Austin Chronicle

"Austin Stories", March 30, 2001

Political Notebook Column by Erica C. Barnett

 We've been hearing a lot of talk lately about instant runoff voting, a voting system that allows oters to rank candidates in the order of their preference.

 With IRV, if no one gets a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes drops out of the running, and the votes of everyone who  voted for that candidate are automatically "re-cast" for their second choices.

 Confusing? Yes, but "when you see it on paper, it works pretty well," says Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, who personally supports the proposal. "You rank your votes -- one, two, and three -- and if your No. 1 person doesn't get a majority, you don't have to come back to the polls" because you've already indicated your second choice.

 Fred Lewis, a member of the city's Charter Review Commission, which recommended instant runoffs to the City Council last year, says the system could save the city money and enhance turnout, because "it only requires voters to go to the polls once, it decreases costs [and] it allows people to vote for who they really support because they can vote for their second choice if their first choice doesn't make it."

 David Cobb, an IRV supporter with the Center for Voting and Democracy, adds that instant runoff voting promotes more "issue-based" campaigning, because, as a candidate, "I want your supporters to at least rank me as their second choice rather than my other opponents."

 IRV proponents have won the ear of Council Member Will Wynn, who says he supports the proposal in concept because "it ensures a higher voter turnout than you ever have in a runoff election. To me, it's just staggering -- our last city runoff election cost $442,000 to hold, and we had about a 4% voter turnout. That's $21.80 per vote cast."

 The change would require a council vote and a charter amendment election, which could come as early as August -- if the mayor jumps ship and forces a special election -- or as late as November, when the next general election is scheduled.

 Letter in response by a local IRV supporter

 "Instant runoff voting would have saved Austin taxpayers millions of dollars."

            Council Member Will Wynn was quoted as saying, "our last city runoff election cost $442,000."  Two points Mr. Wynn did not cover are:

            1.  The $442,000 only includes the cost to taxpayers for the city to hold the election.  It does not include any of the substantial cost in time and money that citizens incur voting in runoff elections.

            2. Austinites have, in the last 20 years, paid for 12 runoff elections.

            The City Charter amendment to implement instant runoff voting recommended by the Charter Review Commission will obviously save a lot of time and money currently spent holding what are unnecessary elections --- but only if the members of the City Council will put it on the ballot.Political Reform: Alive and Ready to Kick