Do the Math -- Instant Voter Runoff Adds Up for APAs

By Ron Wong
Published April 20th 2006 in The Cause Report
For a lot of APA candidates there are simply not enough votes to go around. While APAs are known for their mathematics acumen, many APA candidates forget the most basic equation when it comes to electoral politics. It takes 50 percent + 1 to win an election.

The way APAs act they must think it takes a plurality to win an election. Take for example what is typically among APA candidates. In a recent local elect in Arcadia last week there were 4 Chinese candidates for only 3 seats. One of these candidates was an incumbent Mayor — who ultimately got re-elected finishing third. Of the four Chinese candidates one was a former Councilmember who finished forth.

This outcome is typical across California from Alameda to Cerritos, Monterey Park, San Francisco, Fremont and on and on and on. Oftentimes there are too many APA candidates, where ultimately APAs split the vote and no one wins.

In 1990 in the heart of Los Angeles there was a heavy contested Assembly race featuring excellent and well qualified candidates including Adam Shift, now Congressman, Barbara Friedman, the winner, John Emerson, former Clinton White House official, and representing the APA community Keith Umemoto, longtime political staffer, T.S. Chung, prominent attorney and former Clinton official , and Joselyn Yap, community activist. Ultimately in a particularly bruising and spirited campaign Barbara Friedman ultimately won, as the APA candidates each split their respective (Japanese, Korean, and Filipino) APA ethnic vote.

The American political system is winner take all. There is no way of ranking or measuring the intensity of supports for a candidate . Instant Voter Runoff (IRV) or Ranked Choice Voting, is a way to make every vote count and ultimately help minority and APA candidates .

In IRV, voters rank their top three choices . If no candidate wins a majority of first rankings, the candidate with the fewest first rankings is eliminated. Voters who ranked this eliminated candidate now have their vote counted for their second choice, and all ballots are recounted in an "instant runoff" until a candidate reaches a majority. IRV elects majority winners in a single election instead of needing a runoff.

San Francisco Assessor Phil Ting was a direct beneficiary of IRV. Instead of facing San Francisco Supervisor Geraldo Sandoval in an expensive runoff, Phil was able to get more than 50 percent of the vote when a great majority of Ron Chun’s voters , the third-place finisher , choose Phil Ting as their second choice by an overwhelming majority. As a consultant to Phil Ting in this race, it was part of a campaign strategy educate APA vo ters on IRV and win Ron Chun's supporters second vote.

If there were no IRV in this race, the Chinese vote would have been split by the two Chinese candidates and neither candidate may have won. While there does not seem to be a way to limit the amount of APA candidates in a particular election, IRV appears to be a legitimate way to make sure every vote counts and that votes are not diluted .