Implementation Urged for Instant Runoff Voting By JUDITH SCHERR

Friday March 10, 2006

Berkeley voters approved instant runoff voting (IRV) with a 72 percent vote two years ago. Advocates came to Tuesday night’s council meeting to lobby the lawmakers to make it happen. 

“It’s a fair process,” Jesse Townley told the council, noting that savings can add up to $100,000 by eliminating runoffs. Runoffs are often undemocratic, since low numbers of voters show up at the polls, he said.  

Voting in an IRV race means people can vote for the person they really want to see win, said Dave Wilner, a Berkeley resident and board member of Fair Vote, a Maryland-based nonprofit that advocates for more democratic election processes.  

“Now, we can’t go into the polling place and express ourselves,” he said in an interview in the Daily Planet offices. 

The way IRV works is that voters indicate their first, second and third (or more, depending on the particular jurisdiction) choices when they vote – they can, however, choose fewer. If no winner emerges in the first round, the losing candidate is eliminated. People who voted for the loser will then have their votes transferred to their second choice. This continues until a winner emerges. 

Fair Vote Executive Director Rob Richie said the fairness of the process can be seen when Mr. X gets 46 percent of the vote, Ms. Y gets 46 percent, and Ms. Z gets 7 percent in the first round of voting. Since Ms. Y and Ms. Z express similar political values, Ms. Z’s supporters vote for Ms. Y and she wins in the second round. “Should 47 percent win when the 7 percent person is everyone’s second choice?” he asked. 

While Berkeley voters have already called for IRV elections, the process is not yet in place. The question that Interim Alameda County Registrar of Voters Elaine Ginnold faces is which electronic voting vendor is able and certified by the state to run the elections. The state certified the electronic voting vendor, Election Systems and Software, Inc. for San Francisco only, but there is no qualified vendor certified for Alameda County at the present time.  

IRV “is designed to revitalize democracy,” Wilner said. 

Richie added that IRV encourages positive campaigning. For example, in the IRV elections in San Francisco, candidates would encourage supporters to vote for a person with similar ideas as their second choice. 

San Francisco has used IRV in two elections and Burlington, Vt. just had a successful mayor election using IRV. 

The County Board of Supervisors will discuss types of voting systems to use in Alameda County at a hearing March 13, beginning at 6 p.m., in the County Administrative Building, 1221 Oak St.