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Los Angeles Daily News

City OKs studying S.F. 'instant runoff voting'
By Harrison Sheppard
May 29, 2002

The Los Angeles City Council asked officials Tuesday to study a new voting system that would eliminate runoffs and instead allow people to make two or more choices per office in a single election.

"Instant runoff voting," approved in March in San Francisco, allows voters to make ranked multiple choices in their selection of candidates for local office such as city council and mayor.

As an example, City Clerk Mike Carey said, if there are five candidates for mayor, voters would be able to rank their preferences 1-5.

If the candidate who gets the most No. 1 votes fails to get more than 50 percent, the fifth-place candidate would be eliminated and the second-place choices of his voters would be added to the total. If that still failed to produce a winner over 50 percent, then the next candidate is eliminated, and so on.

Advocates of the system say one of its possible benefits would be to eliminate the need for a runoff election, saving two months -- and in some cases millions of dollars in city expenses and candidate fund-raising. It also could significantly change the dynamics of campaigning, proponents argue, with candidates less willing to use negative campaigning because it could lose them second-place votes.

To implement such a system in Los Angeles would require a voter-approved charter change and replacement of the city's current punch-card voting system.

Carey said he plans to study how the system works in San Francisco and other cities that have approved it, but he is not yet recommending whether it should be implemented in Los Angeles.

Councilman Hal Bernson, one of two dissenting votes on the study, called the concept "asinine" and an "abomination."

"It isn't what's easy for the city clerk or what's easy for the ethics division," Bernson said. "Elections are made for the public, so they can have a clear-cut view of who they're supporting, not their second choice or third choice.

"If you're going to do something as asinine as this, then just have an election and give it to the one who gets the most votes."

But other council members said whatever one thinks about the system, there is no harm in having the city clerk study how it works in San Francisco, without committing to implementing it here.

"There's no harm in adopting this today, because it just says let's look and see what's going on around the country," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski.

The council voted 12-2, with Bernson and Councilman Nate Holden dissenting, to ask Carey to study the plan.

The San Fernando Valley cityhood election on Nov. 5 will include the secession issue on the same ballot as the candidates for 14 city council seats and mayor of the proposed new city -- with no runoff election and no ranking of preferences.

In each of the 14 council districts and the race for mayor, the candidate who gets the most votes, even if less than 50 percent, will be the winner. Some critics have noted that means, for example, if seven people run for Valley mayor, someone could win with only 15 percent of the vote.

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