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.
Deputy director, Political Reform Program
New America Foundation