Post-Mortem on the Successful
Campaign to Enable Instant Runoff Voting In Santa Clara
What follows is the final post-mortem that Steve Chessin
conducted on the first successful campaign to allow or implement
instant runoff voting in public elections in the United States in 23
This campaign was the first of 4 successful local efforts to
allow or adopt IRV for local elections between 1998 and 2000.
The other successful campaigns have occurred in Vancouver,
Washington (November 1999); Oakland, California (November 2000); and
San Leandro, California (November 200).
This report contains numerous lessons for people contemplating
electoral reform campaigns.
Steve Chessin, [email protected]
There were two phases to the Measure F process. The first was the
Charter Review process, getting the County to put some electoral
reform measure on the ballot. The second (once a measure was placed
on the ballot) was the campaign to get it passed.
There are a few web sites with background
materials for each of these phases:
The web site for the Santa
Clara County Charter Review Committee was
There you will find the minutes of all the meetings, and the various
reports generated. Missing from this site (but in the official
hardcopy archives of the Committee) are all of the materials I gave
the Committee at various times. There are references to them in the
There are also some references
to the Charter Review process in the summaries of the Board of
Supervisor's meetings. The summaries can be found at http://claraweb.co.santa-clara.ca.us/1997.htm and
but they do not contain as much information as the official minutes,
which are hard copy only and not posted.
The web site with Measure F information is http://i.am/measuref There you will find
information directly related to the Measure F campaign. A
consultant to the CRC wrote a feasibility
WHAT WE DID RIGHT
Used an experienced, well-known, credible
point person. (Two of five the Supervisors knew me personally and
I was known by reputation by one, maybe two more. Four of the
fifteen Charter Review Committee (CRC) members knew me either
personally or by reputation. Two of the Supervisor staff people
also knew me personally, and one other by reputation.)
Went to every CRC meeting (except one, when I
had pneumonia), both evening and day-time, and to every Governance
Subcommittee meeting (this was the subcommittee given the IRV and
PR items to examine), whether or not PR/IRV was going to be
Got my Supervisor to get me on the "full
packet" mailing list, not just the "agenda" list, over the
objections of the Clerk of the Board.
Did not fight the Governance Subcommittee
when they rejected PR as "too complicated" but were willing to
Sought advice from a
Supervisor staff person on how to work with the CRC. She suggested
getting the subcommittee to ask the consultant to prepare a report
on IRV. This increased credibility of the issue -- his report
showed that it's not just a
crazy idea, that it is feasible but has its costs.
consultant's report with campaign expense data he was not willing
Worked with the CRC on resolving the
cost-of-upgrade issue, by having Measure F allow (but not require)
IRV after "the technology is available".
Lobbied each Supervisor (through their staff)
when the CRC decided to recommend IRV.
Asked at least three people to attend the
Supervisor's public hearing since I couldn't; one showed (thanks
When asked to draft the ballot argument by
the CRC Chair, got help from other NCCPR members with it (thanks,
Got appointed an Advisory Board Member of the
Center for Voting and Democracy, so I could use that in signing
the ballot argument instead of Board Member of Northern California
Citizens for Proportional Representation (which would have
confused people, since Measure F had nothing to do with PR). The
CVD affiliation also increased credibility with the media. When
asked "Why are you doing this?" by at least two different
reporters/editorial board members, my answer of "I'm on the
Advisory Board of the Center for Voting and Democracy and we
educate people on how to improve the voting system" was sufficient
to satisfy them. (Thanks, Rob, for making CVD such a credible
Helped the County Counsel with the Impartial
Analysis, by providing her with a first draft, and reviewing and
responding to all her subsequent drafts. (The next-to-last version
had a killer phrase that I convinced her to modify. She turned
"legal issues" into "procedural issues".)
Got the Libertarian Party to publicly rebuke
their chair for signing the argument against, and used that in the
rebuttal to it. (The highest county Libertarian vote was 11,685 in
the Treasurer's race, and Measure F won by 22,975 votes, so I'm
sure they contributed to the margin of victory.)
Put a phone number in the rebuttal, so people
could call if they had questions.
Ran a free advertisement every week in the
alternative weekly "messages" section, that say "F is Fair, F is
Frugal, vote Yes on F". (I have no idea what effect this had, but
it was something.)
Sought (and received) endorsements from
well-known people and organizations, as well as from newspapers.
Got balanced endorsements (Greens and Libertarians, Labor and
Business). Got organizations that endorsed to include us in their
slate mailers or publications (if any).
Wrote "vote Yes on F" on the "vote for
Delaine Eastin" cards I sent to my friends.
Sent email to friends asking them to vote
"Yes on F" and to spread the word.
Added "Vote yes on F" to the GOTV script I
was using in my Democratic Party GOTV efforts.
WHAT WE DID WRONG (SO COULD HAVE DONE
Did not have the definition of IRV in the
charter amendment itself, confusing people whose first look was
that language and causing them to attack us for abolishing runoffs
or being so vague that it could mean anything. (The County Counsel
said it was okay not to put the definition in the Charter. Other
efforts should ignore such advice.)
Waited until the ballot arguments were
finished before going for endorsements, which meant we were too
late for some organizations. In hindsight, should have gone to
organizations even before we were on the ballot, just to explain
it to them. We could have defused some of the opposition, perhaps,
or even gotten advice as to how to make the charter language
better. Also, being able to list endorsements in the ballot
argument would have helped.
Did not respond to the rejected argument
against, when we could have possibly defused that person and
prevented his later blind-side attacks.
Put the web site up fairly late, and did not
make good use of it (in terms of publicizing it). (For example,
had we had it earlier, we could have mentioned it in the ballot
argument itself. Of course, given how few people -- 10 -- called
the phone number, maybe it wouldn't have mattered?)
Should have logged/counted web page hits for
Should have contacted a political consultant
(I do know some, and know people who know some) for advice early
in the game.
Should have contacted the paid slate mailer
people earlier so we might have gotten on some of their mailers.
(They put some stuff on for free, just to look more credible. This
occurred to me 2 weeks before the election; one mailer said I was
too late, another said she'd include me "if there was room", but I
don't know if she did.)
Should have had people do more letters to the
Should have organized some postcard
Should have organized better email
Should have tried to get on KPFA, where they
allow one-sided discussions.
Should have done some targeted phoning of
likely voters from Green, Libertarian, and Democratic
Should have gotten more people involved. (I'm
not good at that.)
It would have been better if I hadn't been
house-hunting during the critical months of the
WHERE WE WERE LUCKY
WHERE WE WERE UNLUCKY