History was made on March 5, when more than 55% of San Francisco voters gave a big thumb's up to adopting instant runoff voting for electing their most important offices, including mayor. Across the country, voters in 50 cities and towns in rural Vermont endorsed a proposal to use instant runoff voting (IRV) for electing statewide offices.
Despite well-financed by defenders of the status quo who spent perhaps as much as $100,000 or more trying to confuse voters with slick mailings, San Francisco now becomes the first major American city to use IRV to elect its officials. It replaces two-round runoff elections that cost more than a million dollars a year, lead to low voter turnout and negative campaigning and exacerbate campaign financing demands. Depending on the capacity of the City's Department of Elections, IRV will be used either this fall or in November 2003.
Center for Voting and Democracy staff members Steven Hill and Caleb Kleppner developed a remarkable grassroots campaign, full of volunteer energy, that delivered more than 150,000 door-hangers in targeted precincts around the city. Leading civic organizations and elected officials rose to the challenge as well; endorsers included Rep. Kevin Shelley, who won the Democratic Party nomination for Secretary of State this week, and the Sierra Club, San Francisco Labor Council, Common Cause, NOW, Congress of California Seniors, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Latino Democratic Club, Libertarian Party, Democratic Party, Green Party and CalPIRG.
In Vermont, 51of 54 town meetings supported a League of Women Voters-sponsored proposal to use IRV for electing statewide offices. Vermont IRV backers range from Democratic Governor Howard Dean and Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz to 2000 Republican gubernatorial nominee Ruth Dwyer, Common Cause and the Grange. Our New England regional director Terry Bouricius did masterful work on this effort on a shoestring budget.
Instant runoff voting (IRV) has the potential to crack open electoral politics to new voices and better choices. Used for major elections in Australia, Ireland and Great Britain, IRV ensures that candidates win with majority support in one efficient election. Voters indicate both their favorite and their runoff choices on the same ballot. If no candidate receives a winning majority of first choices, the weak candidates are eliminated. Just as in a delayed runoff, their supporters choose among the runoff finalists as indicated by the next-choices preferences marked on their ballots. Voters who ranked one of the finalists first continue to have their votes count for their favorite choice.
You can read much more about instant runoff voting, the win in San Francisco and the near-sweep of Vermont town meeting votes on-line. Please see:
* The Center's news release and two pre-election articles
* A range of news and information about instant runoff voting at
You also will enjoy reading an on-the-spot reaction to the victory by Dan Johnson-Weinberger, the Center's national field director, below.
Later this month we plan to send an update with a range of helpful links and information about our full range of work and then begin a short, monthly update. As previews, we urge you to visit our
* all-state redistricting guide, with news about how this redistricting cycle has been the worst in decades for restricting voter choice and expanded representation (the report and a widely-published commentaryand a widely-published
* news about the growing movement to institute instant runoff voting and/or proportional representation for student elections: the University of Illinois and Carleton College recently adopted reforms, joining such universities as Harvard, MIT, Princeton, UC-Berkeley, Stanford and University of Wisconsin (see http://fairvote.org/schools/index.html )
Short news items from recent weeks include:
-- The Utah Republican Party State Central Committee earlier this year amended its bylaws to enable the use of instant runoff voting in neighborhood precinct caucuses where state and county delegates and precinct officers are elected.
-- More than a dozen states have debated instant runoff voting legislation in 2001-2. New legislation was introduced this year in Florida, Washington (where a well-attended hearing was held in January)
-- It's an important time for congressional action on campaign finance reform and electoral reform. Among many, good website resources to track these developments include: ElectionLine.Org, Center for Responsive Politics, Demos, Constitution Project Election Reform Initiative
-- The Scottish Executive will forge ahead with plans to introduce proportional representation for local government elections. Scotland, Wales and London all had used proportional representation for their most recent elections.
-- Pakistan will have elections for the first time in several years later this year. Elections have used only winner-take-all elections, but with separate rolls. Now proportional representation will be used to elect "reserved seats" for women and technocrats. Many in Pakistan want to go farther toward proportional representation.
-- CVD staff and board members continue to speak regularly before organizations, students and elected officials - recent and upcoming talks include those at Duke, Princeton, Georgetown Law School, University of Indiana, George Washington Law School, the NAACP affiliates in South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia and national election administration conferences in Florida and Washington, DC. Contact CVD at [email protected] or (301) 270-4616 for more information.
-- Finally, our remarkable chairman, John B. Anderson, celebrated his 80th birthday last month. A guest on C-SPAN in January, John's year-end message to organizational members can be read. This week's victories certainly are a wonderful gift for John.
Stay tuned for more news about reform and the Center's plans for 2002. And of course, as a non-profit organization in the midst of some exciting projects, we need support from the public. To learn how to support the Center, see http://fairvote.org/donate.htm , and enjoy Dan Johnson- Weinberger's message to activists late on the night of March 5th in San Francisco.
How Sweet is... Victory in San Francisco!
From the Center's national field director Dan Johnson-Weinberger.
From the campaign in San Francisco right now -- there's champagne flowing, there's wild celebration and I can't believe it. I can't believe it!! We probably won!
This is a new movement for American democracy. This is the real deal. This is a real movement. We've all been a part of it. And we did it with heart and soul and sweat and dollars and effort. And I'm telling you, the Prop A campaign had the BEST grass-roots campaign of anyone in the entire city. ANYONE. We had 1000 phone calls made from people all over the country. We had small checks sent in from all over the country. This is amazing.
This is awesome. Unless you hear back from me in the next few hours -- WE HAVE WON!!! AND THE MOVEMENT FOR FAIR VOTING HAS BEGUN!!!!!
Absolutely delighted and honored to be a part of the movement for democracy,