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Sex, Lies, and Audiotape: Why We Need Instant Runoff Voting

Published:   December 15, 2009

After boasting about extramarital affairs over a live microphone, then-Assemblymember Mike Duvall (R-Yorba Linda) resigned from office, forcing Orange County to call a special election to replace him. As Gautam Dutta and Amanda Fowler point out in an article in the California Progress Report, it will cost taxpayers nearly $2 million to replace him.

Why? Because in last month's low-turnout special election (which cost nearly $750,000), none of the candidates received a majority (50 percent plus 1 vote) which means that the race is now headed for a runoff election. Unfortunately, as Mr. Dutta and Ms. Fowler explain, the January runoff will be no more than an expensive formality.

Even though Republican candidates won a whopping 70 percent of the vote, the top votegetter from each party will now advance to the January 12 runoff: Republican Chris Norby (37 percent of the vote), Democrat John MacMurry (27 percent), and Green Party Candidate Jane Rands (2.8 percent). In this GOP-heavy district, it doesn't take a political scientist to figure out who's the odds-on favorite to win.

While special elections cannot be avoided, there is a better way to conduct them: Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). IRV is a proven and practical method that allows voters to elect a majority winner in one single election, which will save taxpayers money. Additional benefits include relieving voter fatigue, making leaders more accountable, and cleaner campaigns. According to Mr. Dutta and Ms. Fowler,

With IRV, candidates have a strong incentive not to launch personal attacks. Indeed, if IRV had been used last week, Chris Norby would have been less inclined to attack fellow Republican Linda Ackerman, since he would have been vying for the second-choice rankings of her supporters. IRV rewards candidates who reach out to the entire electorate - a positive change that will help elected officials regain public trust and respect.

Orange County has spent nearly $2 million on special elections to replace their disgraced Assemblyman. To make matters worse, they have been without representation in the State Assembly since September. By using IRV, they could have not only saved money, but had a representative before the New Year.

A commonsense solution to a persistent problem, IRV will save money and make our democracy stronger.  It's time for California to stop settling for "politics as usual". It's time to adopt IRV for our special elections.

For more information on Instant Runoff Voting, please click here.

Gautam Dutta, Deputy Director of the Political Reform Program at the New America Foundation, is available for comment.

The full article is available here.
For interview requests, please contact Elizabeth Wu at (510) 295-9859 or wu@newamerica.net.