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May 10th, 2005
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Richard Newell, (408) 882-4785


Libertarians Approve of SB596, Instant Runoff Voting 

The Libertarian Party of California passes a resolution in favor of SB596 which allows all cities, counties and special districts in California to use ranked voting

SACRAMENTO – The Libertarian Party of California Executive Committee has passed a resolution in favor of California Senate Bill 596. This bill would allow all cities, counties or districts in California to use “Instant-Runoff Voting” (IRV), a form of ranked voting, for single-winner elections, and “choice voting,” a variation for multi-winner elections, if enacted by a local ballot measure or initiative.

Instant-runoff voting saves the taxpayer the expense of traditional runoff elections, while ensuring that the winner has majority support,” said Aaron Starr, chairman of the Libertarian Party of California. “It allows the voter to vote their conscience without worrying if their vote might be 'wasted'.

With instant-runoff voting, the voter ranks the candidates according to their preference, using “1” for their favorite candidate, “2” for their second favorite, and so on. When votes are tallied, only number “1” votes are counted, just like in traditional single-vote plurality voting. However, if no candidate achieves a majority in this round, the candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated and the votes recounted. All the votes for the candidate that was eliminated will be redistributed among the remaining candidates, according to the next choice of the affected voters.

Since their will has already been recorded, there is no need for an expensive special runoff election. This process is continued for as many rounds of counting as are needed for a majority result to be reached. In the limiting case, all the candidates are eliminated round-by-round until but two remain and a winner is selected. A variation of this procedure, “choice voting,” can be used for multi-office elections, such as picking several members of a city council with a single ballot.

Today, when a plurality election is held and there is a large field of candidates, the winner(s) often have far less than a majority vote, leaving one wondering if the true will of the voters has been represented. Inconsistent results can prevail if, for example, two candidates with a similar majority position on the issues are running against just one holding a minority view. The two similar candidates may split the majority vote allowing the candidate with the less popular position to win a plurality. This is virtually impossible using IRV or choice voting.

Under current law, only charter cities and counties can use IRV or any form of voting other than the well-known plurality or majority voting systems. San Francisco, a charter city, used instant-runoff voting in the November elections. Oakland voters in 2002 approved the use of instant-runoff voting to fill City Council vacancies, and Berkeley voters approved if for all races in 2004. With SB596, the voters in all California cities, counties and special districts would have a legal right to chose IRV or choice voting.

IRV is used in other countries including England, Australia, and New Zealand. It is also used in professional organizations and in educational institutions. Washington State recently passed a bill authorizing Vancouver, Spokane, and Tacoma to use IRV. The Libertarian Party of California often uses IRV and choice voting variants that provide for a “None of the Above” option, for its own internal elections.

If the voter's favorite candidate doesn't earn enough votes to win, or make the runoff, their already recorded vote for their next favorite candidate is automatically used in the 'instant' runoff,” Starr said. “Voting for their true first choice doesn't hurt the chances of their second choice candidate, as it does in today's winner-takes-all plurality elections.”

Other groups that have endorsed SB596 include the Californians for Electoral Reform, the Green Party, the Yolo Registrar of Voters, Common Cause, California for Democracy, Center for Voting and Democracy, Davis Citizens for Representation, and the San Jose Mercury News.

About the Libertarian Party of California

The Libertarian Party of California has elected more than fifty public officeholders statewide. Libertarians believe in personal freedom in both social and economic spheres, and in government small enough to protect those freedoms.

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