Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, chairwoman of the Senate Elections and Reapportionment Committee, introduced a bill allowing instant-runoff voting in cities and counties that have approved it.
Instant-runoff voting allows voters to chose a first, second and third choice of a candidate. If their first choice doesn't win a majority of votes, votes for the second, then third, candidates are counted.
Oakland city councilwoman Pat Kernighan said she would have preferred the system when she was elected to a vacant seat last spring. Running against a number of candidates, she won with 29 percent of the vote. She said she would feel more comfortable with a higher percentage, which she would likely have received if voters' second and third choices were counted.
In Berkeley, vice-mayor Kriss Worthington pointed out that instant-runoff voting saves the cost of a separate runoff election and encourages candidates to reach out to potential voters outside their base. He thinks it would result in less contentious campaigns.
Berkeley approved the system by 72 percent. Voters in San Leandro, Oakland, Santa Clara County and Davis also have overwhelmingly approved it in votes over the last few years.
Alameda County officials have been waiting for the state government to provide some guidance, either through laws passed by legislators or regulations established by the Secretary of State's office.
After last month's committee meeting, county officials will have to turn to the Secretary of State's office. The other members of the elections and reapportionment committee said they don't support the law.
The biggest concern seems to be that it would give candidates outside of the two major parties a better chance.
That strikes us as an awfully short-sighted and self-serving rationale. If the voters like the system and it saves money, legislators should put aside their personal concerns. If major-party candidates are afraid to compete with third-party and independent candidates, rigging the system in their favor isn't the answer. In fact, we think the inclusion of more parties and ideas will broaden our political debates, increase voter interest and participation and strengthen our democracy.
We urge cities and counties to continue using instant-runoff voting. Perhaps the growing number of elections using the system and the sheer volume of positive results will force the state to provide guidelines. Our state legislators shouldn't be so small-minded and should put the good of the state before their petty interests.