by Lydia Gans
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n October 8, the registrar of voters will begin sending out sample ballots to people who are registered to vote. (Voter registration continues until October 22.) That will give voters three weeks or less to study their ballot and decide how to vote. It is a formidable task. With each election, the ballots have become longer and the issues more complex as voters are besieged with contradictory and self-serving messages.
We will be voting on a large number of propositions, various state and local legislative initiatives. The options on these will be either for or against. And we will vote for officials, from president and vice president of the United States down to state and local officers.
Candidates are generally required to attain a majority vote to be declared the winner. In case no candidate attains a majority, a runoff election has to be held, with the additional expense of another mailing and running a new election.
An alternative to this is Instant Runoff Voting, also called Ranked Choice Voting.
Berkeley will use Instant Runoff Voting to elect the mayor, city council members and auditor. Oakland used it in the last mayoral election. This is actually not a novel idea. It is used all over the world, including in a number of U.S. cities.
It is designed to do just what the name implies — avoid having to hold a runoff election if no candidate achieves a majority by allowing an alternative choice to be tallied in one process. This will save money and resources.
Instead of having one column listing all the candidates for the office, the ballot will have three columns, headed First Choice, Second Choice, Third Choice, with the identical list of candidates. The voter marks his or her choice in each column. It’s that simple.
It is important that the voter marks three different selections. No matter how much (s)he favors one of the candidates, checking the same name in more than one column won’t work, for it would not be counted. It is not required that the voter make three choices, but leaving the second or third column empty is like not voting in a runoff if it should turn out to be necessary.
The process by which the votes are tallied makes perfectly good sense, but it’s rather difficult to explain. Here we go.
In the first step, all first-place votes are tallied. If one candidate receives a majority (50 percent plus one) that person is the winner. If not, on to the next step.
The candidates’ ballots are ordered by the number of first-place votes they have received. The one that received the lowest number of votes is eliminated. The votes that went to the eliminated candidate are transferred to those voters’ second-choice.
If the additional second place votes don’t give one candidate a majority, the process continues. The one with the lowest number at this stage is eliminated and those voters’ choices are transferred to the candidates that remain.
For candidates and their campaign committees, this system poses some interesting strategic decisions. In Oakland, Jean Quan’s mayoral campaign urged voters simply to vote for Quan. First, second or third choice wasn’t as important as making sure they voted. It was important that Quan’s name appear on the ballots.
So while several other strong candidates were also competing for first, Quan ultimately managed to gather up enough second and third place votes to bring her total up to the majority needed to win.
In Berkeley’s current mayoral election, the situation is different. There is a strong movement among progressive activists to change the status quo in city politics.
Three mayoral candidates — Kriss Worthington, Jacquelyn McCormick and Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi — while differing on some issues, are agreed on a common agenda to bring about a change in city hall. They’ve formed a loose coalition, sharing office facilities and expenses and running some joint activities. Their pitch to the voters is to vote for all three, in any order. They stress the importance of making three choices, leaving no blanks.
The idea is that if Tom Bates doesn’t get a majority of first choice votes, then when candidates are eliminated, one of the three would have enough second and third choice votes to end up with more than Bates’ total.
In theory, it is a fundamental American belief that all citizens have the right to vote. But it should also be thought of as a responsibility.
With corporate money buying candidates, boldly propagating lies, making it difficult to get to the polls, and even attempting to suppress voting in several states, it is critically important for people to make thoughtful decisions and cast their votes. There are many groups organizing information and discussion sessions on election issues. Let’s not be betrayed on November 6.