State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Tag: IRV

Hi, I’m IRV

by Danny Muchoki

The underlying assumption of elections is that they capture voters’ preferences. Voters go into a booth, push a button/punch a card/pop a chad and when they’re all counted up we know that the person who wins over 50% of the votes is the winner. It’s obvious, right?

Not necessarily. In 1992, Bill Clinton became President with 43 percent of the vote. In 1998, Jesse “The Body” Ventura became governor of Minnesota while winning about 37 percent of the vote. In 2010 (again in Minnesota) Mark Dayton became governor with 43.6 percent of the vote. The runner- up was behind by just .4 (point four) percentage points – 43.2 percent.

A plurality system is simple, but some argue it is fundamentally unfair to let a candidate win with a plurality, let alone a plurality that is far short of a bare majority. Continue reading

Privately funded incumbent beats out nine publicly-funded opponents in San Francisco mayoral race

by Reid Schweitzer

Over the last fifteen years, a growing movement in the US has called for the diminution of corporate and special interest money in elections by providing public funds for campaigns. In that time, sixteen states and a number of municipalities have enacted various schemes that provide public financing for candidates for public office, usually with requirements that the candidates abide by spending caps and raise a certain amount of money on their own through small donations.

This past election tested San Francisco’s version of public finance in its mayoral election. The City by the Bay provides $50,000 to any mayoral candidate who can raise at least $25,000 from donations of $100 or less. After that, donations to the candidate are matched at a rate of 4:1, decreasing to 1:1 by the time that candidate reaches the $1,375,000 spending cap imposed on those candidates receiving public financing. In a single election, a candidate may receive as much as $850,000 from the city, unless, as in this election a privately financed campaign exceeds the cap. Thereafter, the cap rises in $100,000 increments as privately financed campaigns continue to spend.

In this election, however, a publicly financed campaign did not take the prize. Interim Mayor Ed Lee won the election on November 8 after funding his campaign through private contributions. Ultimately a total of $2.6 million was spent in support of Lee’s campaign, including nearly one million dollars spent by independent groups. This amount, however, is dwarfed by recent campaigns in San Francisco where, for example, in the 2003 election, former Mayor Gavin Newsom spent $5.1 million. Continue reading

A time for change: an examination of Baltimore City’s record low voter turnout

by Ashley Ward

As you drive through the streets of Baltimore City, many areas still bare the campaign efforts of the six mayoral candidates. Posters plastered on walls, fliers in store front windows and stickers on bumpers. The abundance of the campaign fanfare throughout the city turned out to be a rouge when the September 13th primary produced the lowest voter turnout in Baltimore’s history. After the  polls closed, 23% of registered voters had participated, equaling only 12% of the city’s population (rounded from the Unofficial Polling Place Turnout). Even more disappointing was the turnout for the November 8th general election, which produced an even lower turnout than the primaries—reportedly, only 10-12% of registered voters showed. Until September, the lowest turnout Baltimore had seen for a primary was 27% in 1991.

Maryland is not the only state dealing with disappointingly low voter turnout. Kentucky’s November 8th gubernatorial race had only a 29% turnout, and New Jersey saw their lowest turnout in history with 26%. So what is causing such low voter turnout and should there be concern with a Presidential election year approaching? Many scholars and political analysts have their own theories. One of the most popular reasons is voter apathy. The 2010 census reported that the highest population within the 20-24 years and 25-29 years age group. The Unofficial Polling Place Turnout reported that both ages were the least likely to vote, especially the males within the age group. When asked why he did not vote, 21 year old Kevin Clark said, “It was all the same old stuff.”  Many younger citizens do not understand the importance of voting. Continue reading

Portland’s Instant-Runoff Mayoral Election: Innovative Voting, Constitutional Questions

by Ryan Shallard

On November 8, 2011, Portland, Maine residents will vote for mayor for the first time in nearly a century. For the past 88 years, Portland’s city councilors annually appointed the mayor. However, last year Portland residents voted to popularly elect the mayor. The impetus behind the change is the hope that an elected mayor will carry more political clout in Augusta, the State Capitol. This sudden creation of a very powerful political figure is drawing lots of attention from academics assessing the potential political impacts.

However, the election changes more than just Maine’s political balance and who chooses the mayor. It also establishes a controversial voting procedure for how the mayor is chosen. The 2011 mayor race will use instant-runoff voting (IRV), which encompasses voters’ preferential choices. Here’s how IRV works: each voter votes for as many candidates as he wants, ranking them from his first to last preference. The instant runoff ballot might look like this. Once the votes are collected, voters’ first choices are tallied. If any candidate carries more than 50% of the vote, then that candidate wins. However, given that there are 16 candidates in Portland’s mayoral race, it is extremely unlikely that one candidate will carry the necessary 50% of the vote. If no candidate has more than 50% of the vote, then the candidate receiving the lowest number of first place votes is eliminated, and his votes are redistributed to the candidates his voters ranked as their second choice. This process is repeated from the bottom up until one candidate carries the necessary majority.

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