Will downtown go after IRV?

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By Tim Redmond

Interesting meeting at the Chamber of Commerce office yesterday. In attendance, I'm told by a good source, were Chamber CEO Steve Falk, Senior Vice President Jim Lazarus, Nathan Nayman from the Committee on JOBS, Pamela Brewster, vice-president for government affairs at Charles Schwab, Wade Rose, vice president at Catholic Healthcare West, and some other downtown types.

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. The Chamber and Committee on JOBS folks also dislike the fact that they've gotten their butts kicked in the past few supervisorial elections -- and instead of finding better candidates, or recognizing that the electorate really isn't interested in a pro-corporate Republican-style agenda, they've decided to go after "the system."

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.

That, presumably, would keep the cost down and the turnout up.

"The Chamber has always been in favor of direct runoffs," Lazarus told me. That allows the top two candidates to directly address their differences on the issues. With multiple candidates in the race, the issues aren't well defined."

Steve Hill, who works at the New America Foundation and was one of the architects of IRV in San Francisco, pointed out that direct runoffs have been tried in San Francisco. "That what we used to have," he told me. "And we saw regular attack ads and nasty campaigning. The Ethics Commission found a four-fold increase in independent expenditures during direct runoffs."

In other words, direct runoffs allow groups like the Chamber and its allies to dump huge amounts of money into negative campaigns in a short election period. "Getting rid of IRV is a vote to empower special interests," Hill said.

Lazarus told me he's not sure what the next steps would be, and whether the Chamber would push a Charter Amendment campaign to repeal IRV. "We've talked about it," he said. "That's all."