IRV press conference Tues. July 22, 11am, City Hall

Read especially the Bay Guardian article below on the ramification for
local Supervisor races.

Yours in liberty,
        <<< Starchild >>>

From: "Steven Hill" <>
Date: Sat Jul 17, 2004 7:40:05 PM US/Pacific
To: "'Steven Hill'" <>
Subject: Update: IRV in San Francisco on track for November election!!

From: Steven Hill, Center for Voting and Democracy

Dear friends and supporters of IRV,

Last Monday the Voting Systems Panel of the Secretary of State voted
unanimously to accept the final testing results from a federal
laboratory of San Francisco's voting equipment that has been modified
run IRV elections. This was the final "condition of certification"
previously imposed by the Voting Systems Panel back in April, which
OVER! Instant runoff voting has landed in San Francisco, with both feet
on the ground and nothing left that can trip was up. We will use IRV to
elect seven seats on our city council this November (see below two
recent articles from the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Bay
Guardian giving more of the details).

Now we are off and running to meet the next challenge, which is
community education and outreach to the 400,000 registered voters of
Francisco. It is an immense task, and you can be sure that the Center
for Voting and Democracy will be at the center of it. In future
upcoming e-mails, I will have more details about how YOU can help to
make this a successful IRV election (for instance, coming to a press
conference this Thursday, July 22, 11 am on the steps of City Hall).
It's crucially important that we have a good election, because we know
that the nation's eyes will be watching us. I have been contacted by
reporters, legislators, city councilors, and activists from all over
nation who are watching and waiting.

We could not have gotten here without many of you, and your great
support. Please join me in basking in this moment of celebration and
recognition that San Francisco is showing the way toward a better

Just think, if every state was using instant runoff voting for the
upcoming presidential race, voters would be liberated to rank their
favorite candidates unhindered by fears of wasting their vote on
"spoilers" or "the lesser of two evils," and confident that the winner
of each state would have a majority of the popular vote (unlike nine
states in the 2000 presidential election, most infamously Florida).
Unfortunately, our current system fails the most basic requirements of
"majority rule." But the U.S. Constitution allows each state to decide
how to allocate its electors, and instant runoff voting is the best
method a state could adopt to ensure majority rule (see below an
that I co-authored recently in The Nation exploring these themes).

Congratulations to all!!!


Steven Hill
Center for Voting and Democracy
(apologies in advance if you receive this email more than once)
(please forward this to your own email lists)


Instant runoff voting system passes test

Greg Lucas
Saturday, July 10, 2004
San Francisco Chronicle

The instant runoff voting system approved by San Francisco voters two
years ago won approval by an independent testing agency last week,
paving the way for the system's use in the November election.

Although state officials had certified the system for use in April,
imposed a number of conditions, among them passage of federally

Ranked-choice voting was adopted by San Francisco voters in 2002. It
supposed to be used in last fall's mayoral election, but the system had
not received state or federal approval at the time.

Ranked choice or instant runoff voting eliminates San Francisco's
December runoff by allowing voters to rank their top three choices.

If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote on the first count, the
bottom candidate drops out and the votes are tallied until one
emerges with 50 percent.

Mark Kyle, undersecretary of state, said California would amend San
Francisco's certification as early as Monday to reflect the successful
testing, and send official approval to the city shortly after that.


IRV is on
With ranked-choice voting ready for fall, candidates contemplate the
complex possibilities
By Steven T. Jones
SF Bay Guardian
July 14-20, 2004

San Francisco elections officials are finally ready to implement
ranked-choice voting this fall - nearly three years after voters
demanded it - changing the dynamics of supervisorial campaigns in both
positive and uncertain ways.

Ranked-choice voting (RCV), also known as instant-runoff voting (IRV),
lets voters mark their first, second, and third choices on new ballots.
When the votes get counted, those going to the bottom finishers are
redistributed to their second and third choices until a candidate
attains a majority of the votes.

After the implementation of RCV last year was scuttled by bureaucratic
delays, technical glitches, and political chicanery (see "Voting as
Usual," 8/27/03), candidates and other politicos assumed the new system
would be in place this year. Yet behind the scenes, there were
potentially fatal problems that didn't get settled until July 7.

The city's voting-machine vendor, Election Systems and Software, had
problems winning federal certification for its source code and meeting
other conditions the state had set during an April hearing. As recently
as June 28, Mayor Gavin Newsom told a fundraiser crowd that RCV might
not happen.

But on the morning of July 7, the needed federal laboratory
certification came through, which top officials in the Secretary of
State's Office reviewed that afternoon, and by that night,
undersecretary of state Mark Kyle delivered the news at the San
Francisco Elections Commission meeting that RCV was good to go.

Kyle told the Bay Guardian, "I don't see any obstacles that would stop
this." City elections director John Arntz told us that he's ready to
deal with any unexpected problems, but that "I feel confident that it's
going to work as it's supposed to."

So the only remaining question seems to be how it will influence the
campaigns and results, and that question has become a preoccupation for
the city's political infrastructure.

All seven supervisorial races this fall could be affected by RCV
dynamics, but the crowded field of up to 30 candidates in District Five
(centered around the Haight-Ashbury) makes it the most interesting case
study on the possibilities and pitfalls of the new system.

Already, we've seen a more civil and cooperative tone at the forums,
formation of coalitions like the D5 Candidates Collaborative, and
candidates appearing at one another's events, as Bill Barnes and
O'Connor did at Ross Mirkarimi's July 1 kickoff party.

"I think IRV promotes a civility that is often unseen in the normal
election process," Mirkarimi told us. "Each candidate and campaign will
size up where the other candidates are and how we may want to link up.
It's like tag-team wrestling."

Those teams are still forming, but they could end up playing off things
like party affiliation: Mirkarimi, Susan King, and Lisa Feldstein are
all active Greens, and Barnes and Robert Haaland are on the Democratic
County Central Committee. Business owners Michael O'Connor and Jim
Siegel could be competitors or collaborators. Alliances could be
ideological, racial, based on sexual preference, or even strategic
partnerships between unlikely bedfellows.

"What's clear is that IRV has a lot of people scratching their heads on
'what it's going to mean for me,' " said political consultant Jim
Stearns, who's advising the campaigns of Aaron Peskin, Jake McGoldrick,
and Tom Ammiano.

Many of McGoldrick's competitors have already started ganging up on
but in wide-open D5, any candidate who goes negative risks alienating
voters and losing second- and third-place votes.

"There is a general feeling among all the candidates that we have to
treat each other with respect," Feldstein told us.

It was a point echoed by all the candidates we interviewed. Barnes said
RCV could prevent the kind of bitter feuds that mark many races between
otherwise close candidates, such as the 2002 assembly race between Mark
Leno and Harry Britt.

"You still see some of the Leno-Britt rift in the LGBT community,"
Barnes said. "I hope [RCV] brings us together."

Steven Hill, who wrote the 2001 ballot measure that created the new
system, said, "IRV is good for building coalitions."

"I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and talking to people
about it," Feldstein said. "People who get relatively few votes could
a big factor in the race."

But candidates aren't the only ones who should be thinking
about IRV. Hill said voters should too.

"It's helpful if voters have an idea who the top candidates are," Hill
said, adding that voters can vote their idealism and choose long shots,
but somewhere in their ranking should be their favorite choice among
front-runners. "They just have to be somewhere in your top-three

The other tactic would be for voters to identify the top contenders and
vote for all of them except one who they really don't want to win.

"Let's say you don't want Bill Barnes to win, you say, 'Here's our top
choice, Robert Haaland, but we also like Mirkarimi and Feldstein,' so
then that's your three," Hill said.

Voters who choose only low-level candidates will eventually have their
ballots eliminated from contention. "How many people are going to
dead-end their ballots?" Stearns asked.

"I'm one of those who are poised to win, so I want to be strategically
precise in what I urge my voters to do," Mirkarimi said.

That's because IRV also opens up the possibility for second-tier
candidates to sneak into victory if they can win a lot of second- and
third-place votes from those below them. For example, if Newsom ally
Andrew Sullivan gets lots of money from the mayor's backers, he could
the kinds of detailed polling that might position him for second- or
third-choice voters.

"A moderate like Sullivan could come close to winning if he got the
financial backing," Stearns said, noting he probably couldn't win a
traditional runoff election in the liberal district. "IRV may create
opportunity to do something you couldn't otherwise do."

"I think that it will definitely influence the race, and I think there
is a good chance that whoever wins will not have gotten the most
first-place votes," O'Connor told us.

Yet Stearns notes that all candidates need to run to win: "First-place
votes are what's important, and that hasn't changed."


De-Spoiling the Election
By Steven Hill and Rob Richie
The Nation, July 12, 2004

In 2000, Al Gore beat George W. Bush in the state of New Mexico by a
mere 356 votes--a slimmer margin than in Florida. Ralph Nader polled
21,000 votes. Nader not only nearly cost Gore the state, but forced him
to expend valuable resources there in the campaign's waning days,
draining his effort from Florida.

Flash forward to 2004. Once again the Democratic and Republican
candidates are locked in a tight race nationally. Once again Nader's
entry into the race threatens Kerry's hold on New Mexico. And once
two candidates who share many views and bases of support--and who
ideally could work together to challenge George Bush on the economy,
war in Iraq, the future of social security, the environment, political
reform and health care--instead are players in a Cain and Abel drama,
courtesy of the all-or-nothing, winner-take-all nature of our
presidential election method.

Yet there is a way out--if New Mexico Democrats decide they want one.
Democrats control New Mexico's state legislature, and one of Kerry's
leading vice-presidential contenders, Bill Richardson, is governor.
Democrats could pass into law--right now--a runoff or instant runoff
system with a majority requirement for president to ensure that the
center-left does not split its vote between Kerry and Nader.

Here's how. The Constitution mandates the antiquated Electoral College
system for electing the president, in which there is a series of
elections in the fifty states and the District of Columbia rather than
one national election. But the Constitution specifically delegates to
states the method of choosing its electors. States historically have
used a variety of different approaches, including letting the state
legislature appoint electors, as threatened by Florida Republicans in
2000. Nebraska and Maine, for example, award two electoral votes to the
winner of the statewide vote and one vote to the winner of the popular
vote in each congressional district (a flawed approach that would boost
Republicans if in place nationally).

The remaining states use a statewide winner-take-all plurality method
where the highest vote-getter wins 100 percent of that state's
votes, even if that candidate wins less than a popular majority. With
plurality voting, a majority of voters can split their vote among two
more candidates and end up winning nothing. Indeed because of the
presence of Nader and other candidates like Pat Buchanan, nine states
2000 awarded all their electoral votes to a candidate who did not win a
popular majority. Fully 49 of 50 states were won without a majority in
1992. It is the lack of a majority requirement that leads Nader and
Kerry forces to clash so bitterly.

To be sure, Republicans may cry foul if New Mexico Democrats suddenly
switch to a runoff system, but even if Democrats' action is
self-interested, it's also in the public interest to protect majority
rule and allow for voter choice. One approach would be to adopt a
system similar to that used in most presidential elections around the
world, most southern primaries and many local elections: A first round
with all candidates would take place in New Mexico in early October.
The top two finishers would face off in November, with the winner
certain to have a majority.

Better still would be to adopt instant runoff voting (IRV). Used in
Ireland and Australia and recently adopted for city elections in San
Francisco and for congressional and gubernatorial nominations by the
Utah Republican Party, IRV has drawn support from Howard Dean, Jesse
Jackson Jr. and John McCain. By allowing voters to rank the candidates
(for example, a 1 for Ralph Nader and a 2 for John Kerry), IRV can
resolve the spoiler problem. Voters are liberated to vote for their
favorite candidate without helping to elect their least favorite. IRV
also saves candidates the campaign costs of a runoff election and
preserves more voter choice in the decisive November election when
turnout is highest.

New Mexico's state senate in fact already passed IRV legislation in
in the wake of Democrats losing two congressional seats due in part to
Green Party candidacies. Despite support from the AFL-CIO and Common
Cause, the proposal died because of concerns about costs of
it and because some Democrats would rather destroy Greens than allow

Democrats also call the shots in the presidential battleground states
Maine, West Virginia and Tennessee. With one vote of the legislature
a stroke of the governor's pen, these states could accommodate the
reality of the Nader candidacy. The question is: what is stopping

While Ralph Nader may be ready to risk a repeat of 2000--and could do
much more to make multi-party democracy a viable option by highlighting
reforms such as IRV--most Greens don't want to be spoilers. They
consistently support reforming winner-take-all elections, and their
presidential frontrunner David Cobb promises to focus this fall on safe
states, in recognition of Greens' interest in defeating George Bush.

But only Democrats and Republicans have the power to change the rules
the game. Democrats' failure to use that power begs the question: would
they rather engage in name-calling and suppressing candidacies, even
at the risk of costing themselves the presidential election, than allow
new political voices to join the fray? More people, Democrats and
non-Democrats alike, should begin asking party leaders: why not IRV?

(Steven Hill is a senior policy analyst with the Center for Voting and
Democracy and author of "Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's
Winner Take All Politics." Rob Richie is the Center's executive
director. Contact the Center at

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