Tues Night, Come to Study on Local Election Methods vs Proportional Representation: Nov 21, 7 pm

Would a different election method than we currently use in our three cities be more democratic or more fair than our current methods? Join us to discuss this challenging question at the next meeting of our newly approved study that compares proportional representation methods with current methods–on Tomorrow night, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 7 pm at the League office, 2530 San Pablo Ave, Suite F, Berkeley.

Newcomers will have to do some homework to catch up with the other study members–use the links to the IDEA Handbook and the videos underlined in blue below.

The committee is developing  criteria to compare various methods and a clear description of the study’s scope and goals to be approved by the League Board. They will also develop some Policy Questions–often called “consensus questions” that will be posed to all League members and which will eventually define a new policy position on elections for LWVBAE.

The study on local election methods vs proportional methods, adopted at our August 26 meeting, will be limited to proportional methods that could actually be used in our local city elections. The Study Committee now has a core of interested members and invites more of you to join. The committee will be meeting intensively in the fall and winter focusing their work on likely voting methods.  Contact Preston Jordan at action@lwvbae.org if you would like to learn more or join the committee–Or just come tomorrow night at 7 to the League office.

It’s a fascinating topic. At its first meeting on October 12, the very well informed six new members discovered that they really did not understand some of the basic terms, for example, proportional election methods versus single-seat or multi-seat elections or Instant Runoff Voting/ Ranked Choice Voting as used in single-seat elections [for example, for Berkeley mayor and city council] versus in multi-seat elections [for example, in Cambridge MA]. The basic idea behind proportional representation or elections is described briefly in the Background section below.

At its second meeting, the team reviewed the basics definitions of several elections methods and agreed to do further research, create a chart that shows the different methods and all the different names for the same or similar methods.

So to start you on your way to understanding some of these terms, here are two approaches–read or watch some videos.

To get an overall view of various electoral systems, take a look at and read selectively in Electoral System Design: The New International IDEA Handbook from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

here are two short videos from Minnesota Public Radio to illustrate how Instant Runnoff Voting/Ranked Choice Voting works for single-seat elections and how IRV/RCV works for multi-seat elections.

Here’s another slower video explanation for IRV/RCV for single seat elections that shows some of the cases where that method doesn’t work as hoped to elect the candidate supported by the largest percentage of voters.

More videos: If you wait a moment after either of the two short videos, you will find yourself watching more and more videos explaining Instant Runnoff Voting/Ranked Choice Voting from different point of view. Have fun!

Ranked Choice Voting


Currently, Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville Councils and School Boards and the Berkeley Rent Board are elected in multi-seat elections where the top vote winners get the available seats. Only the Berkeley City Council has district elections with one person elected to represent each district.

Proportional representation is a voting method for multi-seat elections that assures the majority view wins a majority of the representation, but also assures the view or choice of a substantial minority to win some representation.

Many Leagues around the country, both at the state and local level, have taken positions in favor of voting methods that provide for both majority rule and minority representation, known by some as fair representation methods. The Vermont League supports these methods “as a way of achieving both competitive elections and fair representation of both majorities and minorities within a district.”

These methods result in the portion of legislators representing a certain viewpoint equal to the prevalence of that viewpoint among voters, which is why these methods are known as proportional representation.  The Arizona League “supports changing the present election systems so that they more accurately represent the wishes of voters: Adopting the Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) system for single seat races; adopting proportional representation for multi-seat races, specifically Ranked Choice Voting.”

The methods we use to elect  the city councils and school boards in our three cities and the Rent Stabilization Board in Berkeley do not assure majority rule. For all but the Berkeley Council, the top vote winners in one round of vote counting get the available seats. As these winners are not required to have majority voter support, this can result in minority rule on all these bodies.

Berkeley uses ranked choice voting [RCV], also known as instant runoff voting, to elect a single Council member in each district and for Mayor city-wide.  RCV requires the winning candidate to get at least a majority of the vote. LWVBAE and LWV CA policies support this method. While this would seem to provide majority rule, when the council members vote only a majority of all Council members is required to pass a motion.  There is no requirement that a majority of the Council as a whole be elected by a majority of the voters citywide.

In addition to failing to provide majority rule, in the sense described here, none of the voting methods used to elect bodies in Berkeley, Albany, or Emeryville provides fair representation for political minorities. Cambridge, MA, which is a virtual demographic twin of Berkeley, has used proportional representation to provide both majority rule and political minority representation since the 1940s.

Neither LWVBAE, LWVCA nor LWVUS has a policy supporting proportional representation.

If you would like to know more about this issue, you might like to take a look at the Washington State League’s position  because the study materials and consensus report leading to its position are available. Use the links to read the LWVWA Consensus Report, view the graphics used in the study, and read the script used in the study.

Note that fair/proportional election methods are sometimes confused with the parliamentary system. However, rather than an election method, the parliamentary system is a form of government in which the executive branch is appointed by the legislature. In other words, fair/proportional election methods and the parliamentary system are apples and oranges. Fair/proportional methods can be used to elect members to any level of government without changing the structure of that government.

Preston Jordan, Action Director



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