Post-Mortem on the Successful Campaign to Enable Instant Runoff Voting In Santa Clara County Elections

What follows is the final post-mortem that Steve Chessin conducted on the first successful campaign to allow or implement instant runoff voting in public elections in the United States in 23 years.

This campaign was the first of 4 successful local efforts to allow or adopt IRV for local elections between 1998 and 2000.  The other successful campaigns have occurred in Vancouver, Washington (November 1999); Oakland, California (November 2000); and San Leandro, California (November 200).

This report contains numerous lessons for people contemplating electoral reform campaigns.

Steve Chessin, [email protected]
January 10, 1999

There were two phases to the Measure F process. The first was the Charter Review process, getting the County to put some electoral reform measure on the ballot. The second (once a measure was placed on the ballot) was the campaign to get it passed.

There are a few web sites with background materials for each of these phases:

The web site for the Santa Clara County Charter Review Committee was [no longer exists]. There you will find the minutes of all the meetings, and the various reports generated. Missing from this site (but in the official hardcopy archives of the Committee) are all of the materials I gave the Committee at various times. There are references to them in the Minutes, however.

There are also some references to the Charter Review process in the summaries of the Board of Supervisor's meetings. The summaries can be found at and  but they do not contain as much information as the official minutes, which are hard copy only and not posted.

The web site with Measure F information is There you will find information directly related to the Measure F campaign.  A consultant to the CRC wrote a feasibility study .


Yes            157,223          53.9%
No             134,248          46.1%


  • Used an experienced, well-known, credible point person. (Two of five the Supervisors knew me personally and I was known by reputation by one, maybe two more. Four of the fifteen Charter Review Committee (CRC) members knew me either personally or by reputation. Two of the Supervisor staff people also knew me personally, and one other by reputation.)
  • Went to every CRC meeting (except one, when I had pneumonia), both evening and day-time, and to every Governance Subcommittee meeting (this was the subcommittee given the IRV and PR items to examine), whether or not PR/IRV was going to be discussed.
  • Got my Supervisor to get me on the "full packet" mailing list, not just the "agenda" list, over the objections of the Clerk of the Board.
  • Did not fight the Governance Subcommittee when they rejected PR as "too complicated" but were willing to consider IRV.
  • Sought advice from a Supervisor staff person on how to work with the CRC. She suggested getting the subcommittee to ask the consultant to prepare a report on IRV. This increased credibility of the issue -- his report showed that it's not just a crazy idea, that it is feasible but has its costs.
  • Supplemented the consultant's report with campaign expense data he was not willing to supply.
  • Worked with the CRC on resolving the cost-of-upgrade issue, by having Measure F allow (but not require) IRV after "the technology is available".
  • Lobbied each Supervisor (through their staff) when the CRC decided to recommend IRV.
  • Asked at least three people to attend the Supervisor's public hearing since I couldn't; one showed (thanks Jim!).
  • When asked to draft the ballot argument by the CRC Chair, got help from other NCCPR members with it (thanks, other Jim!).
  • Got appointed an Advisory Board Member of the Center for Voting and Democracy, so I could use that in signing the ballot argument instead of Board Member of Northern California Citizens for Proportional Representation (which would have confused people, since Measure F had nothing to do with PR). The CVD affiliation also increased credibility with the media. When asked "Why are you doing this?" by at least two different reporters/editorial board members, my answer of "I'm on the Advisory Board of the Center for Voting and Democracy and we educate people on how to improve the voting system" was sufficient to satisfy them. (Thanks, Rob, for making CVD such a credible organization!)
  • Helped the County Counsel with the Impartial Analysis, by providing her with a first draft, and reviewing and responding to all her subsequent drafts. (The next-to-last version had a killer phrase that I convinced her to modify. She turned "legal issues" into "procedural issues".)
  • Got the Libertarian Party to publicly rebuke their chair for signing the argument against, and used that in the rebuttal to it. (The highest county Libertarian vote was 11,685 in the Treasurer's race, and Measure F won by 22,975 votes, so I'm sure they contributed to the margin of victory.)
  • Put a phone number in the rebuttal, so people could call if they had questions.
  • Ran a free advertisement every week in the alternative weekly "messages" section, that say "F is Fair, F is Frugal, vote Yes on F". (I have no idea what effect this had, but it was something.)
  • Sought (and received) endorsements from well-known people and organizations, as well as from newspapers. Got balanced endorsements (Greens and Libertarians, Labor and Business). Got organizations that endorsed to include us in their slate mailers or publications (if any).
  • Got to link to our web site.
  • Wrote "vote Yes on F" on the "vote for Delaine Eastin" cards I sent to my friends.
  • Sent email to friends asking them to vote "Yes on F" and to spread the word.
  • Added "Vote yes on F" to the GOTV script I was using in my Democratic Party GOTV efforts.


  • Did not have the definition of IRV in the charter amendment itself, confusing people whose first look was that language and causing them to attack us for abolishing runoffs or being so vague that it could mean anything. (The County Counsel said it was okay not to put the definition in the Charter. Other efforts should ignore such advice.)
  • Waited until the ballot arguments were finished before going for endorsements, which meant we were too late for some organizations. In hindsight, should have gone to organizations even before we were on the ballot, just to explain it to them. We could have defused some of the opposition, perhaps, or even gotten advice as to how to make the charter language better. Also, being able to list endorsements in the ballot argument would have helped.
  • Did not respond to the rejected argument against, when we could have possibly defused that person and prevented his later blind-side attacks.
  • Put the web site up fairly late, and did not make good use of it (in terms of publicizing it). (For example, had we had it earlier, we could have mentioned it in the ballot argument itself. Of course, given how few people -- 10 -- called the phone number, maybe it wouldn't have mattered?)
  • Should have logged/counted web page hits for future reference.
  • Should have contacted a political consultant (I do know some, and know people who know some) for advice early in the game.
  • Should have contacted the paid slate mailer people earlier so we might have gotten on some of their mailers. (They put some stuff on for free, just to look more credible. This occurred to me 2 weeks before the election; one mailer said I was too late, another said she'd include me "if there was room", but I don't know if she did.)
  • Should have had people do more letters to the editor.
  • Should have organized some postcard campaigning.
  • Should have organized better email campaigning.
  • Should have tried to get on KPFA, where they allow one-sided discussions.
  • Should have done some targeted phoning of likely voters from Green, Libertarian, and Democratic parties.
  • Should have gotten more people involved. (I'm not good at that.)
  • It would have been better if I hadn't been house-hunting during the critical months of the effort.


  • Chuck Reed (CRC chair) liked it!
  • The San Jose Mercury News (major daily newspaper) chose to endorse us.
  • The Registrar of Voters spoke against us at the Supervisor's public hearing.
  • The San Jose Metro (local alternative weekly) chose to oppose us.