Measure O is Good for the Asian Community

Ming Pao Daily, Commentary, Corinne Jan Posted: Oct 17, 2006

This November, Oakland voters will have an opportunity to vote on Measure O, which will greatly improve Oakland elections. Measure O will increase voter turnout, save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and improve the quality of political campaigns. Asian communities in Oakland will greatly benefit from the passage of Measure O.

The problem with our elections is that officeholders usually are elected in the June primary when voter turnout is extremely low. In the last June election, only a third (33 percent) of eligible voters voted. Yet that small electorate decided the winners for everyone else. Voter turnout in November elections (when national and state races are decided) is much higher than June.

Not only that, but a recent study found that for communities of color, voter turnout in June has been only half the turnout in November elections. While the turnout for Asian voters is improving, we still have relatively lower turnouts. In Oaklands June 2004 election voter turnout in predominantly Asian precincts was 20% lower than turnout in predominantly white precincts. With most contests being decided in June, minority voters are not having their voices heard.

For those races that require both a June election and a November runoff, administering two elections can cost hundreds of thousands of extra tax dollars -- money that could be better spent on other city services. And holding two elections instead of one is costly to candidates, giving an advantage to candidates that can raise more money, undermining campaign finance reform.

The solution to these problems with Oakland democracy is Measure O. Measure O implements an innovative reform called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) to achieve the worthy goal of electing winners who have a majority of the popular vote -- except we finish in one election in November, when voter turnout is highest.

Heres how it works: Voters indicate their favorite candidate, just like they do now, but at the same time they also rank their runoff choices, 1, 2, 3 on their ballot. If a candidate receives a majority of first rankings, she wins -- just like now. But if no candidate has a majority of first rankings the second and third rankings are used to determine the majority winner. This eliminates the need for a separate June election.

By eliminating low turnout June elections, Oakland will elect officeholders who win a popular majority in one November election, ensuring that more voters have a say in electing local leaders. People of color will not be disenfranchised by the low turnout June election. Oakland taxpayers will save hundreds of thousands of tax dollars, and candidates will be spared the chore of having to raise money for two elections.

Another important benefit is that IRV will shorten the campaign season for local races, and decrease some of the negative mudslinging. That's because with IRV, candidates may need the second or third rankings from the supporters of other candidates to win. So you have to be more careful about what you say about those candidates.

San Francisco has held two elections in 2004 and 2005 using IRV. Three exit polls were conducted that showed voters overwhelmingly like IRV. A whopping 87% responded that they understand it (after sufficient community education), with positive results cutting across all ethnic and racial groups. In the 2005 election the parts of San Francisco with the highest concentrations of people of color saw the greatest boost in voter turnout, four times higher in some neighborhoods. The studies found that Asian-Americans had no difficulties using IRV, with Chinese-speakers reporting they understood IRV at levels comparable to English-speakers. If Measure O passes, Oakland elections will be held in November, when turnout is highest and the electorate more accurately reflects the diversity of Oakland. More Asian voters will participate and exercise greater weight in our elections.

For all these reasons, many Asian leaders support Measure O, including Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, School Board President David Kakishiba, former Councilmember Danny Wan, Luna Yasui of Chinese for Affirmative Action, and Greg Jan of the Ohana Asian Cultural Center. It's also endorsed by the Alameda County Democratic Party, Central Labor Council, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, Oakland Tribune and many more.

And I heartily endorse Measure O as well. Measure O will be a big win for all of Oakland, including the Asian community. For more information, please visit

Corinne Jan is the Chief Executive Officer of Family Bridges, Inc. in Oakland.

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User Comments

Clay Shentrup on Nov 02, 2006 at 20:20:23 said:

Here's a more "realistic" example for the skeptics

% of Voters How They Voted
34% Nader > Gore > McCain
1% Nader > McCain > Gore
14% Gore > Nader > McCain
18% Gore > McCain > Nader
31% McCain > Gore > Nader
2% McCain > Nader > Gore

With IRV, Gore is eliminated first, giving 31% of the ballots over to their second choices. McCain then wins with 51% of the vote. But wait! 66% of the voters prefer Gore over McCain! Imagine the outrage from the Gore and Nader voters if they were to discover that McCain was elected, even though 66% of the voters preferred Gore! IRV chooses a "wrong winner" because it ignores the 14% of Gore voters who "become" Nader voters after the first round, as well as the second choices of the Nader voters, most of whom prefer Gore over Nader. So much for the myths that IRV prevents wasted votes and "IRV makes your vote count."

Now consider what happens if Nader drops out of the race. Most of the Nader supporters would vote for Gore as their first choice, and Gore would win with a 66% majority. With Nader in the race, McCain wins. Nader is a spoiler. So much for the myth that IRV eliminates spoilers.

In this example, Nader takes first-choice votes away from Gore, thus "splitting" the liberal votes, and causing Gore to be eliminated in favor of a conservative. If you're more conservative than liberal, simply swap McCain and Nader, and the example works works the same. If you don't believe that a third party candidate like Nader (who would be considered far from center, even in non-partisan electoral systems) could beat a "mainstream" candidate like Gore, then you are admitting that IRV leads to two-party domination (or "center squeeze" in non-partisan systems). In that case, substitute someone more "realistic" like Dean for Nader, and this example becomes totally plausible. So much for the myth that IRV eliminates vote splitting.

Does IRV eliminate the incentive to vote strategically? Sorry, that's another myth. In the example, McCain wins, which is the worst outcome from most of the Nader voters' viewpoints. But if a few of those Nader voters strategically vote Gore first, Gore wins, which is a better outcome for them. Thus, strategic voting sometimes pays with IRV, just as it sometimes pays with plurality. Note that strategic voting causes the first-choice vote results to be distorted; in this example, strategic voting reduces the number of first-choice votes for Nader and increases the number for Gore. So much for the myth that IRV accurately measures the support for third-party candidates.

So what do third parties in Australia think about IRV, considering they use it in their House of Representatives? Steven Hill is an IRV advocate, trying to get IRV adopted in the U.S. I think we should hear what IRV's victims have to say.

In their Constitutional Reform Policy, the Australian Democratic Party states:

In constitutional change, the Democrats will seek to provide for a bicameral parliamentary system with a House of Representatives and a Senate, both elected by proportional representation [which IRV is not], and responsible to the people.

The web site of the Australian Green Party says:

The Australian Greens will:

2.1 work to re-assert the authority of the Federal Parliament by:

* making it more representative of the range of opinion within society through the use of proportional representation to elect the House of Representatives [i.e. they want to replace IRV]

On a call placed to the Australian Green Party at 00 61 2 6162 0036, on 2006 November 2, the rep who answered said they understand that IRV ("preferential voting", as they call it) promotes two-party duopoly, and their objective is to get proportional representation in all levels of government.

The web site of the New Zealand Green says:

The New Zealand Greens will assist the Australian Greens in their drive to introduce proportional representation into the House of Representatives..

A 2004 Detailed Policy from the Western Australia Greens says:

We need to review the voting system in the House of Representatives, and consider implementing proportional representation, which provides a far better representation of the views of the Australian public. This kind of reform has been effective in New Zealand.

Many believe that, despite IRV's flaws, it will serve as an intermediate step toward proportional representation, by which they typically mean single transferable vote (STV). In general, this is an unrealistic idea, especially in a country like the USA, where a move toward PR would face significant constitutional challenges. Advocates of proportional representation, especially those in minor parties (or "third" parties in the U.S.), should instead consider supporting range voting (RV), as an intermediate step to reweighted range voting (RRV). Range voting offers great advantages over IRV, like being simpler, and giving minor parties a chance to win elections. RRV results in proportional representation, like STV, but also offers many advantages, including greater simplicity. And just as IRV is the single-winner form of STV, RV is the single-winner form of RRV.

If reformers and third parties can bring about a switch to a better single-winner election method, with the goal of eventually transitioning to proportional representation, there's no telling how long that interim might be. Considering that it could last "forever", it would be to their great benefit to choose the best single-winner system possible. In that case, the best option would be to get range voting implemented first, and then start working toward proportional representation.

Clay Shentrup on Nov 02, 2006 at 20:09:07 said:

I respond to the accusations in the two previous posts rather thoroughly here

If you don't think the hypothetical scenario I originally proposed is "realistic", think again.

I also amended the original letter, to make an even more feasible-sounding example, that would hopefully prevent people from using the "argument from incredulity" again in the future.

Clay Shentrup
Seattle, WA

Steven Hill on Oct 22, 2006 at 09:33:30 said:

The post below from a "range voting" advocate is filled with misinsformation and distortions regarding Measure O in Oakland, which will introduce the use of instant runoff voting to elect local offices. For example, the range of voting advocates writes:

"Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is touted for its ability to take away the spoiler effect that small parties can have on an election, thereby also taking away the fear of voting for them, and giving a realistic idea of how much support they have."

This range voting advocates apparently is unaware that elections in Oakland are nonpartisan. The benefits of IRV in Oakland have nothing to do with third parties, spoiling major party candidates, or anything like that. He has set up a "strawman" that does not apply.

Then he postulates an election with the following results:

% of Voters How They Voted
37% Nader > Gore > McCain
31% Gore > McCain > Nader
32% McCain > Gore > Nader

I'm not sure what planet or parallel universe would see Ralph Nader winning 37% of the vote in a three way race with Al Gore and John McCain, but it's certainly not any planet or universe that any of the rest of us live in. That's the interesting thing about all of these critics and advocates of other methods like IRV, they always propose these mathematical "paradoxes" that, while in theory are interesting for mathematicians to doodle around with on their sketch pads, in fact have no basis in reality. In the real world, these sorts of paradoxes rarely if ever manifest themselves. It's also possible that a meteorite will strike the Earth and wipe out life as we know it -- though not probably likely for a few more million years.

This critic assails the argument that IRV will save money. He quotes a Princeton math doctorate, trying to bring a gloss of academic legitimacy but from a Ph.D. student who apparently knows nothing about the costs of voting equipment or election administration. I can tell you for a fact that in San Francisco we already have saved a ton of money by using IRV. We spent $1.6 million for the cost of the IRV upgrade of the voting equipment, plus about another $750,000 for the initial community education. Just in 2005 alone, we saved the cost of a citywide election -- about $3 million -- for the assessor-recorder race, which would have needed a December runoff election without IRV. Not only did we save $3 million, but in a runoff election for a very low-profile assessor-recorder race the voter turnout would have dropped to perhaps single digits (A few years ago, a city attorney runoff which has much more voter interest than assessor-recorder had voter turnout of approximately 13% of eligible voters). So San Francisco taxpayers saved $3 million by not having to set up precincts all over the city for a extremely low turnout election.

On and on and on, this critic's post is filled with substantial distortions and misinformation. His opinion is unfounded on anything we would call facts or reality.

There are other good single-winner systems out there besides IRV. Range voting may be one of them, but it is very untested in public elections anywhere. In any case, I fail to see why certain range voting advocates apparently think they can advance their preferred method by engaging in the age old winner-take-all tactic of slinging mud at what they perceive as their "opponent" -- that is, instant runoff voting. It's just the same old politics by another name.

Steven Hill

Oakland Voter on Oct 18, 2006 at 17:59:34 said:

This was a great article by Corinne Jan. I really hope Measure O passes this November. It is a needed election reform.

Unfortunately, the first response to this article is from someone in Seattle whose comments are not only inaccurate, but reflect a lack of understanding of Oakland\'s electoral situation.

Not surprisingly, the commenter completely ignored the largest point of the article, which is that too few people are voting in Oakland elections! This is a direct effect of the two round runoff. Turnout in the primary (when elections need to be consolidated to accomodate a runoff in November) is around 40% lower than turnout in the general election -- that is a difference of tens of thousands of voters whose voices are not heard for when most of the elections are decided. Furthermore, minorities are the least likely demographic to vote in the primary -- which is problematic in a city like Oakland which is considered the second most ethnically diverse city in the nation. With IRV, elections could be moved to November, when many more people vote and the electorate is more in line with the actual population.

As to his arguments:

First, the idea that IRV will save money is well established. San Francisco has only used IRV twice, but the new system has already saved the city millions of dollars. In Oakland, the impartial analysis of the city auditor, which can be found in the voter pamphlet, states that IRV will save approximately $500,000 by eliminating an election cycle. The expected one-time costs of voter education, based on what San Francisco spent, would only be $400,000. The poster\'s evidence is a quote from a little known professor who is not even talking about Oakland.

Second, the poster talks about IRV butressing the two-party system. This is a nearly irrelevant argument since all local elections in California, including Oakland, are by law nonpartisan. Regardless, he also gets his facts wrong. Look up Australian politial parties and you will find that, contrary to what the poster says, that country has a very strong third party, National, which tends to win around 10% of seats. The poster claims that the two-round runoff would lead to more third party representation, but this is historically false in the US. Many states use a two round runoff, primarily in the South, and none of them have any third party strength to speak of -- look up Georgia\'s electoral system for example.

Third parties have come out in favor of Measure O (as has the Democratic Party, I might add) because it is more fair. With IRV, voters can cast ballots for the candidates they really like, not the lesser of two evils, because they can always rank a \"safety choice\" second and thus not waste their vote. After San Francisco switched to IRV, an exit poll by the Public Research Institute asked voters if they were more likely to vote for the candidate they prefered under IRV or the two-round runoff: 46% said they were more likely to vote sincerely under IRV, versus only 3% who said they were more likely to vote honestly under the two round runoff. The difference is pretty clear.

Let\'s look at his last example, which attempts to show that IRV does not fairly allocate votes. First note that the example is bogus: you will never have an election where two Democrats are facing off against one Republican -- the primary was put in place to ensure that only 1 Democrat goes up against 1 Republican -- so the example is a bit suspect. Second, he gives this example to show a failure in IRV, but if there is a failure it would be the same as under the two round runoff -- both would eliminate Gore and have Kerry win.

But, IRV is actually a more reliable indicator of the popular will than the two round runoff, as Corinne explains. Here is why, using a more realistic national example (since the poster ignores Oakland). Say a Republican is beating a Democrat 45% to 44%, and there is a Green candidate with 11%. Under a plurality system, the Republican would win -- which is blatantly the wrong result because the majority of the electorate voted to the left. Under IRV, the Democrat would win because the Green candidate would be eliminated and his votes would probably mostly redistribute to the Democrat, pushing him or her over 50%. Under a two round runoff though, it could be a toss-up between the Rep and the Dem. Why? Because voter turnout plumets in runoff elections (see pre-2004 San Francisco or Georgia election results). Basically, only extreme partisans show up for this race so it becomes a question of whose dedicated base is bigger (which could be either candidate) not which candidate more accurately reflects the views of most voters.

I commend people like Corinne for taking a leadership role in this. And I hope people vote Yes on O!

For more info:

The Measure O campaign is a good government reform pushed by nonpartisan people like the League of Women Voters. Their website has lots of good information:

For more accurate info on IRV at the national level, see

Clay Shentrup on Oct 17, 2006 at 15:04:16 said:

Sadly, this article contains several of the most common myths about IRV. For instance, it is claimed here that IRV would save Oakland voters money. But consider this assessment by Temple University mathematics professor, Warren D. Smith:

"Election expense will certainly increase by using IRV rather than voting systems which can use present-day plurality-type voting machines not connected together via a computer network. It may be that the cost \"decrease\" they had in mind was versus plurality with a second runoff election. It is true that a single IRV election is cheaper than two elections (original plus runoff), if all other things are equal which is the point of the word \"instant.\" However, because most places that require runoff elections only need them rarely, the expense ratio on average is not anywhere near 2-to-1, and hence the expense of switching to IRV would usually exceed the savings for a long time (and considering the need to continually replace machines, perhaps forever).\" (For more financial details see: )

Furthermore, IRV has produced two-party domination in all three countries where it\'s been used: Australia, Ireland, and Malta. The 17 countries which use Oakland\'s current \"top-two runoff\", on the other hand, all have broken free of two-party duopoly. So if third parties would like to have a chance of succeeding in single-winner elections (mayor, governor, president, etc.), they had better steer clear of IRV, because it is absolute SUICIDE for them--that means YOU, Greens.

Finally, it is important to consider the kind of nightmare paradoxes that can occur with IRV. For instance, consider the following set of ballots, perhaps the remnants of several previous rounds of IRV elimination.

% of voters | how they voted
47% McCain > Gore > Kerry
27% Kerry > Gore > McCain
26% Gore > Kerry > McCain

In this scenario, Gore would be eliminated first, giving 26% of the ballots over to their second choice, Kerry. Kerry would then win over McCain, with 53% of the vote.

But wait! We can see that 47% of the voters here (the ones who preferred McCain) preferred Gore over Kerry. Yet because IRV never forced us to look deeper than their initial McCain top preference, we never took this into consideration. Thus Kerry has beaten Gore here, even though Gore is preferred to Kerry by a whopping 73% of voters! This would have occured because the 47% of ballots with McCain as first choice, would have been \"wasted\". So much for the myth that IRV prevents wasted votes.

And now consider what would happen if McCain voters were smart, and voted strategically, knowing that the pre-election polls showed they\'d likely lose to either Kerry or Gore. Since they all clearly prefer Gore to Kerry, it would be in their best interest to \"lie\" and vote Gore first, even though their sincere first choice would be McCain. If even a small fraction of them employed this strategy, Gore would win. Hence reality once again belies the claims of IRV advocates, who claim that IRV eliminates strategy in favor of honesty.

It\'s time for voters to educated about the wealth of alternative voting methods out there. There ARE better systems than IRV. Voters who care about choosing the candidate who will bring about the greatest overall satisfaction for society should be pushing for the adoption of Range Voting ( ). With Range Voting, each voter simply assigns a score (say from 0-9) to each candidate, and the candidate with the highest average score wins. It\'s simple and intuitive, and suffers far less harm from the use of strategic (\"insincere\") voting. It also has the enormous benefit of giving third party supporters a chance to _always_ express their sincere first choice preferences (or put another way, with Range Voting, a vote for Nader is NOT a vote for Bush, as it easily can be with plurality or IRV).

I encourage voters to read more deeply into the facts and myths surrounding election reform. Not every idea associated with reform is a good one. IRV just happens to be particularly problematic. Voters beware. Be skeptical. Look at IRV\'s failures with the same attentiveness with which you would look at its successes. We can do better than IRV. Meaningful quality democracy requires that we do.

Clay Shentrup
Seattle, WA




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