Christina Tobin on Passage of Proposition 14 in California

San Francisco, CA (June 17, 2010) – In April of this year, the Town of Port Chester, NY adopted cumulative voting. New York is again making progress with electoral reform, with the introduction of a bill to allow Instant Runoff Voting for municipal and county offices.

As usual with IRV, after each round the lowest vote-getter is removed, and his or her votes redistributed to each voter’s second choice pick. What makes New York’s IRV bill exceptionally good is that voters would rank all candidates — not just their first, second and third choices, as is the case for IRV in California.

With the recent passage of Proposition 14, I wonder what’s happened to California, which once led the nation in pioneering reforms such as initiative and referendum. On June 8th, questionable claims and large piles of cash eked out a narrow victory for Prop 14, establishing a Top Two Primary, limiting debate and increasing the influence of money in elections.

Both IRV and Top Two elections are, in a general sense, runoff elections. Yet when you examine the practical details IRV emerges the clear winner.

Top Two creates one big primary with candidates from every political party. Every voter can choose from among all the candidates. Then, the top two vote getters face off in the general election five months later. Write-in votes would be prohibited to limit voter choice to those two candidates.

If you started wondering at “five months later” you’ve noticed the first problem. The primary is in June and the general election in November. Any number of things can change in that time, and history is replete with examples. For instance, Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” swept the Republicans to control of Congress in 1994, and was introduced only six weeks before the election.

With Instant Runoff Voting, the “runoff” takes place automatically. If no candidate gets a clear majority, the lowest vote getter is dropped from the ballot, and his or her votes redistributed to each voter’s second choice. Repeat until a clear winner emerges. Full public discussion and debate can proceed right up to Election Day.

The ban on write-in votes marks another clear difference. With Top Two, if you don’t vote for one of the top two candidates, your vote is essentially thrown away, and you are forced to pick from only those two.

With Instant Runoff Voting, you can rank your choices, so if your first choice doesn’t make it, your vote still counts for something. This also makes campaigns more positive — if you attack a candidate unfairly, his supporters wont make you their second choice!

Finally, a Top Two Primary involves more voters and is therefore more expensive to win. More importantly, you can no longer launch an independent or “third party” campaign to avoid an expensive primary. This dramatically increases the cost of running for office, expanding the influence of money in politics.

As well, the early date of the June primary favors well-funded special interests with permanent organizations, over grassroots activists who require more time to mobilize and be effective. Whereas Instant Runoff Voting costs nothing, beyond that necessary to reprogram the voting machines, which Top Two also requires.

Instant Runoff Voting is real, positive reform. IRV gives you a greater voice by asking your second choice, third choice and so on. There is no such thing as a “wasted vote” with Instant Runoff Voting. IRV eliminates the “lesser of two evils” problem, encourages positive campaigns, and empowers grassroots activists.

Top Two is fake reform. Top Two cuts off most of the debate five months before the election, and raises the money barrier for winning elections, making it easier for wealthy special interests to drown out the voice of average citizens. Top Two reduces your voice by banning write-in votes, and forcing you to pick from only two choices in the general election.

The right choice is clearly Instant Runoff Voting. Starting in 2012, California will find itself using both systems. I am committed to promoting IRV and fighting Top Two. With your help California will once more lead the nation, and the world, in expanding popular government and empowering its citizens.

yours in liberty,

Christina Tobin signature

Christina Tobin
Founder and Chair
Free & Equal Elections

Reposted from Free & Equal