Will downtown go after IRV?


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."


IRV has not saved the City of San Francisco money, either.

San Francisco’s higher expenses include special voting software, special poll worker training, more laborious and costly recounts, and IRV related voter education costing about $1.87 per registered voter. San Francisco recently agreed to purchase a new IRV capable voting system for $12 Million, four year contract for new Sequoia Voting machines. If machines could not be used for some reason, the Elections Department estimates that it would cost $1 Million to hand count the ballots. (From Recommendations of the Budget Analyst for Amendment of Budget Items 2007-2008)

In 2007-2008 , SF's annual average number of registered voters was 427,591.
The annual number of outreach events to target communities 693
Annual number of educational presentations313
Annual number of educational presentation program attendees 43,981

Did IRV save San Francisco money? No.
See San Francisco's actual election department's net annual expenditures.

From San Francisco's Budget Reports:

2000-2001 Actual 9,024,000
2001-2002 Actual 13,872,000 includes the cost of $1,322,849 for a runoff election & $150,000 due to litigation costs
2002-2003 Actual 8,610,553
2003-2004 Actual 15,204,781
2004-2005 Actual 10,400,868
2005-2006 Actual 11,930,228
2006-2007 Actual 10,062,052
2007-2008 Actual 14,839,686


Posted by Joyce McCloy on Jun. 22, 2009 @ 9:34 am

Steven Hill is full of shit. Anyone who saw how nasty the last few election cycles have been with his phony baloney voting system would know that this idea that IRV makes for "nicer" campaigns is complete BS. But Steven Hill is so devoted to his precious system, he's actually argued FOR anti-democratic voting machines and defended the worst vendors all to defend IRV. He lies constantly and the Guardian of course, eats it up like a tofu special at Cafe Gratitude.

The reality based electorate continues to grow, and after the poor performance of the Class of 2000 and the Class of 2008 just makes it easier. Keep on lying, it'll catch up sooner or later

Posted by steven hill's rectum on Jun. 21, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

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.

Touting voter turnout for turnout's sake is just ignoring the purpose of elections - to determine the wish of the electorate.

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.

Regardless, IRV does NOT increase voter turnout, and in San Francisco - is tied to a drop in turnout.
We should wish for voters to sincerely cast a ballot, not receive a ballot as casually as if it were a piece of junk mail.

Posted by Joyce McCloy on Jun. 22, 2009 @ 8:32 am

It's not that IRV is a worse-performing system than the old, plurality one; it's just that it's only marginally better (and has several other downsides.)

But there are systems that are actually better, and I hope this experiment with IRV won't poison SF to trying some of them.

Approval voting: vote for as many candidates as you like; whichever is approved by the most voters, win.

Score voting: like approval, but you can give each candidate a score in some range (such as 1 to 5, or 0 to 99), indicating a willingness to compromise or degrees of (dis)approval; the candidate with the highest average score wins.

More information at http://scorevoting.net

Posted by Dale Sheldon on Jun. 23, 2009 @ 4:45 am