portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting united states

government | political theory

Instant runoff voting wins in 4 cities

The Pacific Green Party has long been an advocate and supporter of Instant Runoff Voting as one approach to breaking the two, corporate party stranglehold that exists in the US. Good to hear we are winning some of these campaigns.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Steven Hill, 415-665-5044

November 10, 2006  Hill@newamerica.net
Lynne Serpe, 213-480-0994  Serpe@newamerica.net

Election Proves New Voting Method to Improve Democracy Is Catching On
Political reform is adopted by voters in four cities, two in California

SACRAMENTO, CA -- Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), an idea advanced by the New America Foundation to give voters more influence and more choices in elections, continued to gain favor in California and elsewhere as four cities strongly approved November 7 ballot measures supporting the idea.

In California , where San Francisco became the state's first Instant Runoff Voting city in 2004, voters in the cities of Oakland and Davis approved the idea, which would allow voters to rank their first, second, and third choices for office. Oakland overwhelmingly supported the measure by 68% of the returns, meaning voters will use Instant Runoff Voting for all local offices in November 2008. The Davis measure was an advisory recommendation.

Elsewhere, voters in Minneapolis passed their ballot measure with 65% support. And in Pierce County, Washington, voters supported the move to IRV for their partisan county elections with 54% of the vote.

New America staff Lynne Serpe and Steven Hill played a key role as advisors to several of these campaigns. New America was joined by other organizations, including FairVote (www.fairvote.org), a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization that is the national clearinghouse on electoral systems like instant runoff voting.

The elections clearly affirm a growing trend toward Instant Runoff Voting as a response to public frustration with unresponsive and unaccountable government leaders. Instant Runoff Voting discourages negative campaigning and opens the process to candidates and ideas that may not be viable in a traditional winner-take-all election.

"Clearly there is strong interest among voters in political reforms that open up the political system and make voters feel like their vote counts," said Lynne Serpe, Deputy Director of New America's Political Reform Program. "What was interesting about the four victories for IRV was that they happened in four very different locations. Oakland is a very diverse and working-class city; Minneapolis is a liberal Midwestern city; Pierce County is mostly a rural county with large numbers of independent voters; and Davis is a smaller, university town. Yet in every place Instant Runoff Voting provided a unique solution to problems with representative government and democracy."

Instant Runoff Voting already is used in San Francisco, which on November 7 had its third election using Instant Runoff Voting for local offices. Burlington, Vermont elected its mayor using Instant Runoff Voting in March 2006.

For more information on the election and Instant Runoff Voting go to  http://www.newamerica.net/programs/political_reform.

About New America Foundation

New America Foundation is a nonprofit, post-partisan, public policy institute whose purpose is to bring exceptionally promising new voices and new ideas to the fore of our nation's public discourse. Relying on a venture capital approach, the Foundation invests in outstanding individuals and policy solutions that transcend the conventional political spectrum. Headquartered in our nation's capital, New America also has offices in California and New York.

For more information about New America or the Political Reform Program, go to www.newamerica.net/california

hot damn! 27.Nov.2006 21:07

holey moley

This is great news! Is there a campaign going to get this option on the ballot (again) for Portland?

That's the stuff 27.Nov.2006 21:54

Fred Bauer

Instant runoff and clean elections, we'd halfway have a democracy.

Notice how you'd never hear abou this.... 27.Nov.2006 22:09

Brian the Green

If you got your news from corporate Amerika?

Great, so how about Portland? 27.Nov.2006 22:24


So when does "progressive" Portland and Oregon enact such a measure?

Speak now while you can 28.Nov.2006 00:03

Jasun Wurster

Portland is currently looking to (and will most likely) change it's form of government. There is a public comment blog in which many people have mentioned Instant Runoff Voting and\or Proportional Representation. The link to the blog for you to leave your comment is:


Also, letters to the editor, mayor and speaking at City Hall meeting help educate more people about this more democratic form of elections.


Proportional Representation 28.Nov.2006 13:20

Brian the Green

I hope readers will educate themselves about the difference between PR and IRV. Green support both but PR is really the big dream.

IRV allows voters to rank their candidates 1, 2, 3. This reform guarantees the winner has a majority and that each person's vote counts (if your #1 vote doesn't win, your vote is transferred to your 2nd choice, if they don't win it is transferred to your 3rd choice...until one winner has a majority.

PR can take a number of forms but the essential difference is that PR districts are multimember districts rather than a single representative. This reduces the # of votes needed to get representation. In single member districts, a candidate needs 50% +1. In a 10 person multimember district, 10% of the vote gets you a seat at the table, 20% gets you two seats and 50% would get you 5.

Most of the world's democracies use a form of PR because it provides more thorough and diverse representation.

Pay Attention to Salem Next Year 28.Nov.2006 14:37

Paul the Green

In the upcoming 2007 Legislative Session a couple of IRV friendly State Representatives will introduce a bill that authorizes cities and counties to use IRV in local elections. While our State Constitution allows the use of IRV, the current Secretary of State believes we need to pass impletmenting legislation first.

We will need all supporters of IRV to email, call, send letters, and lobby in person for the implementing legislation. Once we have a bill number I am sure it will be announced here on indymedia.

PRMA has best features of PR w/o its gridlock drawbacks & w/o IRV drawbacks 30.Nov.2006 11:51


There's another version of PR, called 'proportional representation with majoritarian allotment' or PRMA, meaning when elections go lower than plurality wins (less than 50%), it goes proportional representation. On the other hand, when 50% of the public truly wants a singular candidate then it goes to that candidate in the district.

The dynamic that it sets up is majoritarian parties hoping to integrate 50% of the public versus lots of other parties knowing that if they at least create a plurality win, they win as well. This forces all parties to seriously ratchet for 100% electoral inclusion.

The difficulty in most U.S. elections is that a group of parties agree to appeal to only a partial electorate.

Instead, PRMA raises the stakes and assures that if smaller parties can pull enough people to cause a plurality, then the district has several representatives based on the direct and actual percentage of the public that voted for them.

For example in an election between parties A B C D (with D as an independent writein), if

A 40%
B 40%
C 15%
D 1%

--it's a plurality outcome. Thus it goes PR (proportional representation for the district), though at the direct percentage they get and no more--because that is closest to what the public in aggregate wanted to see.

Candidate A gets .40 of a vote. The voter (you) put him on a leash just like you wanted since he was unable to win a larger majority.

Candidate B gets .40 of a vote as well.

Candidate C gets .15.

The suggestion is that the top three candidates get 'the' seat, split three ways if a plurality win. The numbers and weight of the candidate's power changes depending on what the voter wants.

If the public in aggregate want something else, i.e., not a plurality win, then the public had more confidence in a particular singular candidate. If a candidate can get over 50% of the vote, then they get the full 1 seat and no one else.

If the public is able or unable to solidly back a singular candidate, then that should be reflected accurately either way.

PRMA forces all parties to ratchet up the voter appeals for more voter inclusion. IRV indirectly does this, by the feint of the second round runoff if a plurality win. However, since the public definitely wanted a plurality win, no one should artificially be forced to support any candidate they didn't want, which is the point of IRV's second round. IRV keeps institutionalizing low plurality wins with the only benefit going to the unrepresentative party that failed to get a lot of support in the actual election (the first round). IRV rewards laziness and lack of getting out the vote by a party.

Thus, while IRV is hardly a democratic optimum since it lets lackluster parties who no one wants to vote directly for like the Democrats or the Republicans in the first round, coup votes in a second round, they are rewarded for being unpopular which is hardly optimal.

The only thin optimal feature of IRV is that it helps build the potential of recognition of third or fourth parties. The bad feature of IRV is that it would only enshrine Democrats and Republicans with lower plurality first round wins anyway--without encouraging them to get out the vote. IRV only encouraged second round coup of votes so they could appeal to even less people in the first round and still get in via the second round. IRV is like a fusion ticket though it doesn't encourage large umbrella campaigns, and actually encourages lower plurality wins.

PRMA solves some of the difficulties of second round low pluralities in IRV, and it is a virtual PR. You, the voter would decide on that. PRMA is flexible since, most important, it lets the voters collectively decide, based on the actual demographic outcome of a particular election, how much power a candidate gets. Nothing is decided beforehand. If the aggregate public wants a majoritarian win, they get that. If the aggregate public want a mixed/plurality win, they get that. Either way, with PRMA, the voters more directly decide based on how they actually voted and how much they actually trust someone--and trust them no further!

PRMA featured in Toward a Bioregional State.

HOWEVER, I would support IRV--as only a stepping stone--to build larger and more competitive parties for more voter choices.

Plus, strategically, IRV stands to get its foot in the door (with less existing corrupt party opposition) because pre-existing Democrats and Republicans have been known to sponsor it. However, it does in a small way serve the voters by creating more competitive party frameworks, though it is unrequired to force the voter optimally to support a party in a second round they failed to support in the first.

That being said, I would still support IRV presently--unless you want to go at it and push for PRMA. IRV is sort of a half-optimal step to PRMA. Half step is better than nothing. Since, once IRV has built parties in place, and the drawbacks mentioned above are seen, I suggest PRMA is more democratically optimal.

I would suggest a lot more requires changing formally, though this little essay is only about voting laws/rules. The book mentions a lot more than this one: