Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More Cities Keep Moving to IRV

Updated in June 2011

In 2000, no city in the United States used instant runoff voting (IRV). Since then, 17 cities and counties have passed ballot measures adopting IRV, including at least one every November since 2004. Eight of those jurisdictions have used IRV in elections. Two additional cities in North Carolina have used IRV as part of a pilot program. See exit polls done by local universities in several of these jurisdictions that show positive reactions to IRV by voters after using it.

In addition, Arkansas, Louisiana and South Carolina all use IRV ballots for their overseas voters participating in runoff elections, and Springfield (IL) did so in 2011 after a 91% vote to adopt this practice in 2006. Since 1941, Cambridge, Mass., has used a similar ranked choice ballot in choice voting elections held citywide for its nine-seat city council and its school committee.)

In nongovernmental elections, IRV is widely used. Nearly 60 colleges and universities have adopted IRV for student elections (including this spring at Brandeis and Brown, where student voters passed it by lopsided margins), along with even more associations, including for the Best Picture Oscar by the Academy of Motion Pictures and for several governing bodies of associations with more than 100,000 members. Internationally, IRV has recently been adopted and used for electing mayors in cities like London (United Kingdom) and Wellington (New Zealand). It is used for national parliamentary elections in Australia and Papua New Guinea and for presidential elections in Ireland, which will next be held in October 2011.

Since a victory in San Francisco in 2002, there have been three repeals of IRV among those 16 cities that passed it at the ballot. Here's a chronological review of what has happened in each of the 18 jurisdictions that have used IRV or voted to adopt it.

* 2000

San Leandro (CA) passed a charter amendment by a vote of 63% to 37% to establish IRV as an option in its elections. In 2010, the first year in which the city had state-certified voting equipment available to be used, the city council voted to exercise its option to use IRV for its elections in November 2010. It was used in a hotly contested, high turnout election for mayor that year, with some 99.7% of mayoral election voters casting valid ballots.

* 2002

San Francisco (CA) passed a charter amendment by a vote of 55% to 45% to establish IRV for mayor, Board of Supervisors and several othter city offices elections. IRV was first used in November 2004, and has been used for elections every November since that time. Here's an interview with Gerard Gleason, long-time member of the city's elections commission.

Basalt (CO) adopted a new charter by a vote of 74% to 26% that included a provision that IRV will be used for mayor when there are more than two candidates seeking the office. The city clerk has prepared for such an election, but none has to date been necessary.


Berkeley (CA) passed a charter amendment by a vote of 72% to 28% to use IRV for city elections once certain conditions were met relating to election administration. 2010 was the first year in which these conditions were met, and the city council voted by 8-1 to exercise its option to use IRV in November 2010. The election went very smoothly.

Ferndale (MI) passed a ballot measure by a vote of 70% to 30% to use IRV for city elections once certain conditions were met relating to election administration. Those conditions have not yet been met.

* 2005

Burlington (VT) passed a charter amendment by a vote of 64% to 36% to use IRV for mayoral elections in the wake of landslide advisory votes in 2002 and 2004. The city first used IRV in the mayoral elections in March 2006 in a five-way race in which no candidate earned 40% of the vote. It used IRV again in March 2009 in a five-way race in which no candidate earned more than a third of the vote and the incumbent mayor won after trailing in first choices. A repeal drive led by backers of a losing candidate started in 2009, seemed to falter, but regained steam as the mayor lost popularity in the wake of a local controversy. The March 2010 ballot measure to repeal IRV was opposed by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Howard Dean and nearly every elected official in the city. Five of the city's seven wards voted to keep IRV, but the mayor's unpopularity helped drive high turnout in the remaining wards, and the repeal was successful by a vote of 52% to 48%.

Takoma Park (MD) passed an advisory referendum on adoption of IRV by a vote of 84% to 16%. The city council adopted a charter amendment moving to IRV for all city elections in 2006 and used it for the first time in a special election in 2007, followed by uneventful mayoral and city council elections in 2007 and 2009. FairVote's exit poll survey in the 2007 vacancy election found support had risen to nearly 90%.

* 2006

Minneapolis (MN) passed a charter amendment by a vote of 65% to 35% to use IRV for mayor, city council and certain other offices. It used IRV in these elections in November 2009. Patrick O'Connor, who oversaw implementation of IRV in Minneapolis in 2009, said about his experience: "I have had the great fortune to be a small part of what could easily be considered the most significant civic exercise in the history of Minnesota government: the implementation of the first Ranked Choice Voting election in Minneapolis and in Minnesota. We proved that it could be well administered, quickly and accurately counted, and that voters had little problem with the concept."

Oakland (CA) passed a charter amendment by a vote of 69% to 31% to use IRV for mayor and city council elections once available as a realistic option to the city. That condition was met in 2010, and the city council voted to use IRV in November 2010. The hotly contested mayoral election drew the most interest, including a profile by the PBS Evening NewsHour.

Pierce County (WA) passed a charter amendment by a vote of 53% to 47% to use IRV for county council, county executive and other county executive offices. In 2007 voters handily approved measures keeping implementation of IRV on track for 2008. IRV was used for highly contested races for county executive and other offices that year, but the county also for the first time used and paid for the "top two" primary system for state and federal offices that had been restored in a 2008 Supreme Court decision. Use of IRV seemed redundant and costly to many voters, and it was repealed in 2009 despite support for keeping it from the League of Women Voters and the Tacoma News Tribune.

North Carolina's state legislature passed a law authorizing up to 10 cities to use IRV in a pilot program. In 2007, two cities chose to do so: Cary and Hendersonville. In 2008, the legislature extended the pilot for three years. Hendersonville used IRV again in 2009 and has voted to use it again in 20011. In addition, North Carolina used IRV for four judicial vacancy elections in 2010, including one statewide election with more than 1.9 million voters.

* 2007

Sarasota (FL) by a margin of 78% to 22% passed a charter amendment to replace runoff elections with IRV. Sarasota will use IRV once it has a cost-efficient and certified means to implement it.

Aspen (CO) by a margin of 77% to 23% passed a charter amendment to replace runoff elections with IRV in elections for the mayor and the two-seat city council elections. In May 2009, IRV was used for the mayoral race and a new form of IRV was used for the council races, stirring some controversy and particularly heated, well-financed opposition from the losing mayoral candidate. In November 2009, voters by 8 votes failed to approve an advisory measure to reject consideration of replacing IRV. Seemingly fatigued with ongoing debate about the system, voters backed a binding repeal in November 201o

* 2008

Santa Fe (NM) by a margin of 65% to 35% passed a charter amendment to replace plurality voting with IRV for city elections. The city will use IRV upon development of a means to implement IRV.

Telluride (CO) passed a statutory initiative by 67% to 33% to replace plurality voting with IRV for mayoral elections. It will be used in November 2011.

Memphis (TN), the second largest city in the southeastern United States, voted by a margin of 71% to 29% to adopt replace runoffs with IRV in city council elections. It will be used once Shelby County has voting equipment ready to run IRV elections.

* 2009

St Paul (MN) voted by 52.5% to 47.5% to replace two rounds of voting with IRV in elections for mayor and city council. It will first be used for city council elections in November 2011.

* 2010

Portland (ME) voted by 52% to 48% to back a new charter that established a direct election for mayor using IRV. IRV will first be used for mayoral elections in Maine's largest city in November 2011.