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A Solution For Too Many Elections in San Diego

June 3, 2006 |
Ranking candidates liberates voters to select the candidates they really like, instead of worrying about "spoiler" candidates or choosing between the lesser of two evils.
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The conviction of Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham over serious ethics violations has left a bad taste in many voters' mouths. Now taxpayers are about to waste scarce tax dollars on an election to fill the vacancy.

Because none of the 18 candidates in April's special election received more than 50 percent of the votes cast, North County voters must trudge to the polls a second time for a June 6 runoff election to determine the winner -- who will serve less than six months.

San Diegans are tired of elections. By November, voters will have endured 10 elections in fewer than three years. Turnout plummeted more than 50 percent between last November's San Diego City Council races and the January runoff. Elections are important, but having so many trivializes their importance and contributes to voter fatigue.

It doesn't have to be this way. Cunningham's replacement could have been elected using instant runoff voting. With IRV, we can elect winners with majority support in a single election.

Instead of voting for one candidate, voters rank candidates 1, 2 and 3. If no candidate wins a majority of first rankings, the candidate with the fewest first rankings is eliminated. Voters who ranked that candidate now have their vote counted for their second choice, and all ballots are recounted in an "instant runoff." If a candidate reaches a majority, that candidate wins. If not, the process repeats until a candidate reaches a majority.

Ranking candidates liberates voters to select the candidates they really like, instead of worrying about "spoiler" candidates or choosing between the lesser of two evils.

IRV also can produce less negative campaigning. Because candidates may need the second ranking from another candidate's supporters, they have to be careful what they say about those candidates. Successful candidates win by building coalitions and finding common ground, not tearing each other down.

Compare that to the current method. Look at the recent spate of Republican and Democratic Party TV commercials attacking Francine Busby as an ally of child pornographers or connecting Brian Bilbray's advocacy of Metabolife to the death of 80 people.

IRV changes the dynamics of an election. Instead of being pressured to drop out of the primary, Eric Roach could have encouraged his conservative base to rank some of the other 13 Republican candidates, fostering a GOP coalition. Or Democrat Francine Busby could have reached out to other candidates' supporters, asking for their second rankings.

Because it fixes real problems, IRV is gaining attention across the nation. San Francisco voters have used IRV in two elections, saving millions in taxpayer dollars by not paying for a second (runoff) election. Military overseas voters from Louisiana and Arkansas vote using IRV, and national leaders from John McCain to Howard Dean have expressed support.

Besides filling congressional vacancies, IRV is well-suited for local elections. The city of San Diego's Elections Task Force is looking at IRV and other reforms to improve government. Instant runoff voting clearly holds great promise for providing fair and affordable elections where voters are the real winners.

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