Progressive Politics Network
Runoff Voting Makes Advances November 2
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org,
through his personal website at http://www.systemsthinker.com
or through the website of Ferndale for Instant Runoff Voting at