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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Traditional Runoff Elections vs Instant Runoff Voting

Which are better for democracy, traditional on-on-one runoff elections or instant runoff voting elections? Some instant runoff voting proponents claim that runoff elections are an obstacle to voter turnout. That may have been true 20 years ago, but today we have early voting, no excuse vote-by-mail, election day voting, and we even have same day registration during early voting.

In fact, IRV appears to be a barrier to voters, a sort of 21st century form of a literacy test: An exit poll (conducted using IRV advocates) of Hendersonville NC voters in 2007 indicated that one third of voters came to the polls unprepared to rank their choices. In Cary, North Carolina's 2008 bi-annual citizen survey, 30.6% did not understand IRV, and 22.0% polled did not understand IRV at all. That is shocking when you consider that Cary has the most Ph.D.s per capita in the U.S. for towns larger than 75,000 people

In North Carolina, some community leaders are outspoken in their opposition to IRV and in preference of traditional runoff elections. Take a look at these three traditional runoff elections in North Carolina, where minority candidates were the winners:

1) Rocky Mount, NC, City Council Race Ward B. Lois Watkins v Tom Looney, Nov 2007.

The city of Rocky Mt NC held a runoff election for the Ward B City Council race because the Oct 9 election didn't produce a clear winner. The traditional runoff election, held Tuesday, Nov. 6 2007 ended up having a higher turnout than the October election.

Incumbent Lois Watkins trailed Tom Looney in the October election, but came back to nearly doubled her vote count in the runoff, easily defeating Looney.

The turnout for the Ward B Contest in October was 1,230 voters, and in increased to 1,678 votes in the November runoff. Many of the 1,678 votes were cast during no-excuse, one-stop voting.

Election Facts:

Lois Watkins - African American . Beat challenger Tom Looney by 320 votes in the runoff election. She raised $13,000 for her campaign,

Tom Looney, Caucasian raised $77,000 for his campaign.

2) Durham North Carolina Mayoral Contest, Nov 2005. William Bill Bell v Jonathan Alston

(Both candidates are African American). Turnout was higher in the November runoff election. Mayor Bell was re-elected with 85% of the vote.

"Meeker Re-Elected Raleigh Mayor; Road, Housing Bonds Pass" Oct 12, 2005 ...Instead, incumbent William V. Bell will face Jonathan Alston in the general election on Nov. 11 and go for his third term in office.


OCTOBER 11, 2005


WILLIAM V. "BILL" BELL . . . . . . 11,333 88.00
VINCENT BROWN . . . . . . . . . WITHDREW
JACQUELINE D. WAGSTAFF . . . . . . 567 4.40
JONATHAN ALSTON . . . . . . . . . . 787 6.11

NOVEMBER 8, 2005

DURHAM CITY MAYOR JONATHAN ALSTON . . . . . . . . 3,007 14.06
WILLIAM V. BILL BELL. . . . . . . 18,171 84.98
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205 .96

3) Rocky Mount, NC City Council Ward 1, Andre Knight vs Kelvin Barnhill in 2003

Municipal races stir rumors August 20, 2006... Six candidates filed to run for Ward 1 in 2003, and Knight said he expects several people will run again in 2007. Knight said he will run for re-election in the ward. And Kelvin Barnhill, who lost to Knight in a runoff in 2003, said he may enter next year's race.

With traditional runoff elections, voters have a chance to learn more about the strongest candidates. With IRV, you may your choice blindfolded, not knowing whether you will help or hurt your preferred candidate or which candidates will be in the "runoff".