On April 16, Federal District Court Judge Richard Seeborg upheld the constitutionality of San Francisco’s instant runoff voting system (IRV), the first time a federal court has reviewed IRV, a method of preference voting that is both legal and preferable.
San Francisco has used IRV every November since 2004 with machines that allow voters to rank up to three candidates:1-2-3. Judge Seeborg rejected arguments that not allowing voters to rank all candidates violates the Constitution and explained why jurisdictions might prefer it to traditional winner-take-all systems.
By allowing voters to rank their preference for candidates in single seat contests or multi-seat elections (single-transferable-vote, or STV), IRV enables votes to count while electing an actual majority winner, while eliminating the need for expensive and less democratic run-off elections
The importance of this ruling is that California cities including Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro,in Alameda County are moving forward with IRV elections this year.
Additionally IRV is an excellent alternative to Proposition-14 in June, that proposes a “top-two” electoral system run-off from an “open primary” Again the problem with this undemocratic scheme is that it does not accurately reflect the electorate preference. Prop 14 is so stupid in so many ways.
Maldonaldo and Schwarzenegger are idiots. Prop 14 will not produce majority winners but allows two candidates without any plurality to succeed to a run-off and even then one can be elected without a majority. Additionally, Prop 14 allows for spoilers and manipulation of elections and runoffs by powerful interests, while wasting at least 49.99% of ballots cast!
Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, Peace & Freedom, American Independent voters should all Reject Prop 14. Here’s why!
On November 21, 2009, the Board of Directors of Californians for Electoral Reform (CfER) voted to oppose the so-called Top Two Candidates “Open Primary” Act that will be on the June 8, 2010 ballot. We’re in the process of preparing a longer statement explaining our position in detail. Briefly, our opposition is based on the conclusion that Top Two will limit voters’ choices, not expand them, and this is in direct conflict with CfER’s stated belief that all citizens must have equal and satisfactory representation in government.
(We put “Open Primary” in quotes because this proposal would not establish open primaries. Rather, it would establish non-partisan primaries with some similarities to the blanket primary system of 1998-2000. It would be even more accurate to say that there would be no primaries at all because the first round of voting wouldn’t select nominees of political parties.)
Top Two will virtually eliminate minor parties from the ballot, not only in the November election, but even as a “party preference” that candidates could specify on the primary ballot. The proposal creates conditions for maintaining ballot-qualified status that no group other than the two major parties will be able to meet. It also eliminates the safety-valve of write-in candidacies in the November runoff elections.
Top Two is being advertised as a way to encourage the election of more moderate candidates. While there is no proof that it will do so, even if it could it would be at the cost of limiting voter choice and weakening political parties. There are much better ways to ensure the election of moderates, such as a system of proportional representation.
In addition, Top Two is in direct conflict with the Fair Elections Act of 2008, which establishes public funding for candidates for Secretary of State, that will also appear on the June 8 ballot. CfER has no position on the Fair Elections proposal; some of our members support it and some oppose it, so an as organization we remain neutral. But those who do support it should be aware that, should both measures pass in June, there is no telling what the courts will do to resolve the conflict.
President, Californians for Electoral Reform
And today, Rob Richie, of Center for Voting and Democracy explains further
Many Californians are frustrated with their state’s politics. Incumbents almost never lose, most general elections are lopsided, and most elections are effectively decided in low-turnout primaries. The status quo is hard to defend, but we still support it over Proposition 14 and the proposal to establish a “Top Two” system in California.
FairVote promotes ways to make elections more inclusive to individual voters and groups. An engaged citizenry benefits our communities and civic institutions. We believe in: more choices on the ballot;
election rules that broaden political discourse;a level playing field for all candidates and the groups that support them; and proportional representation based on how people vote.
To achieve these goals in California, we support adoption of proportional representation for legislative elections and instant runoff voting for elections to single winner offices. Proportional voting means that like-minded voters can come together to win seats in proportion to their share of the vote: 50% of the vote wins five out of ten seats, and 10% wins one out of ten seats. Instant runoff voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of choice, and, by simulating a series of runoff elections, their rankings end the “spoiler” problem by giving voters a chance to vote for their favorite without splitting the majority vote.
We support these reforms over a Two-Two runoff, but would consider supporting Top-Two over the status quo. But Proposition 14′s flaws are too severe. Consider, for example, its proposed timing and impact on political association.
The Two Rounds of Voting are Too Far Apart: Runoff elections are a way of conducting majority-voting elections, which we support when electing one person to an office. Instant runoff voting is a more efficient, voter-friendly means to elect a majority winner, but two-round runoff elections also are likely to achieve that goal. In France, for example, runoffs take place just two week after the first round, meaning that both rounds are part of a general election season where all candidates’ voices can be heard.
Under Prop.14, however California would eliminate nearly all candidates in a preliminary election held in early June –thereby leaving only two candidates on the ballot for five months until the November election. In fact, Prop. 14 does not even allow write-in candidates in the November runoff. In June, major parties may fail to secure a runoff spot due to split votes, while small parties will almost never advance. Five months with only two choices severely narrows the dialogue necessary to engage voters in a positive way and widen public understanding of policy alternatives.
Political Association Rights Are Neither Encouraged Nor Protected: We recognize Prop. 14′s intention of moving away from the antiquated process of partisan primaries that today are subject to plunging voter turnout and unrepresentative electorates, yet limit everyone else’s choices in November. But its solution is draconian for small parties and problematic for all parties. First, candidates only will be able to run with a party label only after a large number of voters register with that party — meaning that many candidates will not have the option to list their true party of choice. At the same time, a candidate can register with an established party and run with its label even if that party wants nothing to do with that candidate.
We want to improve electoral politics and increase participation through innovative means of promoting more association, not less. Allowing candidates to indicate party preferences on the ballot without the party having any say will lead to voter confusion and dilution of parties’ rights of political association. In the Washington State Grange case that opened the door to the Top Two system, the Supreme Court ignored the modern world’s convergence of political association and inclusive technology — a convergence with the potential to engage and inform voters and offer them new, expanded voter choice.
In Closing: Political structures in California, if not the nation, are in need of reform. The Public Policy Institute of California concluded that Prop. 14′s “overall effect on California’s political landscape would probably be modest.” We agree. California, a usual innovator, needs to take a look at its 1859 era legislature from a 21st Century perspective and consider bolder proposals. FairVote could support a “top-two vote getter” system, but within criteria we stated above. We therefore oppose California’s Proposition 14.