Opinion: Not-so-instant runoff voting


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The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday once again delayed signing off on a plan to ask voters to approve instant runoff voting. IRV, as it is known, has been knocking around the council for a couple years but hasn’t gotten majority support, despite rapt enthusiasm among a core of supporters.

IRV has been in place in San Francisco for several years and, according to testimony at the council meeting, is used in Australia and other progressive jurisdictions such as Papua-New Guinea. The system allows voters to rank the candidates instead of just picking one. If no one wins a majority of first-ranked votes, candidates are peeled off the bottom and second and third-choice votes counted until one candidate has a majority and is declared the winner.


The idea is to eliminate costly runoff campaigns and elections, like the one in which Jim Hahn (who finished second in the ‘primary’) defeated Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor in 2001, or the one in which Villaraigosa defeated Hahn in 2005. Or those in which several current members of the City Council came in second but after continuing and focusing their campaigns went on to win in a runoff.

Supporters say eliminating runoff elections will save money and reduce voter fatigue. The city would have to purchase new equipment capable of recording and counting ranked votes and would have to mount an aggressive, and presumably expensive, public education program.

Wednesday was the deadline for the council to send measures to the city attorney for the March 3 election, so IRV supporters on the council asked for a report back from city staff by the end of the year, in time to get the measure on the May 19 runoff ballot.

Once more, in case you missed it: in time to get the measure on the May 19 runoff ballot. Which they could do, because Los Angeles has runoffs. Otherwise they would have to schedule a special election in order to ask voters to reduce voter fatigue. Or wait until the 2011 city election.

Alas, the irony is wasted; they’ll have to wait anyway. The city clerk’s office won’t have time to do the necessary studies by Jan. 14, the deadline for the May runoff ballot, because staff, which is currently working on the Nov. 4 election, will by then be busy working on the March 3 election.