the recently published "Ten Steps to Repair American Democracy" (PoliPoint Press, May 2006, www.10steps.net).

For more information, visit the websites of New America’s political reform program, and FairVote.