Columbian Endorses Amendment 1

The Columbian, October 17, 1999

Today, the Vancouver Columbian endorsed Amendment 1, the charter amendment to give Vancouver the option of using instant runoff voting (IRV) in future elections. The editorial board's statement noted that, although voting machines capable of handling a ranked ballot would have a one-time cost, that cost is outweighed by the savings realized by combining the primary and the general election. The text of the editorial:

In Our View:
Vancouver Columbian
Sunday, Oct. 17, 1999


Vancouver voters get chance to amend city charter

Like change? If you are a city of Vancouver resident and registered voter, you can usher some in or say no way.

The 1999 Charter Review Committee was successful in getting three proposed charter amendments on the Nov. 2 ballot for voters to ponder.

* Amendment 1 asks whether the city charter should be revised to authorize, but not require, the city council to use instant runoff voting to elect its officers. If the council wanted to exercise the option, it would have to approve the method 30 days prior to a candidate filing date.

Vancouver would be the first city in the nation to use the voting method, but that shouldn't scare us away. The method does work in other countries and can work here.

In most elections, the candidate with the most votes wins. But when there are three or more candidates, a person can end up winning even though he or she received less than the majority of voter support. The result? A majority of unhappy voters who felt their participation in the election meant nothing -- or worse yet, that their vote helped elect the candidate they least liked. The result of that? Possible voter apathy in future contests.

Instant runoff voting ensures the election of a candidate preferred by most voters. When filling out the ballot, voters rank candidates in the order that they like them: Instead of picking just one candidate, people can choose their favorite candidate and go on to pick out their second and third favorites and so on. If no candidate receives a majority of first rankings, the person with the fewest number of first-place votes is dumped from the list and his or her votes are applied to the voters' second picks. This process continues until one candidate has a clear majority.

Instant runoff is a choice-increasing method. Not only do voters more often elect a candidate who wasn't at the bottom of their list, but the method avoids the need for a primary contest. This means voters get a longer period to get to know candidates and their ideas. How many times has an incumbent won because voters never heard the ideas of challengers? How many times has name recognition taken over a race and eliminated a no-name but impressive visionary?

So what's the downside? The city would have to purchase thousands of dollars of equipment that can tally the out-of-the-norm ballots. Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey estimates it would take $30,000 to $50,000. But in the long run, the city would most likely save money because of the elimination of primary races.

While passing the amendment allows the city council to consider using the election method, it does not require the city to adopt instant runoff voting or spend even one dollar. A cost analysis would certainly be a top consideration for implementing the system. The amendment deserves a solid "yes."

-- Elizabeth Hovde, for the Vancouver Columbian editorial board

Also appearing in the October 17th Columbian is this column by one of the Columbian's regular monthly guest columnists:

Runoff plan gives voters a real choice

by Hugh Shuford

What in the world is Instant Runoff Voting? And why did the charter review committee come up with such an off the wall proposal?"

Amendment , on the Nov. 2 ballot for Vancouverites asks whether or not the city should decide on a different method of voting.

Some conservative Vancouver citizens must be thinking "What kind of a pinko, liberal conspiracy is this instant runoff voting anyway? It must be a plan by those people to steer city government to the left."

You can bet if some conservatives think this, then some liberals are thinking, "Just as I thought, stacking elections to favor the conservative types in city hall who cater to business interests."

Actually, nothing can be further from the truth; under instant runoff voting no group would have an advantage. In fact it is not such an off the wall proposal as it is being used elsewhere.

The biggest challenge for the supporters of instant runoff voting is dispelling an if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it attitude and then engendering some interest and emotion for the issue.

Emotional issues always bring out people in droves. Just try to cut down a few trees, and tree huggers come out of the woodwork. Propose to build a megastore or an amphitheater in someone's neighborhood, and see the emotion. This new voting method has not brought forth this type of response. The only threat is that it would improve our voting procedures.

The pro-instant runoff voting committee has made an analysis of the proposal, and it would behoove voters to study the issue carefully. The fact that the method will save money, as it calls for only one election rather than two, is a valid point -- if you want to save money. But what about those 1960 era punch card voting machines? Will they have to be updated with more modern computerized scanners to read the new type of city election ballot? Heaven knows we could use some additional efficiency during elections. Remember the "ballots too long" fiasco in the primary election? New ballots and voting procedures will need to be developed by the County Auditor.

Candidates ranked

Under instant runoff voting, if there are more than two candidates for the same office in a city election, voters would rank the candidates on the ballot. If one candidate gets a majority of first choice votes, she or he is elected. If no one gets a majority, the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is dropped and those votes are transferred to the voter's next choice. The votes are recounted and the process continues until one candidate gets a majority. Second, third, and fourth rankings would decide the election.

The pro committee has documented that a minority of voters in the recent primary election selected the final two candidates for Vancouver City Council Position 5, and that the outcome could have been different if voters had ranked the four candidates. Under instant runoff voting the will of the majority would be reflected more accurately.

With instant runoff voting it will be necessary to know the candidates, so intelligent and informed choices can be made. No longer will the voter be able to pick just one candidate. Voters will need to study all of the candidates, as the qualifications of each must be considered: where do we get the information?

Those candidates with money will mail out brochures, those who are articulate will shine during voter forums, and those who excel in interviews will impress The Columbian editorial staff.

What if The Columbian gave each candidate 500 words or so to detail their qualifications and platform? What about a web site sponsored by a non-partisan group for each candidate? The more information about a candidate the voter has, the more informed the choice.

Candidates will not have to raise as much money to run an instant runoff voting campaign. There will be one election campaign to finance, not both the primary and general elections. Each candidate will be in the general election regardless of the amount of money raised and spent.

The proposal takes some study and thought. Amendment 1 does not mandate Instant Runoff Voting, but authorizes the City Council, by public action, 30 days prior to the filing to approve its use. Any improvement in election procedures will benefit democracy.

I shall join many others and support Amendment 1.

Hugh Shuford, Vancouver Columbian guest columnist

IRV on CVTV: This week the taped program "As Easy as 1-2-3, Instant Runoff Voting Explained" will be aired on Vancouver's CVTV, Channel 47, at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, October 18th (program code 831470)

John Gear served on the 1999 Vancouver Charter Review Committee. 
To learn more about IRV, visit the FAIRVOTE Vancouver website, or call the Columbian's INFO-LINE at 699-6000, category 4021.

Commentaries Index