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IRV Advances
By Howard Ditkoff

December, 2004

In the shadow of a dismal election season, Greens may find solace in the growing awareness of and momentum for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). On Nov. 2, the system was used in San Francisco for the first time to help fill several supervisor seats and will be used in the future to elect most of the citys key officials. Early polling shows a high level of satisfaction with the system among the citys voters.

Meanwhile, IRV made gains in three other locales Nov. 2. In Ferndale, Mich., Proposal B passed by a margin of 70 percent, providing for IRV in future mayoral and city council elections. Burlington, Vermont voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum advising IRVs use to elect their mayor, while 68 percent of voters in 16 western Massachusetts towns approved a nonbinding motion in support of IRV.

IRV is best known for solving the spoiler problem that perennially plagues third-party candidates, who receive more attention for their potentially detrimental effect on the major party candidates than for their own platforms. The spoiler label serves to demean and dismiss third-party candidates in races at all levels of the U.S. electoral system. Many party Democrats Ive spoken to are comfortable with simply labeling the Greens as spoilers as a way to marginalize us, said Maine State Representative John Eder, also a member of Greens for Impact (GFI), a group of elected Greens who have promoted IRV in a series of editorials. Im introducing legislation for IRV because many of my constituents are Democrats and they want to give the Greens a chance to lead but they fear theyll wind up with Republicans.

Providence, R.I., Councilmember David Segal, chair of GFI, adds, People wont vote Greenrightfullyuntil they feel safe doing so.
IRV is used in London, Ireland and Australia and allows voters to rank the candidates 1-2-3, etc., rather than simply choose their one favorite candidate. If no candidate wins a majority of votes on the first count, the last place candidate is eliminated, and all ballots are counted again. The process continues until one candidate has a majority of the votes and is declared the winner.

IRV increases voter turnout, encourages more candidates to run for office, promotes positive issue-based campaigns, and discourages mudslinging among candidates who are competing for second- and third-place votes from each others supporters. IRV also more accurately gauges the true level of support for candidates, since voters no longer fear that voting for their favorite candidate may help elect his or her political opposite.
The IRV advances this year build on the momentum gained by Berkeley, Calif., which passed Measure I by a margin of 72 percent, enabling future use of IRV. And the issue went national in October, when U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Il.) introduced H.R. 5293, the Majority Vote Act of 2004, which would require states to conduct general elections for federal office using IRV.

Many Greens recognize the strategic priority of achieving further IRV successes. Building a campaign around IRV is, in and of itself, a way to grow the party. And structural reforms like IRV are the most important investment we can make in our partys future, Segal said.

Other notable Greens such as California gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo and former San Francisco Board of Supervisors president Matt Gonzalez have continuously made IRV a key component in their speeches, writings, and campaigns.

To take their advice, Greens must elevate the issue to the top of their agenda and find common ground with democracy activists of all political persuasions. Ferndale Councilmember Craig Covey, intimately familiar with the current systems Green-Democrat antagonism as a member of both parties, was an early and strong advocate of IRV in that city. Collaboration and coalition building with leaders and citizens of all parties for particular issues important to Greens can lead to success, Covey said. IRV received broad support throughout Ferndale from Democrats, liberals, Greens, moderates, and independents.

Green presidential candidate David Cobb, who touted IRVs merits at every chance on the campaign trail this year, agrees. We need to recognize the value of working in coalition with other people and other political parties to achieve our mutual goals of a more democratic electoral process.
Cobb is hopeful: The Green Party is not going away. We are getting bigger, stronger and better organized in every election cycle. What some people call spoiling, we call participating. The problem isnt that there are too many candidates running for office; the problem is an electoral system which forces people to vote against what they hate instead of for what they want. Instant runoff voting is the solution for this problem.

Howard Ditkoff coordinated the IRV campaign in Ferndale, Mich. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more info visit www.fairvote.org/irv/ or www.firv.org.


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