November 7, 2006 - Davis Choice Voting Committee for Measure L
[Note: This op-ed was prepared for publication in the Enterprise on behalf of the Yes on Measure L campaign but was not published. --DCR]
Support Better Representation: Yes on L
This November, Davis voters can move democracy forward and get better representation in our local elections.
Measure L is an advisory measure. Measure L asks that "choice voting" be considered as the way to elect our city council. Choice voting would ensure that the winning candidates represent over two-thirds of the voters in every election.
Choice voting lets you answer the question, "Who do I want to represent me on the City Council?" by letting you rank all or some of the candidates 1, 2, 3, 4, ... in the order you prefer. This allows the votes to be counted in a way that makes it much more likely for you to elect someone you really like to the council.
Under the current system, some voters elect zero candidates and others elect two or three. This can result in lopsided outcomes that do not accurately represent the voters.
In choice voting, your ballot initially counts towards your first choice. If no candidate has enough votes to win, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and another round of counting begins. For example, if your first choice is eliminated, your vote goes to your next choice. Eliminations and runoff rounds continue until enough candidates pass the "winning threshold" and are declared winners.
Choice voting offers the best way to elect councils that represent the voices of all significant viewpoints. By allowing each voter to state preferences, the vast majority of voters will have contributed to the election of at least one council member. The council that results is a miniature portrait of the electorate.
Choice voting is pro-democracy. Good government groups like CALPIRG and Common Cause support choice voting. Measure L has the public support of hundreds of Davis citizens, including elected officials and former elected officials in Davis that span the political spectrum. The Davis League of Women Voters supports choice voting in single-winner elections. Measure L recently won the endorsement of the Sacramento Bee.
Over 30 million people throughout the world use choice voting in public elections. Cambridge, MA has used choice voting for over 65 years. San Francisco and Burlington, VT also use choice voting. The student governments of UC Davis, Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Caltech all use choice voting. Choice voting is on the ballot this November in four places throughout the United States, including in Oakland.
Advisory Measure L comes out of a citizen-led process called the Davis Governance Task Force. Two years ago the Davis City Council formed a 9-member Task Force to look at governance issues in the city of Davis, including district elections, how the mayor is chosen, the size and make-up of the City Council, and other issues. The Task Force was made up of citizens broadly representing the city, with all five council members choosing six or more of its members. The group met twice a month for more than half a year in meetings open to the public.
Choice voting was one of several issues studied by the Task Force. At the outset, the Task Force knew little about choice voting. Few or none of its members had formed an opinion on the issue. But after six months, choice voting was its key recommendation, with a near unanimous vote in favor (8 yes, 1 abstention). In its final report the Task Force concluded, "We believe that choice voting is the most important one of our recommendations .... it was seen to have a number of attractive features." Their complete report is on the City web site at http://cityofdavis.org/meetings/governance/GTF_Final_Report.pdf
The Task Force recommended choice voting in part because it solves the problem of unrepresentative council elections. The Task Force stated in its report, "the present system allows a minority faction (e.g., 35% of the electorate) to elect multiple council members (and perhaps even a council majority) who have minimal support among the remainder of the electorate."
Our current system of voting can lead to unrepresentative results, particularly as more candidates run. Imagine an election in which 60% of the voters support a certain viewpoint. If too many candidates share that viewpoint, the votes for that viewpoint can be spread too thinly across several candidates, causing none of those candidates to win. The result is 40% of the voters electing all the seats, and 60% having no representation. This defect in our current system is called vote splitting.
Vote splitting drives behind-the-scenes efforts in Davis to control who is and who is not running for city council. Each side wants to limit who is running from their side and encourage more candidates to run for the opposite side. In this way, election outcomes in the current system can diverge from how the electorate really feels.
Choice voting solves the problem of vote splitting because voters rank the candidates in order and ballots are counted in rounds. As candidates are eliminated in each round, the votes of voters coalesce behind the most popular candidates that remain to represent each view.
To its credit, Davis has begun grappling with basic issues of democracy, representation, and fairness at the local level by considering Measure L. This discussion began with students at UC Davis adopting choice voting three years ago, followed by the Davis Governance Task Force recommending it, and now the voters of Davis advising the Council on it. Voting YES on Measure L ensures that this important discussion can continue, so that voters can, in the future, enjoy the best possible representation on the Davis City Council.