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Instant Runoff Voting Update

July 2001

The movement for instant runoff voting continues to gather steam. Among recent highlights are:

San Francisco, California: On July 9, 2001, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 to place on the March 2002 ballot a charter amendment (here in .rtf format) to implement instant runoff voting for all citywide elections -- mayor, district attorney, sheriff, city attorney, treasurer, public defender and assessor-recorder -- and for the Board of Supervisors.San Francisco currently uses November elections followed by December runoff elections for these races. The campaign costs to candidates and to the city are very high. Voter turnout often drops precipitously, particularly in even-year elections. If passed by the voters, this measure would be the first adoption of instant runoff voting for general public elections in the United States in 25 years. The last one was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which adopted instant runoff voting in a 1974 ballot measure and used it for a single mayoral race in 1975 (one in which an African-American Democrat won after trailing 49% to 40% on the first round, thus stirring Republican opponents who played up correctable election administration problems in the successful repeal campaign).  More information about the campaign.

Eugene, Oregon and other local campaigns: The Eugene city council has voted to place a charter amendment on the September ballot that would allow instant runoff voting to be used for city elections.The language is as follows:

"The City Council shall provide by ordinance that the Mayor and City Councilors shall be elected by preference voting. For the purposes of this subsection, preference voting means a system of voting for candidates for nomination or election authorized by section 16, Article II of the Oregon Constitution under which an elector may express the elector's first, second or additionaly choices among the candidates for nomination or election. The City Council shall determine when preference voting should be used."

Similar measures have been adopted by voters in recent years in San Leandro (CA), Santa Clara County (CA) and Vancouver (WA), while Oakland (CA) voters passed a charter amendment that specifies the use of instant runoff voting in special elections to fill vacancies as soon as the county completes its acquisition of new voting equipment.

In addition, the Berkeley (CA) city council is seriously considering a potential March 2002 ballot measure to enact IRV. In the wake of a unanimous charter commission recommendations, the Austin (TX) city council is debating a potential May 2002 measure to enact IRV; backers include several city council members and most community organizations active in city politics.

Utah: In June the state central committee of the Utah Republican Party adopted by a nearly unanimous vote language enabling instant runoff voting for internal elections. Plurality elections for single-seat elections are strictly forbidden, which means multiple ballot voting (people voting in different rounds of election) and instant runoff voting are the only legal options. Because some of the proposed changes were in the state party constitution, they will not take effect until ratified by a majority of the delegates at the state convention on August 25th. IRV will be used at the convention if there are at least three candidates in any of the officers' races and if these changes are ratified, as expected.The Utah Republican Party would then become the first statewide major party in the United States to implement IRV in its convention and other internal elections.

New Jersey: State Senator Bill Schluter (R) in June introduced a constitutional amendment to use instant runoff voting for all races that elect one winner, in both the primary and general elections. Sen. Schluter is running for governor as an independent on the November 2001 ballot. Given his candidacy and an expected close election, New Jersey may have its second consecutive gubernatorial election won with less than half the votes.William Redpath, the Libertarian gubernatorial nominee in Virginia , also prominently features IRV in his platform.

Alaska: Backers of instant runoff voting are gearing up for their November 2002 campaign to adopt IRV for all federal elections and most state elections. The measure qualified for the ballot in 2000.

Public Campaign and Common Cause: Scott Harshbarger, president of Common Cause, recently testified to the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, in favor of instant runoff voting. Harshbarger said "Common Cause also supports Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), and we are considering support for proportional representation voting systems. IRV is an important tool for ensuring that the will of the majority is reflected in electoral outcomes in cases when multiple candidates vie for a single seat." The board of Common Cause in June officially voted to allow states to support IRV legislation and ballot measures.

Public Campaign has issued a new model statute for clean elections. The introduction includes an explanation of instant runoff voting and how IRV is a natural complement to clean elections, given that clean elections often result in more viable candidates running for office, both in primaries and general elections.

CVD's national field director Dan Johnson-Weinberger recently compiled news from states around the country (send your news or questions to Dan at ([email protected] ). Here is a rundown on events not discussed above.

  • California: Bills advanced in Sacramento to upgrade voting equipment. The instant runoff voting bill for special elections is in the Assembly Elections Committee. The bill is AB 1515 and the sponsor is the Speaker of the California Assembly, Robert Hertzberg. The California AARP, with 3.4 million members, voted to support AB 1515 and sent a letter in support of the legislation. After the League of Women Voters asked the Board of Supervisors in El Dorado County to use instant runoff voting, the Board has directed the County Registrar to prepare a report on the feasibility of using IRV.
  • Florida: The state has abolished punch cards - a helpful development for electoral reform in Florida. In an effort to save money, the state also abolished its October runoff primary held if no candidate earns a majority of votes in the September primary election for 2002 - though the majority requirement is likely to return in 2004. The Center had suggested using instant runoff voting in the September primary in an editorial by John B. Anderson published in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
  • Georgia: The state abolished punch cards, but has not yet allocated the funds to replace the aging equipment with touch screen machines. This makes Georgia a great place to work on instant runoff voting for local elections, as all of the equipment will be able to handle ranked ballots. State legislation to use IRV has also been introduced, but not yet passed.
  • Hawaii: A bill to establish a task force to study instant runoff voting passed two state senate committees and the full senate, but did not pass the state house. The Maui Charter Commission is currently considering alternative voting systems for county elections.
  • Maine: Legislation to implement IRV was introduced (LD 1714).
  • Maryland: IRV legislation was introduced (SB 233 ) and endorsed by the Maryland chapters of Common Cause and the Sierra Club.
  • Minnesota: Three separate bills on instant runoff voting were introduced and remain alive through the two-year session. The leading bill (HF 1831 and SF 1758) enjoyed sponsorship from 7 Republicans and 11 Democrats.
    In Minneapolis, there is a new petition drive for instant runoff voting for the Minneapolis City Council, the mayor of Minneapolis and several other local offices. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently endorsed the effort to put the measure to the voters. Contact David Kaminsky at [email protected]  for more information.
  • Missouri: Senate Bill 182 was introduced by John Louden (R) to require separate runoff elections if no candidate receives a majority of votes. The bill was later amended to require the Secretary of State to develop and implement an instant runoff voting system. Columbia contact is Mark Haim at [email protected] and Kansas City contact is Lou Traxel at [email protected]
  • New Mexico: Legislation to use runoff and instant runoff voting was introduced in the house(HJR 11) and the senate (SJR 25). The House bill lost 35 - 31 on the House floor.
  • North Carolina : The 11th Congressional District of North Carolina Convention of the Democratic Party passed a resolution on April 21, 2001 establishing a committee to study the feasibility of adopting instant runoff voting.
  • Oregon: Legislation has been introduced in the house and the senate to implement instant runoff voting, as well as to require that all new voting equipment be fully compatible with ranked ballots. An IRV petition has also been filed with the state, sparking an article in the Oregonian and a vigorous debate in the op-ed pages .
  • Vermont: Vermonters are supporting an instant runoff voting bill, S.94, which would implement IRV for all statewide elections. The bill has three Republican and six Democratic co-sponsors and the support of such groups as Common Cause, the Grange, League of Women Voters and PIRG .
  • Washington: In the wake of a Supreme Court decision outlawing the state's decades-long "blanket primary" system where voters can choose to vote in any party primary for any office (for example, a voter could have voted in the John McCain - George W. Bush primary election and then picked which Democratic candidate to support in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate), many legislators and civic leaders have turned to instant runoff voting in one general election as a possible solution. Bipartisan legislation, SB 5338 has been introduced to use instant runoff voting and eliminate the primary altogether.
  • Wisconsin: Milwaukee, WI: Alderman Don Richards asked the City Attorney to seek a waiver in state law in order for Milwaukee to use instant runoff voting.
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Copyright 2001 The Center for Voting and Democracy
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