Ranked Choice Voting good option for a city election

By Dave Wells
Published May 21st 2008 in Arizona Republic

On April 10, all four candidates for Tempe City Council received a check from Cox Communications’ Political Action Committee for $390.  With a run-off election slated for May 20, they’ve needed funds to continue their campaigns.  In April alone, the four raised $44,902—with much coming from outside Tempe.  Mesa, unfortunately, doesn’t make campaign finance reports available at their city web site, so voters can’t check easily.

On March 11, when voters in Tempe and Mesa cast ballots, every race with  more than two candidates got thrown into a May 20 do-over.   Mesa will take two months to determine the second choice of voters who preferred Claudia Walters for mayor. 

Tempe’s at-large council race elected one and eliminated two, leaving four candidates for two slots.  Mesa’s District 5 dropped from three candidates to two.

If the process strikes you as remarkably inefficient, it is.

Recently Fair Vote Arizona joined the Arizona Institute for Peace Education and Research in hosting three of the Tempe council candidates for a program on Ranked Choice Voting.  Fair Vote Arizona is organizing an initiative drive in Glendale to eliminate their run-off elections.  The candidates were unanimous on their marathon campaigns.  New mom Julie Jakubek, who was a council candidate,  probably best captured their sentiments, “I enjoy getting to meet voters, but I’d like to spend time with my family.” 

Ranked Choice Voting was used in London’s recent election.  San Francisco uses it.  Minneapolis and Santa Fe are implementing it.  The Utah Republican Party elects party officers and nominates county, state, and federal candidates with it.  The Academy Awards even uses it to determine the five finalists for Oscar categories.

Ralph Nader’s appearance at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe on May 9 reminds us, along with Evan Meacham, of our current system’s shortcomings.  When three or more candidates compete in races where only one candidate wins, voters worry about wasting their vote on a candidate they like, but fear won’t be elected.  Worse yet, they might cast such a ballot and actually help elect the candidate they disliked most.

With multiple seat races, like in Tempe, many strong backers for candidates fret about assisting other candidates and throw away two of their votes, making it even more likely we’ll have a run-off.

With Ranked Choice Voting, you simply rank candidates.  In Mesa’s mayoral race, when Claudia Walters came in third, her ballots would be recounted and her votes transferred to voters’ second choices—so those voters’ preferences aren’t disregarded but simply re-applied.  We’d know immediately whether Rex Griswold or Scott Smith would be the next mayor.

In Tempe, ranked choice would bring more diversity to the council. The hottest issue has been between those bound and determined to reduce property taxes and those bound and determined to make sure Tempe has top notch parks.  Currently, majority rule dominates as each voter gets one vote per seat; minority interests can get stifled.  Ranked choice instead gives each citizen one vote that can be transferred, if the voter’s top choice isn’t selected.   If three are elected, votes are counted and each candidate able to reach one-fourth of the total ballots cast plus one would be elected.

The simplest analogy is the Academy Awards nominations where members rank order nominations and ballots are then tabulated until a candidate reaches the finalist threshold at which point those ballots are set aside and further selections for that candidate (over-votes) are counted instead for their next preferred candidate, and so on until five Oscar finalists are determined.

Tempe would elect some candidates determined to reduce property taxes and some wishing to make sure Tempe has top notch parks—the same kind of diversity that one finds within Tempe’s electorate.

We can get it right the first time.  It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

(Note: alternative names for Ranked Choice Voting are Instant Run-off Voting and Single Transferrable Vote)
Candidate Pre-General Campaign Finance Reports for Tempe Council available at http://www.tempe.gov/clerk/Election/candidate%20Campaign%20Finance%20reports.htm  (all finance reports, including Mesa’s are at the Maricopa County Recorders web site searchable by candidate and year-but not office or locality–few know this, however)

 $      5,295Hutson
 $    12,236Woods
 $       6,190Jakubek
 $    20,371Navarro
 $    44,092Total
Mesa Election Results: http://cityofmesa.org/clerk/Elections/Results/2008/3-11-08_Eng.aspx
Currently down but Fair Vote AZ and Better Ballot Glendale web sites: http://www.betterballotglendale.org/  or http://www.fairvoteaz.org/
Utah Republican Party: http://www.fairvote.org/irv/utahindex.html
San Francisco: http://www.fairvote.org/?page=1494
Minneapolis: http://www.fairvote.org/?page=703&articlemode=showspecific&showarticle=3047 (delay due to voting machine capability noted, but voting machine compatibility does not appear to be an issue in Arizona)
Sante Fe: http://www.fairvote.org/?page=200&articlemode=showspecific&showarticle=2956
Academy Awards: http://www.fairvote.org/?page=706
London (UK): http://results.londonelects.org.uk/Results/CombinedMayoralResults.aspx