The Arbor Brewing Company may want to promote Olde No. 22 German Alt to house favorite.
This past Wednesday, the Ann Arbor Fair Vote Coalition demonstrated instant-runoff voting by allowing individuals to test and rank a variety of beers using the IRV system. Olde No. 22 came out on top.
For the Ann Arbor Fair Vote Coalition and its supporters, the fund-raiser was the most recent action in support of IRV, a system asking each voter to rank the candidates in order of preference.
IRV is designed to eliminate the possibility of a dark-horse candidate and increase the impact each voter has on the election.
If an individual’s first-choice candidate receives the lowest amount of votes and is eliminated, the vote is then assigned to the voter’s second-choice candidate. This process continues until one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
For years, advocates of the system have discussed IRV’s benefits, including a greater variety of contenders and the removal of the “spoiler” effect – when one candidate hurts the chances of an ideologically similar candidate winning. Supporters also argue that IRV will promote civility between candidates during campaigns and save taxpayers money.
Coalition members hope pressure from the community will push the City Council to endorse the new system and place it on the November ballot. Although the city council does not require any signatures, the coalition has currently collected 15,000 in support of IRV.
“In the past, I have been afraid to vote for my top candidate because he or she is not the most popular choice,” said one Ann Arbor resident. “I’m sick of being afraid that my vote will end up supporting the candidate I like the least.”
If adopted, IRV would be used in odd-year primaries to elect City Council members. Plurality voting, the current system, would remain in use during even-year elections when gubernatorial and national elections occur.
Larry Kestenbaum, the Washtenaw County clerk, said IRV would not completely replace the traditional structure.
“I hope to create a ballot that would fit within the parameters of the current system,” he said.
The principal concern among IRV enthusiasts is the low turnout rate during the August primaries, when many Ann Arbor residents and University students are out of town. Another concern is cost – each year, the city spends upward of $50,000 on primaries.
By eliminating the August primary, its supporters argue IRV would save taxpayer money, increase voter turnout in November and enable a broader spectrum of candidates to run for election.
They also predict Ann Arbor will see an increase in the number of candidates involved in each election in the future.
“Adopting (IRV) generally makes sense when multi-candidate elections are common,” said Public Policy Prof. John Chamberlin.
The voting disaster in Florida during the 2000 presidential election is one controversy in a series of many that has heightened concern among citizens and increased interest in alternative voting methods. In the United States, the IRV method has been implemented in more than 21 cities and has also proven successful in Australia, the Republic of Ireland and in London, England.
Those opposed to IRV argue that the complexity of the ballot may deter voters with a lower education level.
The opposition also argues that the current machinery used to tabulate votes would not accommodate an IRV ballot. This problem has suspended the implementation of IRV in Ferndale, where it was recently approved by 75 percent of voters.
For Kestenbaum, the solution is simple. Because odd-year elections are not as large, the city’s present machines would be able to count the first-choice votes. If afterwards there was not a clear winner, the second- and third-choice votes could be counted by hand.
Ann Arbor has a history with IRV. In 1975, IRV was added to the Ann Arbor City Charter after receiving 52 percent of the vote.
Supporters emphasized that IRV helped Democrat Al Wheeler, who became the first black mayor, defeat incumbent Republican Mayor James Stephenson that year.
Although IRV was later eradicated in 1976, it demonstrated that the voting system could impact the outcome of elections.
The coalition ultimately believes that by educating residents of alternative voting options, Ann Arbor may become a successful model of IRV.
Supporters hope that in years to come, Ann Arbor will pave the way for other cities in Michigan and eventually enable IRV to affect elections at both the state and national level.