Choice voting demo is a really sweet deal

By Claire St. John
Published July 28th 2005 in The Davis Enterprise
In 1992, the 19,741,065 people who voted for Ross Perot may have regretted their decision when Bill Clinton took office.

In 2000, the 2,882,955 people who voted for Ralph Nader only to watch George W. Bush inaugurated might have kicked themselves for their optimistic, but ultimately wasted, vote.

What's a person to do? Vote his conscience or stick with the candidate who isn't horrible, but isn't perfect either?

Choice voting - which was used in 22 cities in the first part of the 20th century and is still used in Cambridge, Mass., and Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia - might just be the answer, according to Davis Citizens for Representation.

Choice voting has been effective at UC Davis and the local advocacy group has asked the Davis City Council to take a look at it.

If adopted, choice voting would allow voters to rank candidates. If their first-choice candidate, like Perot and Nader, didn't get enough votes to qualify, their second choice would be recorded.

"With this kind of system you can say, 'I'd rather have the really conservative candidate, but if that person doesn't win, I'd rather have a moderate,' " said Zo Tobi, a member of Davis Citizens for Representation. "This isn't a partisan issue, it's just an issue of fairness for everybody."

Ice cream for president

But all of that is a little much to muck through in the middle of a July heat wave. To illustrate choice voting in a fun way, Davis Citizens for Representation are putting on a mock election. The candidates? Ice cream flavors.

"We were trying to figure out what's the best way for people to figure out choice voting, and what better way than ice cream this summer?" Tobi said.

On the ballot are chocolate, chocolate chip cookie dough, coffee, cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip, peanut butter cup, strawberry and vanilla.

People who wander into Baskin-Robbins or Ben & Jerry's on Saturday will be asked to rank their favorite flavors, with three winners to be announced the following Saturday.

And luckily for the bulk of ice cream consumers, there's no age requirement.

"Basically, what we want to show is that choice voting is so simple, even a kid can do it," Tobi said.

Ice cream enthusiasts also can vote online or at the Davis Farmers' Market on Saturday.

Ice cream flavors go a long way to illustrating choice voting, Tobi said. For instance, if a voter loves strawberry, but doesn't really expect it to win, he can put strawberry in first place and vanilla in second place. That would ensure that chocolate, assuming this particular voter doesn't care for it, would not benefit from a hopeful strawberry vote.

Sound complicated?

"It took me a little bit to really understand why it works the way it does," Tobi said. "But most people when I talk to them, I've been amazed by how quick Davis residents have been to catch on to the idea. Their eyes just light up and they say 'wow, this will solve everything.' "

Council to consider

Choice voting may not solve every problem the City Council encounters, but Councilman Stephen Souza supports the idea.

"I'm a very strong proponent," he said.

Choice voting, Souza said, encourages more voters to participate, lowers the cost to candidates and thereby encourages more people to run for office. Representation is also better, Souza said.

The council created a Governance Task Force to explore the ideas of choice voting as well as districting and mayoral elections, among other things.

Most issues were talked down, but choice voting, Souza said, received almost unanimous support. It will go before the council this fall for further consideration.

"That's why what happens here in Davis is so important," Tobi said. "If the City Council follows through and puts this on the ballot and the voters embrace it next year, it means we can take it to the state much sooner."