Sunday, May 01, 2005

Report on Eureka Town Hall Forum

Thursday night was Eureka's Town Hall Forum on Ranked Choice Voting. For me, the most valuable bit of new thinking was the suggestion of Holistechnology founder River Hume who seemed to have an epiphany during one of the demo elections displayed.

Everyone who attended was given a sample ballot asking for their ranked choices on six cartoon characters. When the votes were first tallied there was no majority winner. Several rounds of runoffs narrowed the field to three. At this point, the candidate with the third highest and simultaneously the lowest vote total was eliminated. Votes for this candidate were then transferred to one of the two remaining candidates to determine the winner. It was at this decisive point that River concisely observed the supporters of the third place candidate were merely expressing which of the other two they preferred.

In thinking about future message development, I will favor preferential voting over instant runoff voting or ranked choice voting. BTW, it was Yogi Bear who started in third place after the first vote count and went on to win our demo vote.

We also conducted a physical exercise called the Ice Cream Demo. This involved asking people to join one of three lines, depending which flavor of ice cream they preferred. Unfortunately, chocolate was such a heavy favorite that there was a majority from the start and no need for a runoff. Fortunately the Voter Confidence Committee had discussed this contingency. Three of us were heading up the ice cream lines by holding up signs announcing the flavors. On the reverse side was written a color. People then shuffled to stand in line as a vote for their favorite color. Lo and behold there was no majority. People in the smallest line were asked to transfer their vote to the color they preferred from the remaining two. Wouldn't you know it but we had an even number and a flat-out tie.

Scott Menzies ran most of the program including a PowerPoint presentation and a question and answer session. He handled the ice cream stymie with charm and we avoided what could have been a bit messy. Overall he got high marks for making the subject clear and easy to understand. Scott also did well with the audience. There were a few seniors in the crowd, known to the community for legendary rants at City Council and Board of Supervisor's meetings. The off-topic and largely non-sensical harangues drew laughter and some "hisses and sighs of exasperation" in the account published by the Eureka Times-Standard on Friday. Several other local media had representatives present. References to further coverage as it becomes available.

David Cobb, Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, and other members of Democracy Unlimited were in attendance and helpful. They counted the votes in the cartoon election. David also chimed in with some helpful answers during the Q&A. For example: if a hypothetical election had 100 voters, and three voters indicated only a single preference who did not win, then the exhaustion of these ballots would make 97 the number used to determine the majority threshold of 50%+1 (in this case 49 votes, different from the 51 that were required from the original pool of 100).

BTW, David's website featured the Voter Confidence Resolution as its top story on Tuesday and now has it archived here. It is also worth mentioning that Solar Bus has added to its archive the January 18 Arcata Eye piece I wrote about voter confidence.

At the forum I was very encouraged to hear David say the words Voter Confidence Committee several times. It seemed like a conscious choice to assist us in establishing credibility and presence. Of course, we've done a few things to help in this department too. We unfurled an eight foot banner while setting up for the forum, earlier in the week we launched, and of course our ongoing media presence is pretty strong.

I also consider it a shot in the arm that David is taking an active part in planning next steps for pursuing preferential voting in Eureka. In the end it will require a vote of the people so the question is whether the City Council will create a ballot measure of if we will have to collect signatures for a citizen initiative. One is preferred and the other is a fall back position.



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