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Los Angeles Daily News

Runoff vote can be done better, faster
By Dan Johnson-Weinberger and Evelyn Jerome
December 20, 2001

There's one thing about which supporters of both City Council candidates Tony Cardenas and Wendy Greuel can agree: We all wish the election were over.

But after several months and almost $1 million spent on campaign mailers and phone banks for the December 11th election, the two major candidates now find themselves in a March runoff because a third candidate, James Cordaro, played the role of spoiler, preventing either Cardenas or Greuel from winning more than 50 percent of the vote.

By the time the eventual winner is seated next March, the residents of the Second district will have been unrepresented in City Hall for more than six months.

And Los Angeles taxpayers must watch as another $600,000 of our tax money is poured into the runoff campaign coffers of the runoff candidates under the guise of public matching funds.

How can we fix this system, which is designed to waste our time and money?

The answer is instant runoff voting. Instant runoff voting allows voters to rank their choices in elections with more than two candidates, instead of picking just one.

If your first-choice candidate doesn't make it to the runoff, which of the other candidates is your second choice?

If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes, they win, just as they do now. If, however, no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes, an instant runoff is held. Whoever came in last (Cordaro, in this case) is eliminated. The Cordaro votes are then redistributed to the second choices on those ballots (either Greuel or Cardenas), just like the runoff election that will be held in March. After the votes are re-tabulated, whichever candidate earns more than 50 percent of the votes wins the seat.

Since the whole runoff election in last week's City Council election comes down to the second-choice votes of Cordaro supporters, why wait three months to find out which of the two candidates they prefer?

Instant runoff voting is used to elect the mayor of London, and the president of Ireland, and has been authorized for use in Oakland and Santa Clara County. It will appear on the March ballot in San Francisco to elect the mayor, city attorney and the Board of Supervisors.

What makes instant runoff voting better than the delayed runoff system we use now?

Instant runoff voting saves time. The delayed runoff system causes vacant council seats to stay empty for an average of six months. There's no need to wait three extra months for the runoff election when we can get the job done in one election.

Instant runoff voting saves money. The administrative cost of running a special election in a council district runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Additionally, the City's public matching funds policy hands hundreds of thousands more of your tax dollars to the two runoff candidates in every City election when those candidates choose to participate in the matching funds program.

Instant runoff voting could save us more than $1 million every year.

Instant runoff voting eliminates the "spoiler" problem. Spoiler candidates or "split votes" would no longer threaten major candidates. Voters can vote their conscience, giving their first choice vote to a candidate they think may not win or make it to the runoff without fear of wasting their vote.

Instant runoff voting promotes positive campaigns. Candidates will need to convince voters to give them their first or second-choice votes. Attack ads and negative campaigning will not entice voters to give a mudslinging candidate their second choice vote

Instant runoff voting boosts voter turnout. Runoff elections can have dreadfully low turnout.

Like the rest of the nation, Californians were aghast at the voting debacle in Florida last fall, but our own electoral system is as inefficient as those infamous Florida chads.

It's time for some common-sense changes in our electoral system, with an eye towards rebuilding the public trust in our democracy.

Instant runoff voting is one forward-looking reform that Californians should embrace -- especially for special elections.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger is national field director of the Center for Voting and Democracy. Evelyn Jerome is co-chair of the California Instant Runoff Voting Coalition.

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Copyright 2001 The Center for Voting and Democracy
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