The Eugene Register-Guard
Runoff voting would save
By Matt Donohue
and Ken Tollenaar
June 13, 2001.
On Wednesday, the Eugene City Council will
consider sending to voters a charter amendment calling for a new and
fairer method of electing the mayor and city councilors. This new
method is called "instant runoff voting," and it was proposed by the
city's Charter Review Committee.
Under the current system, candidates for mayor
and City Council run first in the May primary. If one candidate
achieves a majority in May, only that candidate's name appears on
the ballot in November, although voters may write in additional
names. If no candidate gets a majority in May, the top two
candidates are on the ballot in November.
Instant runoff voting would be used when there
are three or more candidates for the same office or position,
including any write-ins. Under instant runoff voting, instead of
casting a single vote for only ne candidate, you would mark your
ballot for your first choice, and if you wish you would also mark
your second choice, third choice, etc., up to the number of
candidates on the ballot. You could rank as many or as few
candidates as you desire.
When the votes are counted, if any candidate
received a majority of first hoices, that candidate would be
elected. But if no one had a majority, rather than waiting six
months for a runoff election, the runoff would be immediate. The
candidate who received the fewest votes would be eliminated from the
race and the votes would be recounted with the eliminated
candidate's votes transferred to those voters' second choice. Again,
if a candidate now had a majority, the election would be decided. If
not, the second-lowest vote getter would be eliminated, those votes
would be transferred and the process would continue until one
candidate received a majority.
One great advantage of instant runoff voting is
that the entire election would take place at one time, thus saving
money for candidates and the taxpayers (and reducing the amount of
junk mail and lawn sign visual clutter for all citizens). A related
advantage would be that lections for mayor and councilor would be
scheduled for November rather than May, thus assuring a higher
Additional advantages are 1) voters would get to
express their true preferences without fear that their choice would
help elect their least preferred candidate; and 2) candidates would
be encouraged to address issues that concern a broader segment of
the community. These and other advantages would be achieved while
preserving the basic principle of majority rule.
A Register-Guard editorial (April 26) expressed
skepticism about instant runoff voting, alleging that the system is
"unfair" because "voters who support the least popular candidate get
first crack at deciding a close election" and "supporters of
long-shot candidates" get to "have their cake and eat it, too."
Well, the exact same thing happens under the
current system. Those voters who supported "the least popular
candidate" in May get to vote again in November. The only difference
is that under instant runoff voting, it would all happen at the same
A 1975 Michigan circuit court judge addressed the
issue of fairness in a case upholding Ann Arbor's use of instant
runoff voting to elect its mayor in 1974. The judge observed that
under instant runoff voting, "All voters possessed the right at the
same time (election day) to decide who their second choice etc.,
candidate would be if their first choice were eliminated from the
race. ... (A vote whose first choice candidate has been eliminated)
does not have his vote counted twice - it counts only once and if
that first preference no longer remains and is eliminated from
consideration, his or her second preference is the `counted' vote.
Voters for the top two candidates still have their vote counted for
their first choice."
Eugene is not the small, homogeneous community it
once was. It is growing not only in size, but also in social and
political diversity. Institutions that worked well in the past must
be adapted to the changing circumstances of the present. Instant
runoff would allow for the expression of diverse viewpoints while
assuring the election of officials who enjoy majority support. It
would be a good fit for Eugene.
Donohue is chairman of the Eugene Charter Review Committee. Ken
Tollenaar, a former Eugene city councilor, is a member of the