As partisan squabbles in the US Senate continue to delay meaningful action on election reforms proposed after the Florida recount crisis of 2000, California voters are taking ballot matters into their own hands. Voters in the Golden State endorsed a group of state and local election reform proposals Monday that ought to make the state a leader in fixing not just broken election machinery but a broken political system.
They even nominated a reform-minded Democratic candidate for Secretary of State who — unlike Florida’s Katherine Harris — actually believes that election officials ought to count every vote.
From an election reform standpoint the news from California was all good, and one development — the decision of San Francisco voters to create an instant runoff voting system — is particularly important.
Here’s what happened Tuesday:
* In response to the 2000 election debacle in Florida, where state officials actually went to court in order to prevent ballots from being counted, Californians overwhelmingly approved an amendment to their state Constitution requiring that all votes legally cast in elections must be counted. The measure includes a provision that allows local election officials to petition the courts to waive any deadline that might prevent a full count — a rule that, had it been in place in Florida, would have allowed officials in south Florida counties to complete counts that Katherine Harris stopped by strictly applying deadlines.
* In another outgrowth of the Florida fight, Californians endorsed a proposition to raise $200 million through bond sales in order to help counties pay for new voting equipment. After a recent ruling by a federal judge that ordered California to replace controversial punch-card voting machines in time for the 2004 presidential election, this measure will allow even the poorest counties in the state to replace voting machines that produce “chads.”
* By a 56-44 margin, voters in San Francisco made their city the first major municipality in the United States to adopt an instant runoff voting (IRV) system for local elections. Under an IRV system, voters will now be able to rank lists of candidates for positions such as mayor and city supervisor.
The win for IRV after years of local organizing by activists with the Center for Voting and Democracy is arguably one of the most significant victories for electoral reformers and third-party activists since New York City abandoned its proportional representation voting system in the 1940s. (Under the old system, New Yorkers had elected not just Democrats and Republicans to their city council but candidates from across the political spectrum, including Socialists, Communists, American Labor Party members and other third-party contenders.)