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Not-so-instant runoff voting

electionsinstant runoff votingLos Angeles City Councilvoter fatigue

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday once again delayed signing off on a plan to ask voters to approve instant runoff voting. IRV, as it is known, has been knocking around the council for a couple years but hasn't gotten majority support, despite rapt enthusiasm among a core of supporters.

IRV has been in place in San Francisco for several years and, according to testimony at the council meeting, is used in Australia and other progressive jurisdictions such as Papua-New Guinea. The system allows voters to rank the candidates instead of just picking one. If no one wins a majority of first-ranked votes, candidates are peeled off the bottom and second and third-choice votes counted until one candidate has a majority and is declared the winner.

The idea is to eliminate costly runoff campaigns and elections, like the one in which Jim Hahn (who finished second in the "primary") defeated Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor in 2001, or the one in which Villaraigosa defeated Hahn in 2005. Or those in which several current members of the City Council came in second but after continuing and focusing their campaigns went on to win in a runoff.

Supporters say eliminating runoff elections will save money and reduce voter fatigue. The city would have to purchase new equipment capable of recording and counting ranked votes and would have to mount an aggressive, and presumably expensive, public education program.

Wednesday was the deadline for the council to send measures to the city attorney for the March 3 election, so IRV supporters on the council asked for a report back from city staff by the end of the year, in time to get the measure on the May 19 runoff ballot.

Once more, in case you missed it: in time to get the measure on the May 19 runoff ballot. Which they could do, because Los Angeles has runoffs. Otherwise they would have to schedule a special election in order to ask voters to reduce voter fatigue. Or wait until the 2011 city election.

Alas, the irony is wasted; they'll have to wait anyway. The city clerk's office won't have time to do the necessary studies by Jan. 14, the deadline for the May runoff ballot, because staff, which is currently working on the Nov. 4 election, will by then be busy working on the March 3 election.


Comments () | Archives (5)

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Clay Shentrup

The people involved in this decision should read William Poundstone's "Gaming the Vote", an excellent book which contrasts the five major alternative voting methods. Of them, Instant Runoff Voting is essentially the worst. The best is score voting, also called range voting. It means rating each candidate on a scale, like 0-99 or 1-5. It's how we rate products on Amazon.com or movies on IMDB.com, and extensive mathematical analysis shows it to be vastly more representative than IRV, per an objective economic measure called Bayesian regret. This is especially true when you have the problem of strategic voting, where voters exaggerate their true preferences to get a better result.

see http://scorevoting.net/CFERlet.html

Gautam Dutta

Why was the City Council willing to vote for a DWP solar power initiative that will cost up to $3 billion, but not for an election reform that will save taxpayers $8 to $9 million every 2 years?

Here are the facts on an invaluable reform that has been embraced by Barack Obama, John McCain, Ralph Nader, Richard Riordan, LA League of Women Voters, LA Area Chamber of Commerce, LA County Federation of Labor, California Common Cause, John Chiang, Laura Chick, and many others (full details at IRVinLA.org):

1. By eliminating wasteful runoff elections, IRV will save LA taxpayers $8 to $9 million (source: LA City Clerk's report).

2. Last year, barely 6 percent of voters showed up for an LA community college runoff election -- which cost us taxpayers $5.5 million, or $40 per voter. That's what led Councilmembers Rosendahl, Huizar, Reyes, and Greuel to support Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).

By eliminating wasteful runoff elections, IRV will boost voter turnout. After IRV was introduced in San Francisco, voter turnout skyrocketed by 168 percent -- and by over 300 in its most diverse neighborhoods.

3. IRV is easy to use: you simply vote for your first, second, and third choices (1-2-3). If your first choice is eliminated, you won't need to vote again in a separate runoff: your vote will automatically go to your SECOND choice.

4. IRV can make it easier for less established candidates to win -- by eliminating the spoiler (Nader/Perot) effect. Currently, voters are often reluctant to "waste" their vote on an underdog candidate. By allowing voters to rank their choices, IRV solves this dilemma. With IRV, voters could vote for an underdog candidate as their first choice, and a more established candidate as their second choice.

5. IRV will not force the City to buy new voting machines -- the City has to buy them anyway. Due to flaws with the current InkaVote system, the City will be required to spend up to $35 million for new voting equipment, REGARDLESS of whether IRV is adopted. It would only take an additional $600,000 to adapt new equipment for IRV -- a smart investment that would result in cost savings of $8 to $9 million per election.

I had hoped the City Council would collectively show leadership and vision on IRV. Instead, the Council called for yet another study.

Enough said.

Brady Westwater

This is just another scam by people determined to 'fix' democracy in this country by eliminating the right of the majority to select their representatives.

Bob Richard

The coalition of organizations and individuals that has been put together in Los Angeles to support IRV is truly remarkable. How many issues are there where the labor federation and the Chamber of Commerce are on the same side? The city council was not being asked to adopt IRV, it was being asked to give the voters the opportunity to adopt IRV. Finally, the city council doesn't need more studies. The studies have already been done.

Steve Abramson

Plain and simple, IRV ballots record your second choice to provide the info for a runoff, IF NEEDED. The goal is to achieve a MAJORITY winner in a multi-candidate race.



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