Category Archives: Instant Runoff Voting FAIL

Of Democracy and Grunge Rock- An Evening with Krist Novoselic and the Center for Voting and Democracy

This past Thursday I had a chance to hear Krist Novoselic, former bassist for the band Nirvana discuss his new book, Of Grunge & Government: Let’s Fix This Broken Democracy! at the offices of the Foundation for a Feminist Majority in Beverly Hills.
Mr. Novoselic was accompanied by Rob Ritchie fo the Center for Voting and Democracy. Both discussed the perils and promise of meaningful electoral reform and managed to make a potentially dull topic quite interesting.
Novoselic’s book is part personal memoir, and part political polemic with some interesting suggestions to make our electoral system more competitive and more representative of the public at large. He is a big supporter of San Francisco’s experiment with Instant Runoff Voting and has made his own proposal to make the Washington State Legislature more representative of the voting public up there.
Novoselic’s proposal for Washington is actually quite simple. Rather than have 98 legislators elected in 49 districts (often times gerrymandered to favor one party over another), Novoselic proposes 9 “super districts” each electing a slate of 11 legislators, selected through a system of proportional representation. Thus each “super district’s” 11 legislators would be divided up amongst the parties based on the percentage of the vote received, and there would be no way to gerrymander seats for individual incumbent legislators.
Thus, you could have a district where 30% of the voters pull the lever for the Republican Party, 30% for the Democratic Party, 20% for the Green Party and 10% for the American Heritage Party. The seats would then be assigned to each party for their candidates, with each party getting a number of seats based on the percentage of the vote cast.
More people would have a chance to have their voice heard, and there’d be a chance for all parties to compete with their ideas and candidates on a level playing field – and the results would more accurately reflect what the public wants. Why not have a four party system that allows the electorate to tilt in whatever way it likes, and change its mind later on? What’s wrong with a little drama, and a little competition at the polls?
To be sure, there are several kinks to be worked out, but the concept is inherently a fair one. Why should a voter be reduced to voting in an effective one-party state because one party has gerrymandered that voter’s district, making other parties not even bother to compete? Novoselic decried the lack of competitiveness in legislative and Congressional seats as a big reason why people get so turned off of voting. “Competition makes our economy stronger – surely competition can make our democracy stronger too,” he commented.
It’s nice to see a celebrity get involved in politics that shuns the limelight in favor of the hard work and careful study needed to be truly effective in politics, and I certainly hope one day Washington voters will get a chance to vote on his proposals, if not for Novoselic himself, someday.
There was talk that he was thinking of running for Lieutenant Governor of Washington State, but he decided to focus his attention on issues instead of his own political ambitions. In the Age of Governor Doofinator, that’s something to be admired as well.
The group also heard from Roy Ulrich of California Common Cause speak briefly about the ill-conceived Proposition 62 which would limit the choices voters would have on their ballot through the introduction of a new “primary” system in California.
I’ve often said that this proposed law is the wrong cure for the wrong disease – it’s like trying to cure a stomach ulcer with Tabasco sauce. The only result we’re going to get with this is a big mess – just as you would if you drank a bottle of Tabasco after getting an ulcer.
In other words, it makes no sense. Plus when you read who’s spending the big money to support this initiative, it reads like a “Who’s Who” of special interests who have never show any interest in real reform – they just want the government to give them more goodies – and make you pay for the privilege.
All in all, an interesting evening for sure. I urge everyone to take a look at Krist’s book the next time you’re at the bookstore – it’s a fun read and worth your while.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

Reality Vs. Reality TV or “IRV me ASAP!”

“Truth is stranger than fiction” or so goes the old saying. In today’s world a new corollary follows that “reality is stranger than reality television.” Nowhere is this more apparent than with a comparison of Showtime’s reality TV series American Candidate and the the campaign season in San Francisco this year.
First, for those of you not familiar with American Candidate a brief summary: the program is a simulated presidential election, with candidates selected by the shows producers to go through a series of trials typical to a political campaign, with one contestant “voted off” each week.
Originally conceived as a political version of American Idol, the program is now more like “Survivor.” The winner of the program receives $200,000 and a chance to “address the American people” later this summer.
Overall it’s somewhat fun to watch, if only because I happen to know two of the participants, candidate Lisa Witter and campaign manager Dean Nielsen, who give the other candidates a real run for their money. Both are longtime professionals in politics and public affairs, and it’s interesting to see them apply real-world solutions to the many challenges created by the shows producers to simulate real-world elections.
Reality, however, is providing a tale of campaign challenges and intricate interaction between candidates far more complicated than a reality TV show could produce – San Francisco’s experiment with “instant runoff voting” in a myriad of open races for city office this fall.
No less than 100 candidates are running for a handful of offices this year, and the changes created by the new voting system have yet to be fully understood or absorbed by the city’s electorate or candidates. As such, the machinations and intensity usually associated with San Francisco’s unique brand of politics just got a lot more intense, with the results in November difficult to predict.
For those of you not familiar with Instant Runoff Voting, the Los Angeles Times featured an article recently that provided a general overview of the process and its implications for the election. A more comprehensive overview can be found at SFRCV.COM goes into far more detail (but be forewarned – it’s not a speedy read and those averse to long, detailed mathematical analyses and whatnot might want to stick with the Times article.
Suffice to say, it’s a different way of voting, one that attempts to do away with costly runoff races, and allows voters to note a “second” and “third” choice for a specific office, should their preferred candidate not get enough votes to win.
I’ve been in San Francisco all week meeting with various politicos and candidates and it has become apparent that the “reality” of city elections in San Francisco provides a far more interesting tale of alliances, plots, challenges, and good old fashioned politics in an era of “ranked voting.”
Because the system allows people to make more than one choice for the job in each election, there’s a new dynamic amongst “top tier” candidates for office – rather than ignore completely the more “longshot” candidates for office, there is an incentive to be the “second choice” of supporters of these smaller campaigns to build the majority they’ll need once the process goes through. And what a process it is.
Sound complex? It is. Sound like a recipe for intrigue and drama? Hell, yes! Let the games begin!
Let’s take a look at one of the most interesting races in the city – the race for County Supervisor in District 5. Encompassing neighborhoods such as the Haight-Ashbury, and probably one of the most liberal voting districts on Earth, no less than 22 candidates are running to replace retiring Green Party incumbent Matt Gonzalez. Making this battle royale more interesting is the fact that IRV has introduced a new dynamic in the race – a spirit of cooperation between competing candidates of different ideologies.
Yes, you read that right. An example: many candidates for the same office meet weekly to discuss issues amongst themselves and interested members of the public at a “Candidate’s Collaborative.” I had the opportunity to attend one earlier this week, and it was an interesting situation to observe.
In all the years I’ve worked in politics I’ve never been to an event where people who are competing against each other spend time helping each other out, sharing information about public events, and discussing issues and the campaign season so openly. More recently, two candidates for office took this a step further and held a fundraising event to benefit both their respective campaigns for the same office. I challenge anyone to show me when that’s occurred anywhere else in the United States.
How long this spirit of cooperation will last, and how this new order will affect candidates and their behavior when the race comes down to the wire, and the urge to win kicks in, remains to be seen. It will also be interesting to see how the voters react to the new system – will they fully embrace the opportunities it presents, or will the difficulty in explaining the system make it fall by the wayside? I am keeping close tabs on this race and will post additional columns as they warrant.
Documentary film company, American Beat is covering the campaign as it unfolds, attending events and following candidates around the city in this new political order, often unimpeded by PR people and candidate staff (as in the case of the “Candidate Collaborative” meeting earlier this week).
Although the task of covering so many candidates running at once is a challenge, they aim to document as best as they can the unique drama and interaction real life provides. Needless to say, I’ll be looking for the DVD of this film once it comes out, sometime in 2005, as an interesting contrast of real-world politics to reality TV. This election will be fun to follow, as the national elections degenerate into the ugly rumor mongering and vitriol that I’m beginning to get tired of. Stay tuned.
P.S.: While this article focused on the colorful candidacies and the impact of Instant Runoff Voting in ultra-liberal District 5, I want to take a moment to highlight another candidate in San Francisco’s more independent/conservative District 7 who deserves some special recognition.
Christine Linnenbach, an attorney and crusader for honest government, has been on the front lines challenging corruption and back-room deals at City Hall, in particular regarding the safety of Sutro Tower in San Francisco. Named a “Local Hero” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, she would bring an intelligent and thoughtful voice to the Board of Supervisors.
Even for those of you who don’t live in San Francisco should consider sending her some support, as we need more people who are willing to stand up against civic corruption and be a voice for the people, not well-connected special interests. Go Christine!

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at