Monday, June 22, 2009

San Francisco to put Instant Runoff Voting out of its misery?

A possible repeal of Instant runoff voting was discussed by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce at a meeting last Thursday, June 18th. Fair Vote and IRV advocates are worried.

Time Redmond of the San Francisco Bay Guardian reports
Will downtown go after IRV?

Interesting meeting at the Chamber of Commerce office yesterday.

... Among the topics: A campaign to repeal the city's Ranked-Choice Voting system.
Downtown has never liked RCV, also known as Instant Runoff Voting. ...

I couldn't reach Falk today, but Lazarus called me back. He said the Chamber had polled this year on both district elections and IRV, and found (no surprise) that the public loves district elections, and that trying to return to a citywide system was a nonstarter.

And while support for IRV was also strong, the voters, according to the Chamber poll, would be willing to consider direct runoffs between the top two finishers if the voting were all done by mail....

If only special interest groups oppose instant runoff voting, then why did 56,751 out of 90,738 voters in Pierce County Washington say, when polled, that they didn't like IRV?

Rob Richie worries that San Francisco's business community will route IRV out of San Francisco: At his blog on the Huffington Post, RR complains that it is business groups want to ditch IRV, and that a poll shows that voters are agreeable:

Lessons from downtown business attacks on instant runoff voting in San Francisco June 22, 2009

The San Francisco Bay Guardian's long-time editor Tim Redmond had an important scoop last week: the downtown business community is contemplating an assault on San Francisco's instant runoff voting (IRV) system...A Chamber executive said that its recent polling had found that after five annual elections with IRV in 2004-2008, support for IRV was strong, but potentially vulnerable to the right combination of attacks.

The Chamber's representative was revealing in explaining his opposition to IRV. "The Chamber has always been in favor of direct runoffs" because "it allows the top two candidates to directly address their differences on the issues."

First of all, IRV does NOT help voter turnout. Implementation of IRV in San Francisco corresponded with a drastic drop in voter turnout in the mayoral contests. In the 2007 mayoral/municipal election, turnout was only 35.61%, with 100,000 fewer voters than in the mayoral runoff in 2003 where 54% of the voters turned out to vote.

Switching to vote by mail is assumed to increase turnout, but there is more to VBM than meets the eye. Vote by Mail opens elections up to increased risk of voter coercion by overbearing spouses or even bosses, for example who can make demands on voters.

Turnout is directly proportional to voter interest in the candidate or the issue. When there is a compelling contest, as there was when Newsome ran against Gonzalez, the turnout was impressive. Touting voter turnout for turnout's sake is just ignoring the purpose of elections - to determine the wish of the electorate.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the value of IRV may be questionable: In 2007, many SF Voters did not utilize the option to rank choices. 94% of absentee voters did not list 3 choices on their ballots in the November municipal election, even though the field of candidates for mayor was large. There was confusion over ranking. According to a Nov 8, 2007 Electionline report , "Voters also questioned the value of ranked-choice voting." "There are a lot of people who only mark one [candidate] or the same person three times," "I don't want to vote for a second one, I want this one."

The claim that IRV would save San Francisco money also did not pan out. While SF may not have to hold runoff elections, they got stuck with many other costs thanks to IRV - $12 million for a new uncertified voting system, costs of almost $2.00 per voter in education, continually escalating annual costs, and instructions from a Grand Jury to ramp up efforts on voter education.

If the Business Community has the ability to get rid of Instant Runoff Voting, they would be performing a community service.