Saturday, May 24, 2008

The undemocratic flaw in our elections

Editor's Note: This is an editorial from the Oregonian newspaper. While this blog primarily is about electin law in the state of Washington, it is nice to see our neighbors writing on the same subject.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Oregonians are rightfully reveling both in our newfound relevance in national politics and in our increased voter turnout, especially among younger voters. One aspect of the recent election, however, should give us pause: those races in which the majority of voters cast their ballots for losing candidates. This undemocratic flaw in Oregon's electoral process infected races ranging from the county level to the U.S. Senate, where, in each case, the winning candidate won with less than a majority of the vote.

These seemingly contradictory results are the product of state election laws that do not require that a candidate earn a majority (50 percent plus one) of the vote to win, but only a plurality (more votes than anyone else received).

To ensure that elected officials have the support of a majority of voters, some cities, including Portland, require runoff elections when no candidate has earned a majority. These runoffs require that cities administer two elections and demand that candidates mount two separate campaigns. Both are expensive propositions.

Fortunately, there is an efficient and elegant solution. Almost 100 years ago, on June 1, 1908, the people of Oregon approved a ballot initiative to amend our constitution to allow "preference voting." This 100-year-old election reform, now used around the world, was the product of the same progressive era that produced women's suffrage, our famed initiative process and the direct election of U.S. senators. Today, preference voting is commonly known as "instant runoff voting" and is used to elect city officials in San Francisco, the president of Ireland, officeholders throughout Australia and student government leaders on a number of college campuses in Oregon.

Instant runoff voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference -- first choice, second choice, third choice and so on -- instead of voting for just one candidate. If a candidate wins a majority of first-choice votes, that candidate wins, and the election is over. If no candidate wins a majority, then the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and a runoff is conducted immediately taking into account the second-choice votes on the ballots cast for the eliminated candidate.

Instant runoff has many advantages. It can save cities money by eliminating two-round runoffs, and it ensures that the winner of an election, at any level, has the support of a majority of voters. But there are more subtle benefits as well. In San Francisco's 2004 election, when that city used instant runoff voting for the first time, The New York Times reported that it resulted in an astonishing level of cooperation and civility among candidates, who recognized that the election method required them to court the second-choice votes of voters who supported their opponents. Can you imagine what effect that might have had on, say, the Republican race for Congress in the 5th District? Might Kevin Mannix and Mike Erickson have employed entirely different strategies if they knew that the votes of those supporting their opponents were critical to their own potential victory?

Oregon is famous for many "firsts" and, unbeknownst to many, is the first state in the union -- and the only one -- to enshrine preference voting in its constitution. Implementing this innovative election method would honor the will of the voters -- those who voted 100 years ago and those who voted on Tuesday.

Blair Bobier teaches political science at Western Oregon University and is programs director of the nonpartisan Civics Education League.


Friday, May 16, 2008

RCV Spring in Washington

Ranked Choice Voting (aka Instant Runoff Voting or IRV) has enjoyed a real surge in popularity this spring in the state of Washington.

The King County Charter Review Commission has recommended to the County Council to form a task force to investigate using Pierce County-style RCV in their county level elections.

The Washington State Youth Legislature passed a bill to use RCV to elect its officers in future years.

The UW Seattle students used IRV to elect their student body officers on Tuesday. All of the winners received support from a majority of the voters despite there being several candidates in each race. In addition, turnout was up significantly.

Last, but certainly not least, the Pierce County Elections Department is deep in preparation for the largest RCV election in US history this November. Voter education is beginning and enhancements to voting systems are being put into place.

RCV is breaking out all over.

Labels: , , ,

UW IRV/RCV Election Results

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from McBride's article in The Daily. Please note that all of the winners received a majority of the votes despite each race having numerous candidates and voter turnout was up substantially.

Bennett wins ASUW presidency

By Sonia McBride
May 16, 2008

Photo by John McLellan.
Senior Anttimo Bennett embraces a supporter moments after hearing the results of the ASUW presidential race last night in the HUB. Bennett won the instant runoff election with 52.4 percent of the vote.


Photo by John McLellan.
Senior Gerald Corporal, hoisted in the air by his enthusiastic supporters, hedged out sophomore Lauren Cutting by 3 votes to win the position of director of community relations for ASUW. The results were announced in the HUB yesterday at 7 p.m.
Anttimo Bennett won the ASUW presidency last night. The crowd broke into a chant of “Timo! Timo! Timo!” upon hearing his name, called at 7 p.m. by the Elections Administration Committee.

Bennett won with 52.4 percent, followed closely by Timothy Mensing with 47.6 percent of the vote. The highest write-in for each position was “campus squirrels,” averaging 0.3 percent.

The instant runoff voting system partially explains the close vote. Voters were able to rank candidates, which possibly allowed for a voter’s second or third choice to count in a close race.

“I can’t even believe it,” Bennett said. “It’s a weight off my shoulders, but it feels good. Especially because I feel like I have my whole community behind me and so I’m just really excited about this opportunity to serve UW students. I’m ready to get to work for next year.”

The results for vice president were also very close; Dolly Nguyen won with 51.5 percent, and PJ LaFemina followed close behind with 48.5 percent.

“I am totally overwhelmed,” Nguyen said. “This is such an awesome opportunity. I am so excited. I just want to thank the students.”

Gerald Corporal won the director of community relations position, but could not be reached for comment, as he was immediately hoisted into the air and paraded around the second floor lounge amid a group of excited students. The results were very close: Corporal had 50.1 percent of the vote, while Lauren Cutting followed close behind with 49.9 percent.

Although running as an independent was a potentially risky choice, it did not hurt Sabrina Fields’ campaign, as she won the director of diversity efforts position, with 55.6 percent of the vote.

“I don’t know what to think,” Fields said. “But I’m glad that students at the UW vote accordingly and are smart. It says a lot. I’m so excited, I don’t know what to say.”

Junior Mike Snowden was named director of programming.

“Ecstatic: that’s the only words I can really describe right now,” Snowden said after winning. “Energy. Lightning. It’s great. It’s great.”

The results for the director of operations position were also extremely close: Luke O’Bannan won with 50.1 percent versus Andrew Shubin’s 49.3 percent.

“It will be great to work with the people who are there, but with everyone who isn’t, I feel for them and I am going to work with them too, hopefully,” said Natlie Bankson, who was named director of organization relations.

The elections were very successful, said Taylor Newbold, the Elections Administration Committee chair. He was proud of the candidate and voter turnout. This year, there were 4,051 ballots cast, compared to 1,800 ballots from last year.

Also, a survey of voters regarding a restaurant with a liquor license, or a pub in the HUB, was supported by 67.8 percent of students who answered the question.


Monday, May 12, 2008

UW Students use Instant Runoff Voting

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from McBride's article in the Daily on the University of Washington Seattle campus.

By Sonia McBride
May 12, 2008

Students will have the opportunity to get into the civic spirit because ASUW elections start today. The election will run through Wednesday night at 11:59 p.m., and results will be announced Thursday at approximately 7 p.m. in the HUB second floor lounge. the results will also be posted and posted online.

Candidates have been officially campaigning since 6 a.m. on April 21.

“It’s a rough experience,” said ASUW vice president Sam E. Al-Khoury. “It’s a very difficult job interview — it’s all a test.”

This year’s candidate turnout is much higher than last year’s elections, when many of the candidates had no opponents.

There are five candidates for ASUW president alone, all of whom have spent $1875 dollars on campaigning.

A Catalyst survey will be utilized for voting. Voters will rank the candidates in order of preference and be able to write in candidates as well. Instant runoff voting (IRV) will be used to calculate the winner.

All of the first place rankings will be counted, and a winner will be announced if a candidate has 50 percent of the vote or more. If not, counting will move to all of the voters’ second place preferences and so on, Al-Khoury said.

Many of the candidates are running with a ticket, or a group of students who hope to gain office together.

These include Dawg Life, VisionUW, Your Voice UW and DEFinitiveUW.

The results from the first day of voting will be a good barometer for how the rest of the election will play out, presidential candidate Rob Barnum-Reece said.


Monday, May 05, 2008

Washington State Youth Legislature passes RCV

My name’s Phil Gardner, and I’m the newly elected Governor of the Washington YMCA Youth and Government program. Youth and Government is a statewide organization of more than 400 high school teens that every May come down to Olympia and simulate our State Legislature. We have a House, Senate, press, lobbyist corp, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and of course, Governor.

Every May we elect our major officers (Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Secretary of State) by popular vote and then those elected serve in their positions the next May. Throughout Youth and Government history we have used a simple first-past-the-post system whereby the candidate that receives the most votes is declared elected.

This has lead to a major problem in the program. In order to become a candidate for statewide office, you must first win the nomination of one of the five districts. What this leads to is a situation whereby those candidates from larger districts know more voters before the statewide event in May occurs, and thus candidates from smaller districts are at an automatic disadvantage. Also, because of the large number of candidates, it’s very difficult for any candidate to receive a majority of the vote.

This year I ran on a platform of instituting Ranked Choice Voting for our major officer elections as a remedy to this problem. The bill to institute this system passed the Youth House unanimously and the Youth Senate with only one Nay vote. Under this new system, we are now able to elect consensus and unity candidates for and from all of Washington State.

During my four years in this program I’ve talked about Ranked Choice Voting with hundreds of teens, and have rarely found one opposed. The youth of Washington State are fully behind this more democratic system, and the future looks bright for RCV.

Mr. Gardner is finishing his junior year in high school and lives in University Place in Pierce County.