I have intentionally not said a word about Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) on this blog, because it’s one of those annoying topics, like PRT, that whenever you mention it, zealots on both sides of the issue from all over the country appear out of nowhere and hijack your blog with their never-ending comments of craziness. Alas, the City Council will be voting tonight on whether to implement IRV for this November’s election (PDF), and I’m becoming increasingly concerned that the vote will not go as smoothly as I had hoped.
Here’s the background. Instant Runoff Voting, or, more properly, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), is an election system in which there are no primaries, only a single general election. Under our current municipal system, we have primaries in June, and then if any candidate gets 50% of the vote plus one vote, they win outright and there is no runoff. If nobody reaches that threshold, then there is a runoff and people vote between the two top place primary finishers in the general election in November.
Under IRV, everyone gets elected in November. This is done by having voters rank their first choice, second choice, third choice (and so on) candidates on their ballot. If someone gets 50% of first choice votes, they win. If no one gets 50% of first choice votes, then second choice voters get counted and so on. Becks laid it all out in a blog post earlier this year with a sample ballot and everything.
As far as I’m concerned, IRV is an idiotic system designed to make leftists feel less guilty about voting for fringe candidates. Data collected by IRV advocates, and used to “prove” that IRV is great, shows that the system not understood and disliked (PDF) by minorities, poor people, people who don’t speak English, and people with low educational attainment at rates that should, frankly, horrify anyone who cares even a little bit about equitable voting systems. There are plenty of other ways to have November-only elections and get the voter participation gains IRV advocates are so worked up over without using such a ridiculously complicated system. We could do like some other cities do and just have November elections anyway, and require a lower threshold, like 40% to win outright, and only have run-offs on the rare occasions when nobody manages to beat it. Wev.
In case I haven’t made it clear yet, I hate IRV. I voted against Measure O, the Charter amendment Oakland voters adopted (with 69% approval) in 2006 that says we are going to do our elections using IRV from now on. And I was happy that we weren’t able to do it two years ago because we didn’t have the machines.
But now, we do have the machines. They have been certified by the Secretary of State (PDF), the County ROV is ready to use them, the Secretary of State has outlined the voter education campaign we’re required to conduct before we use them, the City Attorney has issued an opinion (PDF) that says, yes, morons, the Charter mandates that we use them, and all that’s left is the final go-ahead from the Council, which, frankly, should be a formality at this point.
Alas, it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case. Over at Living in the O, Becks has posted a letter, sent from District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente to certain community groups, asking them to oppose the adoption of IRV for this year’s Oakland election, because using the system is going to cost us too much money.
IRV supporters have delusionally insisted all along that the system is going to save us all this money. Ooh, big surprise, that’s not true! It’s going to be really expensive to use IRV in the November election (PDF), it’s going to be expensive to educate voters, and since we’re almost definitely going to have some tax measures on the June ballot, we’re not going to realize any savings from not having a June election anyway. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying any attention.
But, unfortunately, it doesn’t matter that IRV sucks and is expensive. Voters voted to do it. The Charter now says we have to do it. That means we have to do it. This isn’t fucking rocket science. We vote on things so that citizens can make decisions. You don’t get to pick and choose which of their decisions you like. Geez.
If we’re not going to follow the Charter and do IRV because it’s expensive, why not just ignore all the other expensive things the Charter mandates too? The Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, a charter-mandated set-aside of a hefty portion of General Funds that go to youth oriented non-profits, is expensive too. Why not just buy ourselves another $12 million by not funding that either? Where does it end?
You don’t get a pass on ignoring voter mandates just because you don’t like them, and you don’t get a pass because you have a budget crisis either, and Oakland residents should contact their Councilmembers today, or come to the meeting tonight (7 PM, City Hall) and let the Council know in no uncertain terms that they expect the City to adopt IRV for this year’s election, as explicitly mandated by the City Charter and Measure O.
Here are the Council e-mail addresses, in case you don’t have them:
Rebecca Kaplan, At-large: RKaplan@oaklandnet.com; Jane Brunner, District 1: JBrunner@oaklandnet.com; Pat Kernighan, District 2: PKernighan@oaklandnet.com; Nancy Nadel, District 3: NNadel@oaklandnet.com; Jean Quan, District 4: JQuan@oaklandnet.com; Ignacio De La Fuente, District 5: IDeLaFuente@oaklandnet.com; Desley Brooks, District 6: DBrooks@oaklandnet.com; Larry Reid, District 7: LReid@oaklandnet.com
Oh, and if you’re curious about why this matters, aside from some abstract commitment to obeying the will of the voters (though that should really be enough), here is a worst-case scenario of what could happen if we don’t do IRV this year. Someone sues us over not doing IRV. This will not stop the June election, because there it’s too late. The June election happens anyway. We lose the lawsuit. Our election is invalidated. We are plunged into constitutional crisis and also have to do another election later with IRV and spend even more money anyway. Yeah, have fun with that!
Hope to see some of you guys at Council tonight!