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Daily Hampshire Gazette

Amherst to consider runoff system
By Kay J. Moran
October 11, 2002

Town Meeting this fall will consider whether to support the instant-runoff voting system for filling Select Board seats.

If approved, the warrant article would direct the board to ask the Legislature for a special act to implement the system. The article was placed on the warrant by citizen petition.

Town Meeting begins Oct. 28.

Here's how instant-runoff voting works:

When multiple candidates are running for a single office, voters rank them in order of preference on the ballots. A candidate getting a clear majority wins. If no one has a clear majority, ballots for the low vote-getter are redistributed according to second choice among the remaining candidates. The process continues until a clear winner emerges.

The process would be exactly the same when two offices are to be filled from a field of candidates, as often happens in Select Board races, Bart Bouricius of Mountain View Circle told the Select Board last week.

"I think it makes ultimate sense to have people with the most support win the elections," he said.

Last December, instant-runoff proponents came to the Select Board requesting an advisory question on the ballot for March elections. At the time, board members suggested going to Town Meeting instead. They also had questions about the system, including its cost and whether it would work in an election to fill two offices at once.

Those remained sticking points for Select Board members Monday.

Bouricius said software to adapt the town's computerized voting machines to the system is readily available. However, Nancy Maglione, director of administration and finance, said she didn't know whether that software could work in the voting machines at the same time as software handling the usual sort of elections for other town offices.

Chairman Carl Seppala thought instant-runoff voting would make it more difficult for voters favoring two candidates equally.

"If there are two slots open, you can only make one first choice," he said. "You can't vote for two."

Bouricius replied that the two candidates supported by the most voters would win anyway. In an interview later, however, he acknowledged that in certain circumstances, a candidate who was everyone's second choice could lose to someone favored by fewer people.

"You could get a result that's no better than the regular plurality voting," he said. "But statistically, it would happen much less frequently. None of these systems is perfect."

Though board member Eddy Goldberg likes the concept, he said during the meeting, "It's got too many problems for me. It would work better for only one winner. And our government may be changing, anyway."

The Charter Commission this week completed work on a proposed new mayor-manager-council form of government that Amherst residents will vote on next spring. Instant-runoff voting as a way of electing the mayor was in a draft charter presented in August but has been eliminated from the final version.

Advocates have also placed an advisory question about using the instant-runoff method to elect statewide offices on the November ballot for Amherst and Northampton voters.

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