Donna Frye voted in favor of confining our children to dark, empty basements after school. Meanwhile, Lori Saldaña wants to feed tykes toilet water intravenously.
Incite a familiar churning of the stomach?
Had an electoral reform known as instant runoff voting (IRV) been introduced before Tuesday's election, things might have been a lot more cordial on the campaign trail.
Though used sparingly to fill a mere seven seats on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the eyes of the nation were on that city as it held its first instant runoff voting Tuesday. As expected by some electoral-reform advocates, three rivals were found engaged in a joint fund-raising love-fest, proving one of supporters' assertions about IRV-that it reduces negative campaigning.
Under instant runoff voting, candidates are ranked in order of preference. If no candidate receives at least a 50-percent majority, those with the least amount of votes are eliminated. If a voter's top choice is among those eliminated, that voter's second and third choices are added to the mix. If there is still no clear majority, third and possibly fourth choices are added until a clear winner emerges.
Thus, another benefit of instant runoff voting is that it eliminates the need to return to the polls for costly and abysmally attended runoff elections.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Sen. John McCain have both endorsed IRV, while Howard Dean cites it as an integral component of campaign-finance reform. Australia and Papua New Guinea use IRV to elect members of their parliaments.
Though opponents contend that IRV would send vote tallies into a tailspin, state-mandated "logic and accuracy" tests showed San Francisco's machines catching nearly every faulty ballot that testers threw into the system, such as those containing more than one first choice or no choices at all.
A proposed amendment to the California constitution authored by Democratic Sen. John Vasconcellos that includes IRV has been sitting in the Senate Appropriations Committee since August.
Jim Lindsay of the California IRV Coalition and founder of Californians for Electoral Reform, thinks a statewide effort is untenable at this time. "We don't feel the movement is strong enough to pull that off," Lindsay said. "The Legislature is dominated by the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party has mixed feelings about IRV.
"Our strategy for California is to win instant runoff voting in local jurisdictions and show that it works," he said.
Instant runoff voting is also in the works for Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro, as well as Santa Clara County. "So far, all signs are good," Lindsay said. "All these other jurisdictions are closely watching San Francisco."
Because it would erode the monopoly Democrats and Republicans hold over the government, most members of the two major parties are against IRV. Of course, IRV could also make it possible for a third-party candidate to upset the apple cart.
Lupita Jimenez, co-chair of the San Diego County Green Party, said instant runoff voting would increase public participation by disenfranchised voters.
"One of Ralph Nader's main points is that a citizen is the highest office in a Democracy," Jimenez said. "A lot of people feel disenfranchised. I know I do, because none of the people I would like to see in office are there. I feel an instant runoff vote would help."
IRV also quashes the notion of the "spoiler" candidate. Spoilers often take the blame for lost elections-in 1992, Republicans claimed those who voted for Ross Perot stole votes from George Bush, while Democrats chastise anyone who voted for Nader since 2000.
Had there been IRV in Florida prior to the 2000 election, the second-choice votes of the nearly 100,000 people who voted for Nader would have been counted when he was eliminated. Most of these votes likely would have gone to Al Gore, the thinking goes, changing the outcome of the election.
The way the voting system works now, many people are frightened that their vote will be wasted if they vote for the candidate they really want.
Edward Teyssier, chair of the San Diego Libertarian Party, has worked to pass IRV in California for the past five years. He said the most important benefit of instant runoff voting is that it gives voters a real choice.
"Anytime somebody in a democracy is afraid to vote, then we've got a problem," said Teyssier. "In a democracy, you should be able to vote for whoever you want without any fear at all."
Though opponents claim additional ballot choices would fluster the citizenry, Teyssier noted that as consumers we are already conditioned to expect choice. "It's interesting that in the free marketplace we've got choice, and in the political system in this country, unlike so many other countries, we don't have very much choice," he said.
In California, that choice would ultimately benefit the Democratic Party, said Lindsay, removing the fear of Greens as spoilers-though Democrats are still leery of the larger threat to the two-party system.
"Instant runoff voting is politically neutral by nature," he said. "Sometimes it helps Republicans, sometimes it helps Democrats, but it always helps democracy because you get a real majority winner."
On the ballot Tuesday was Proposition 62, which sought to create an open primary election. Under this law, a person could vote for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation. Feasibly, under an open primary election, two candidates from the same party could advance to the general election, further limiting choice.
Though Californians for Electoral Reform stood against Prop. 62, Lindsay said, if it passes, IRV would still be beneficial. "If you took Prop. 62 and put instant runoff voting on top of it, it would at least mean that the two people that would go into the November election would be the two people most preferred by Californians, as opposed to somebody with 25 percent of the vote."
Teyssier noted that there is no movement in San Diego to adopt IRV currently. However, he said it could easily be implemented by the City Council with enough support. "With a simple majority of our City Council, the city can create a resolution which changes the San Diego elections code to allow for instant runoff voting," he said. "We could have it tomorrow."
Though every city and county in the state must abide by state and federal constitutions, said Teyssier, charter cities and counties do not have to abide by provisions of the California Elections Code that prevent IRV. "The elections code is written in such a way that it doesn't allow instant runoff voting," said Teyssier. "Because San Diego County and San Diego City are both charter [governments]... they could change their own elections code to allow instant runoff voting.
Teyssier agreed that IRV would work to allay the deluge of muckraking ads. Instead of working to turn voters against a primary opponent, candidates would also work to point out similar stances, concurrently courting the second and third choices of voters.
"For example, people could go to a debate and say, "My opponent and I agree on all these issues, but we disagree on these main issues. If you are like us and you agree with these main issues, then give your second choice to this opponent right here,'" said Teyssier. "In instant runoff voting, you're voting for somebody. The way it is right now with plurality elections, you're voting for who you don't want." B