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Independent Progressive Politics Network

Instant Runoff Voting Makes Advances November 2

By Howard Ditkoff

December, 2004

The fall election cycle offered progressives many well-documented reasons for dismay. Yet, beneath the rubble, several crucial seeds were planted for the future of American democracy in the form of advances in the election reform arena. Specifically, November 2, 2004 was one of the biggest days in the history of the struggle for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) in America.

The most crucial election-day advance for IRV was the usage of the system for the first time in San Francisco's city elections. There, voters ranked their choices to help fill several Supervisor seats and will be doing the same in the future to elect most of the city's key officials. Early polling shows a high level of satisfaction with the system among the city's voters.

That same day, three other American locations moved the IRV agenda forward. Ferndale, Michigan residents overwhelmingly passed Proposal B by a margin of 70%-30%, providing for election of the mayor and City Council through the use of an Instant Runoff Voting system pending the availability and purchase of compatible software and approval of the equipment by the Ferndale Election Commission.

In Burlington, Vermont, 66% of voters passed a referendum that advises the use of IRV to elect their mayor. In addition, 68% of voters in 16 western Massachusetts towns supported a non-binding motion in support of IRV, directing state representative Steve Kulik to vote in favor of legislation or a constitutional amendment to require IRV for elections to statewide office.

These advances are even more promising in light of two other recent IRV-related developments. On March 2, 2004, Berkeley, California passed Measure I by a margin of 72%-28%, enabling its future use of IRV. And, on October 8, 2004, U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) raised the stakes on the national level by introducing H.R. 5293, the Majority Vote Act of 2004, which favors requiring states by 2008 to conduct general elections for Federal office using IRV.

IRV is used in London, Ireland and Australia and many realize the strategic importance of placing it at the top of the progressive agenda. Because it addresses a crucial leverage point in our sub-optimal election system, the method has received the endorsement and focus of Democrats Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, Republican John McCain, many Libertarians, and Greens such as David Cobb, Peter Camejo, Matt Gonzalez, and the organization Greens for Impact.

IRV is best known for solving the "spoiler" problem, whereby candidates who cannot win themselves can get enough votes to throw the election to some other candidate who is favored by a minority. However, it also increases voter turnout, encourages more candidates to run for office, promotes positive issue-based campaigns, and discourages mudslinging among candidates now competing for second and third-place votes from each other's supporters. IRV also more accurately gauges candidates' true level of support since voters no longer fear that voting for their favorite candidate may help his or her political opposite - the "a-vote-for-Nader-is-a-vote-for-Bush" problem

The recent successes open the door for still greater advancement of IRV and, through its benefits, the advancement of countless other social justice, environmental, educational and labor issues that are inextricably intertwined with the election reform agenda. But capitalizing on those opportunities will require progressives to raise the priority of IRV and to work with members of all political parties and independents to cooperatively improve fundamental democracy in America.

Howard Ditkoff coordinated the successful IRV campaign in Ferndale, Michigan. He can be reached at [email protected], through his personal website at or through the website of Ferndale for Instant Runoff Voting at

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