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Sunday, October 08, 2006

MundiMuster! Vote YES on Oakland’s Prop O, Implement Instant Runoff Voting!

Here’s a special post for any Amor Mundi readers here in my town, Oakland, California. I want to call everybody’s attention to Measure O on this November’s ballot and to encourage you all to vote “yes” on O.

Measure O would implement the system of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV, for short) here in Oakland. IRV is a system in which one votes for one’s favorite candidate, in the usual way, but it also provides voters with an opportunity to indicate who their second and third favorite choices would be as well. Elections proceed exactly as they normally would (well, given the debased state of elections these days that isn’t really a recommendation, but you know what I mean): Everybody’s first choice is tabulated and if any candidate receives a majority of these first votes, then they win the election. The difference with IRV occurs only when no candidate wins a majority. In the current system, such a situation introduces a second round of the election process, with new campaigning, new ads, new ballots, another day of voting and so on. But with IRV, this “runoff” happens automatically and immediately, using the information voters have already provided. The candidate in “last place” from the first round of voting is eliminated and the ballots are recounted. Those voters whose “first choice” candidate remains on the ballots will be counted again as voting for that viable candidate, but those whose first choice has been eliminated will now be recounted according to their second choice, and so on, until a clear majority winner emerges.

Although Oakland will incur an initial cost of $400,000 to implement the IRV system, costly and commonplace runoff elections will be a thing of the past, and this initial monetary cost will pay for itself in a couple of election cycles. The benefits for democracy itself, however, will pay dividends from the moment it arrives on the scene.

IRV is a powerfully re-enfranchising and democratizing reform: This is so because,

First: People can vote for their real favorite candidates, according to conscience rather than partisan calculations about “electability.” That is because a vote for an unconventional candidate will not be a “spoiler” vote, even if your favorite candidate is too radical to remain viable for election but popular enough, nevertheless, to lose a more mainstream but still desirable candidate an immediate majority. In that case, one’s personal best candidate drops from contention and one’s second favorite but still preferred candidate receives your vote in the instant runoff. This system will therefore inject new and diverse voices and ideas into the election process, perhaps encourage a flourishing of smaller parties, and certainly appeal to a wider diversity of citizens and thereby reinvigorate pariticipation in our elections.

Second, since candidates will always be campaigning not only to receive votes as citizen’s first choice, but also the second choice of voters who prefer different candidates, IRV produces an inducement to a more generous and collegial campaign process. Winning candidates will tend to be the ones who garner substantial initial votes -- as is true already today -- but also those who manage not to alienate voters who would chose other candidates first. In such an environment, “negative” campaigning will no longer have quite the short-term “advantage” it has in the current system. And there is little question that the diminishment of negative campaigning will help citizens feel better about their elected representatives, better about the value of going into public service themselves, and better about their representative democracy in general, whatever their particular partisan affiliations, all by eliminating the cynicism and distaste that arises from the ugly, regularly reiterated ritual of mudslinging, oversimplification, and deliberate division that characterizes contemporary campaigning.

Third, here in Oakland November elections have considerably higher turnouts, especially among people of color, for whom November turnouts are typically twice as high (according to information from “IRV for Oakland”). Under the system of IRV, then, our representatives will be elected by more of the actual citizens they will be representing. That is, by definition, a more democratic and hence better outcome than the present system.

IRV is a system which already elected the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2004, effectively and cost-effectively. It is a system that has been used in Australia for over 80 years! While no system is perfect, it could not be clearer that American elections are broken and need reform. Here is an opportunity to make things palpably better here in Oakland. Vote “YES” on “O.”

For more information go here. For an impressive list of organizations endorsing Oakland’s “O” go here. For media discussions and endorsements of the Measure available online go here.

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