Measure L asks Davis to consider choice voting
Proponents say proposal could improve current system

By Michael Bott
Published October 30th 2006 in California Aggie

On Nov. 7th, Davis residents will cast their votes for Measure L, an advisory measure that will test the popularity of choice voting in the city. A Measure L victory does not guarantee a choice voting system in Davis but will determine whether citizens want to see it implemented in the near future.

Under choice voting, also known as preference voting or single transferable vote, voters rank candidates in order of their preference rather than cast a single vote. Before the election, a threshold is set for the number of votes needed by a candidate to nachieve victory. Once that threshold is met by a candidate, all extra votes are transferred to the voters' second preference.

According to Sonny Mohammadzadeh, press contact for Davis Citizens for Representation, choice voting ensures that there are no wasted votes.

"[The current system] gives no guarantees to votes actually counting," Mohammadzadeh said. "Votes can get spread depending on how many people are actually running on a certain platform. One of the more subtle problems in a plurality election is that if every single person votes for a candidate, that person is going to win, but that person really didn't need all those votes."

According to Robert Richie, executive director of FairVote -- The Center for Voting and Democracy, Measure L was put on the ballot because of its success in ASUCD elections. ASUCD officials proposed that the city of Davis pursue choice voting and the Davis City Council agreed that it was a worthwhile idea.

"That experience is part of why it made a lot of sense for the commission that recommended it," Richie said. "Some students were able to explain how it worked on campus and also show results. These stories of how it worked on campus helped a lot."

Richie also noted that although choice voting is just catching on in the United States, it has had very high success rates in places such as Ireland, Scotland and British Columbia. It is also being used in San Francisco, among other cities.

Mohammadzadeh said he feels positive Measure L will pass.

"We feel confident that it will pass from our interaction from people that we talk to who haven't heard of the system before and from people that have experience with it," he said. "Our sense is that people support it."

According to Richie, choice voting is especially viable in Davis, where City Council elections generally have more than four candidates. In a conventional voting system, a candidate could win with a relatively low percentage of the vote if they are spread evenly among multiple candidates.

"Another nice feature is that it doesn't punish participation of candidates," Richie said. "In our current system, too many people can run. When you have three people running, the system breaks down if you only get one vote. It's not as obvious in the large elections in Davis, but it's there."

UC Davis senior Dan Solchanyk said he feels choice voting could be a problem if people are not informed on all of the candidates.

"I am probably never going to know everything about each of the candidates running, so it might be hard to make an informed choice," he said. "Some people may end up voting for someone they know almost nothing about."

Richie said if it passes, he feels confident that the system will be implemented soon after.

"It is a proposal that stands up well to scrutiny," he said. "The more you look at this issue, the better it looks."