INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING PROJECT REPORT

TO: Dean Myerson/Green Institute

FR: Blair Bobier

DT: January 26, 2006

 

Many thanks to you and the Green Institute for sponsoring the IRV education project. I am pleased to report that the phase of the project sponsored by the Green Institute has been successfully concluded.

 

Although the project was intended to be oriented specifically towards supporting activists in Ashland,
other opportunities presented themselves to inject IRV as a solution in
a broader context, both politically and geographically.

 

There is a current effort to place a Top Two Primary ballot initiative on the November ballot in Oregon. If
passed, this disastrous, anti-democratic initiative would effectively
end the participation of third parties in the general election. According to research compiled by Richard Winger, editor and publisher of Ballot Access News, the odds of third party candidates appearing on the general election ballot would be 1000-1. As
I have been one of the most vocal and visible opponents of this
misguided plan, I have been able to posit Instant Runoff Voting as an
alternative.

Towards this end, I have introduced IRV as a solution in an oped piece which appeared in the Corvallis Gazette Times on November 21, 2005.

 

http://www.gtconnect.com/articles/2005/11/21/news/opinion/3monasiseeit1121.prt


Interestingly,
the Executive Editor of the Corvallis Gazette Times and the Albany
Democrat Herald responded to my oped with an editorial on December 25, 2005, in which he repeated the explanation of IRV.

 

I
placed another oped opposing the Top Two primary and presenting IRV as
a sensible, democratic alternative in the Eugene Register Guard on December 20, 2005, reprinted below. In addition, the Eugene Weekly also quoted me in their December 22, 2005 issue, where I cite IRV as making sense for the Democratic Party primary in Oregon.

 

On January 22, 2006, I presented a lecture about improving the democratic process in Medford, Oregon, just a stone’s throw from Ashland, to an all-star crowd which included the chairs of the local Green & Democratic Parties and the League of Women Voters. Following the lecture, I gave an extensive interview to KSKQ, a community radio station based in Ashland. The following day, I appeared for an hour long radio call-in program on Jefferson Public Radio. The show was broadcast twice on eight stations covering over 50,000 square miles in Northern California and Southern Oregon and was also available on the internet.

 

In
February, I have been invited to make two appearances before the City
Club of Eugene where I will once again present IRV as an efficient and
elegant alternative to the Top Two Primary.

It should be noted that Corvallis, Ashland and Eugene are the homes of Oregon State University, Southern Oregon University and the University of Oregon, respectively.

Thanks again for your support.

In peace and solidarity,

Blair Bobier

GUEST VIEWPOINT

'Top Two' ballot method would restrict choice

By Blair Bobier

Published: Tuesday, December 20, 2005 in the Eugene Register Guard

The
Top Two primary proposed by Norma Paulus and Phil Keisling is widely
misunderstood and would greatly restrict freedom of choice in
Oregon.

Oregonians
should understand the far-reaching consequences of this dubious
initiative before agreeing to place it on the ballot, as The
Register-Guard suggested in a Dec. 4 editorial.

 

The former secretaries of state propose that Oregon ditch its current primary format in favor of a system used by only one other state: Louisiana, hardly a model of clean elections and good government.

 

Under
the Paulus-Keisling scheme, all candidates from all parties, and any
independent contenders, would compete in one big free-for-all primary
election. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance
to the November general election.

 

This
means that in some districts voters' ''choices'' would be limited to
two Republicans, while in other districts the ''choice'' would be
between two Democrats. The odds of seeing an independent, Green or
Libertarian candidate in November would be about 1,000 to 1, based on
the history of states that have used Top Two.

 

Freedom
of choice is the heart and soul of the democratic process. If we can
choose from hundreds of television channels and 31 flavors of ice
cream, why should we be limited to two options for one of our most
important civic decisions?

 

If Top Two were in effect, Oregonians would have two choices on Election Day - while the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan can now choose among hundreds of parties and candidates.

 

Although
the theory behind the Top Two proposal is that candidates who survive
the primary would have broad support, in reality the opposite is true.
Oregon's
May primaries are notorious for their low turnout. Very few people
would be deciding which candidates appear on the November ballot.

 

Worse,
with so many candidates competing in one race, a candidate could
advance to the general election with the support of less than 10
percent of eligible voters. That's hardly the broad support that Paulus
and Keisling are seeking.

 

Let's
do better: Why not insist that candidates earn the support of a
majority of voters? This could be done by using instant runoff voting.
Instant runoff voting produces majority winners, encourages the
participation of independent voters (one fifth of
Oregon's electorate) and eliminates the spoiler and wasted-vote syndromes.

 

Instead
of voting for just one candidate, voters rank candidates in order of
preference - first, second, third and so on. If a candidate wins a
majority of first-choice votes, that candidate wins. If no candidate
wins a majority, the candidate with the fewest 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 voting would give a voice to independent voters and third
parties. Top Two would silence them. Instant runoff voting requires
that candidates earn a majority of votes to win; Top Two allows
candidates to skate by with minimal backing.

 

Instant
runoff voting is used throughout the world. It's used to elect the
winner of the Heisman Trophy and the president of the American
Political Science Association. When instant runoff voting was used in
San Francisco
in 2004, The New York Times reported that it resulted in an astonishing
level of cooperation and civility among candidates. They recognized
that this election method required them to reach a broad cross section
of citizens.

There are many ways to improve Oregon's
elections. But whatever we do, let's make sure we understand the
ramifications of the proposed reforms. Top Two, which was rejected last
year by
California voters and declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Washington, is so misunderstood that it is often mistaken for an open primary - an entirely different system.

 

Our
system of self-government works well only when voters make informed
choices. With so little known about Top Two and its potential to
radically restrict democracy, it is irresponsible to suggest that this
proposal deserves a place on the ballot.

 

Blair Bobier is the founder of the Corvallis-based Civics Education League and an adjunct professor of political science at Western Oregon University.
As the media director for the Green Party's 2004 presidential campaign,
Bobier was instrumental in initiating the statewide recount of
presidential votes in
Ohio.