Instant runoff voting would strengthen Sarasota city elections

By Anthony Lorenzao
Published November 3rd 2007 in The Herald Tribune
On Tuesday, Sarasota will vote on city measure 2 to replace our
"delayed," two-election runoffs with instant runoff voting. Backed by
the League of Women Voters, city question 2 is a commonsense reform that
will save taxpayers money, protect the rights of military voters, reduce
money in politics and reduce overly negative campaigns.

Citywide runoffs pose several problems. First, they cost an extra
$37,000 for a second election that shouldn't be needed. What would you
like to do with an extra $37,000?

Second, runoffs pose a great problem for overseas members of the armed
forces. It's nearly impossible to determine the candidates in the
runoff, print absentee ballots and mail them to overseas voters fast
enough for ballots to be returned in time to count in runoffs. That's
why overseas voters use IRV ballots for federal and state elections with
runoffs in Arkansas, Louisiana and South Carolina.

Third, one-on-one races in runoffs can get nasty. When it's just two
candidates, attacks are more effective -- if you drive down support for
your opponent, it helps you.

Fourth, when candidates are forced into the runoff, they need to raise
more money -- and fast. Consolidating two elections into one reduces
campaign spending.

Here's how Question 2 works to address these problems. Voters rank
candidates in order of choice: They indicate a first choice, but have
the option to indicate a second choice, third choice, and so on. For the
voters, that's all there is to it.

Evidence from cities with IRV shows that voters find it easy to do.

To determine a majority winner, all voters' first choices are totaled
for each candidate. If one candidate has majority support (50 percent
plus 1), that candidate wins. If not, the top candidates advance to a
runoff round of counting. If your first choice makes it to the runoff,
your vote counts for that candidate. If your first choice has lost, your
ballot counts for the runoff candidate who is ranked next on the ballot.

Instant runoff voting represents the choices between the top candidates
in a runoff that was held the same day as the first election.

Recent presidential elections help show how IRV would work. In 1992, for
example, Bill Clinton won 43 percent of the vote, George H.W. Bush won
37 percent and Ross Perot 19 percent. If IRV had been used, Perot would
have lost. His voters' ballots then would have been added to the totals
of Clinton and Bush based on their second-choice rankings. We would have
determined the real majority winner.

The same would have been true in 2000, when George Bush ran against Al
Gore, and Ralph Nader won enough votes that no candidate won a majority.
Many nations hold separate runoffs to decide such elections. That's
expensive for taxpayers and the candidates. But through IRV, we can
determine majority winners in one election.

IRV has earned growing attention for how it empowers voters. It's passed
in 10 straight ballot questions, in cities in California, Illinois,
Maryland, Minnesota, Vermont and Washington. IRV was used this month in
Cary, a North Carolina city of 115,000, and touted as a great success.
It avoided the need for a runoff in one city contest.

In Florida, IRV has been endorsed by the League of Women Voters and
newspapers such as the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, The Bradenton Herald,
Pelican Press, St. Petersburg Times, Lakeland Ledger, Southwest Florida
News Press and Palm Beach Post. National backers include current and
past presidential candidates Sens. John McCain, R-Ill., and Barack
Obama, D-Ill., Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and former Congressman John
Anderson, R-Ill.

A win for Question 2 doesn't mean we will rush in moving to instant
runoff voting. This responsible reform measure will be implemented only
when our election officials are ready. But at that time, we'll gain
great benefits. IRV truly represents common sense.<> for more
information, and please vote yes on Tuesday for better city elections!