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Los Angeles Studies San Francisco's Instant Runoff Voting

June 2002

With an eye towards its own expensive runoff elections, the Los Angeles City Council voted in late May to study the instant runoff voting system recently approved for San Francisco elections.

The Los Angeles Daily News reported on the vote.

The resolution, introduced by Councilmember Tom LaBonge and seconded by Councilmember Eric Garcetti, reads as follows below. 

Thanks to Denise Munro Robb, Evelyn Jerome and Bill Pietz for relentlessly lobbying the Los Angeles City Council on this issue.


Proposition 41, the Voter Modernization Bond Act of 2002, was recently enacted by the voters of California. The bond provides $200 million in state matching funds for County governments to modernize their election equipment.

Los Angeles County has some of the oldest and most error-prone election equipment of anywhere in the state. Our decades-old machines use the same punch card technology that caused so much confusion in the presidential elections for the State of Florida.

The passage of Proposition 41 provides the City and County of Los Angeles with an opportunity to have an important discussion about the way we carry out elections, including both the equipment we use and the procedures we follow.

It is essential that we have this discussion sooner rather than later, especially in consideration of a lawsuit filed against the State of California and County of Los Angeles by the ACLU. As part of the settlement, the County agreed to replace all of its punch card machines in time for the 2004 presidential elections.

There is more than one type of voting machine system that can be chosen to replace our 20,000 Votomatics. Optical scanners are more accurate than our existing equipment and are slightly cheaper than computer models but are too limited in the options they offer and require high printing costs.

Touch screen systems are more pricey than optical models but have no printing costs involved and have the added benefit of being able to offer ballots in multiple languages and for all political parties. Los Angeles County has already conducted a successful touch screen voting pilot program in conjunction with the November 2000 election in which over 20,000 voters were able to vote up to two weeks before the election at select sites throughout the County.

In addition to modernizing voting equipment we also have the opportunity to use these new technologies to improve our existing voting system. One idea worth considering is adopting some form of instant runoff voting, as was enacted recently by the City of San Francisco for its elections beginning this November. This idea appears particularly attractive when it comes to special elections, as it would greatly speed up the process by which empty seats are filled. Instant runoffs would also save millions of dollars in City election costs by eliminating the need for a second round of voting and might increase turnout by consolidating two separate votes into one.

I THEREFORE MOVE that the CLA and City Clerk report to the Rules and Elections Committee in the next 60-90 days on the City’s plans for voter modernization in light of the recent passage of Proposition 41, including the feasibility of enacting some form of instant runoff voting, making sure to address the topic of special elections and including an estimate as to the potential for cost-savings.

I FURTHER MOVE that the County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk be invited to attend this session and report on their plans for voter modernization using Proposition 41 funds.

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Copyright © 2002 The Center for Voting and Democracy
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