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New law could simplify races

System aims to streamline what can be complex contests, such as Assembly race.

March 03, 2010|By Zain Shauk

New legislation could change the state’s electoral system to simplify complex races like one in Glendale and Burbank this year, when voters will likely hit the polls four times to fill one Assembly seat.

The election to replace now-Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian as representative of the 43rd Assembly District has become representative of problems with an electoral system where midterm vacancies result in expensive elections, periods of underrepresentation and additional contests that are often unnecessary, experts say.

A system called instant runoff voting, which has been considered locally and is practiced in San Francisco, Oakland and Australia, could change that, they say.

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“In a way, this is one of the elections that was the straw that broke the camel’s back because it’s one that made elected officials realize this problem, that this wave of cascading special elections is not going away,” said Gautam Dutta, deputy director of political reform for the New America Foundation. “If anything, it’s continuing to build.”

The vacancy in the 43rd Assembly District will require a special primary election April 13 to fill the office, followed by a special runoff contest June 8 if no candidate receives more than 50% of votes in the first race. But voters will also cast ballots June 8 in a primary election for the same seat in advance of the regularly scheduled Nov. 2 race at the start of the upcoming two-year legislative term.

An instant runoff system would consolidate those races, said Dutta, whose organization helped craft related bills that were introduced last month by Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) and state Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland).

Instead of holding a primary and a runoff, voters would rank candidates in the order of their preference, Dutta said.

If constituents’ first-choice candidates do not receive a majority of the election tally, their votes would go to their second-choice candidates, or perhaps their third-choice candidates until one candidate earns enough of the count to win the race, he said.

“The logic is that voters vote for their three choices, and this way, if their top choice gets eliminated, they don’t have to vote again in a two-person runoff,” Dutta said. “Instead their vote will automatically go to their second choice.”

That would result in fewer elections and more quickly restored representation for voters, he said.

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