Fwd: IRV to be featured in major pro-democracy conference / San Francisco aftermath

Dan Johnson-Weinberger midwestdemocracy at yahoo.com
Sun, 12 Oct 2003 18:06:33 +0000

Save the date and plan to bring friends and allies -- we're having a 
big D.C. democracy conference November 22 and 23. 


--- In instantrunoff@yahoogroups.com, Rob Richie <fairvote@c...> 

We're disappointed about the delay on implementing IRV in San
Francisco, but believe that we can still keep IRV on track there for 
2004 and that momentum for IRV continues to build. It's not easy
to stop the right idea at the right time if people keep pushing.

On that front, I wanted to make sure you knew that our organization
is taking the lead role in organizing a conference with the theme
of "Claim Democracy: Securing, Enhancing and Exercising the 
Power of the Right to Vote." Backed by a broad range of pro-democracy
groups (see call-to-action link below), it will take place on November
in Washington, D.C. 's new convention center, Instant runoff voting 
will be
among the topics discussed in general sessions and will be the focal 
point of several workshops and trainings on Sunday, November 23.
We expect major presidential candidates to be among speakers.

We are starting to handle registrations and shortly will provide
on a nearby hotel where we will have a block of rooms available. Stay
tuned for more information, but for now, I hope you can visit:


See links from this page to the list of endorsing organizations (a 
that is still growing), the call-to-action and registration. Note that
is a less expensive "early bird" registration price through September.

We also have recently posted more information from San Francisco,
including a complete set of filings in the lawsuit, a revealing 
of what took place over the past 17 months and a very pro-IRV 
in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. See:


  -  San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Voting as usual: S.F. officials
won't implement election reform this year - and maybe not even 
next year - in defiance of the public will." August 27, 2003

   -San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Don't bury IRV." . August 27, 2003


    - Includes link to full set of filings in the lawsuit and a new
about how the Department of Elections mishandled the election

Finally, Steven Hill and I recently submitted the piece below for
publication. We believe it raises important questions about 
sustaining reform efforts in the years ahead.

best regards,
Rob Richie, CVD

Bureaucrats Stall IRV in San Francisco
By Steven Hill and Rob Richie

Instant runoff voting (IRV) is an exciting new reform idea in the 
States. A ranked-choice voting method, IRV allows voters to have 
more than two serious choices without the system breaking down and 
electing leaders opposed by a majority of the people they represent. 
For that reason, it is the clear ticket to multi-party democracy in

Well-tested in a growing number of places around the world, including 
national elections in Ireland and Australia, IRV also encourages 
building and high-turnout elections. In March 2002, IRV advocates won 
a stirring ballot measure victory in San Francisco, beating back 
opponents who spent more than $100,000 to keep the status quo.

But powerful opponents do not give up easily. On August 20, a 
Superior Court judge ruled that the San Francisco Department of 
Elections is breaking the law for failing to implement IRV for this
elections for mayor and other offices. The judge sternly chastised 
the Department, characterizing its efforts to implement IRV since 
of the charter amendment as "fumbling" and "haphazard."

In a troubling turn, however, the judge gave the Department of
Elections permission to postpone implementing IRV until 2004.
He feared that, with time running  out before the November election
and the pressures of the statewide recall election in October, these
bumbling bureaucrats could not be relied on to implement IRV fairly.

It was a classic Catch-22. The various government agencies charged 
fulfilling the law, particularly the Department of Elections and the
Elections Commission, had dragged their feet to the point where, when
finally they were sued for not implementing by IRV advocates like
the San Francisco Labor Council and California PIRG, the judge ruled 
it was

too late to follow the law in 2003.  It was an utter failure of 

Immediately following his ruling, the city's elections director then 
the gall to tell reporters that he could not guarantee that IRV will 
be in 
place by the November 2004 elections, more than two and a half years
after voters approved the system. Apparently no amount of time 
is enough for this fumbling director.

The ruling has disappointed IRV advocates, both those in the City
who looked forward to its positive impact on the City's hotly 
race for mayor and those who believe that an American model of IRV 
will lead to rapid adoption in a range of elections across the nation.

But beyond its impact on IRV, this year's developments point
to a larger problem. What happens when unelected government 
bureaucrats fail, either by design or ineptitude, to implement the 
After the marches and protests of the civil rights movement that 
resulted in landmark legislation, the federal government forced 
Southern bureaucrats  to uphold the law. Who will uphold the laws 
for democratic reform in San Francisco, or other states and cities?

In Alameda County, for example, when charter cities Berkeley and 
Oakland expressed interest in using IRV, the county's Director of 

informed both cities that he would refuse to run their elections and 
deny them the opportunity to use the county's voting equipment for
IRV elections. In Santa Rosa, a charter commission last year 
using another fair election method called cumulative voting for city 
council elections to give better representation to that community's
burgeoning diversity, but interest was stopped in its tracks when the 
county election director informed them she would not run cumulative
voting elections.  These administrators are not elected, but hold 
effective veto power of proposed reforms.

In Massachusetts, a major victory at the ballot box for public 
of elections was upended by the Speaker of the House, and even
a court order was unable to prevent it. Federal bureaucrats began
undermining McCain-Feingold immediately following its passage. In 
states, reformers seek  badly-needed changes like election day 
registration (EDR). But what if a state passed EDR, only to see 
election officials refuse to implement it? What recourse do reformers 
have when unelected bureaucrats, or even elected politicians, 
disobey the law?

They can go to court, as we did in San Francisco. But going to court 
is expensive -- and in this case, still couldn't lead the judge to 
order election administrators to uphold the law and do their job.

There are lessons to be learned here. For one, winning at the ballot 
is only part of the battle. The movement for political reform, whether
it involves clean elections or IRV, must be prepared to
defend its wins in court, and to resist repeal attempts. The history 
the choice voting method of full representation used in two dozen 
city councils last century shows that the anti-reformers and machine 
politicians mounted repeal after repeal, waiting for any opportunity 
to roll back the reform that most challenged their power.

But is the national reform movement equipped -- financially and
strategically -- for such a deep and unwavering commitment? Where are
the movement lawyers, the movement funders, and political strategists
who can assist reformers in the field when our successes are 

What is at stake is the integrity of government itself, and whether 
unelected government bureaucrats must act when the voters have 
spoken. Does the movement for political reform have the 
strength and strategy to hold stonewalling bureaucrats' feet to the 

There are no easy answers to these questions. IRV is far from dead
n San Francisco,  as advocates are preparing a strategy to ensure
IRV is implemented in November 2004. Yet this is an opportune 
time for reflection, as we assess how state and national reformers 
keep the reforms they win even as they seek urgently needed new 

Rob Richie, Executive Director
The Center for Voting & Democracy
rr@f..., www.fairvote.org

6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 610
Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616

"Make Your Vote Count!"
--- End forwarded message ---