THE D.C. COUNCIL has before it a proposal that would make local elections, in the words of its sponsor, “more competitive, fairer and definitely more interesting.” It would seem, then, that enactment should be a slam dunk. But since those who would have to approve the measure aren’t likely to see more competitive elections as being in their own interest, prospects for this worthy reform are far from certain.
Legislation that would establish instant-runoff voting for the election of mayor, members of the D.C. Council and the attorney general was introduced last week by Council member David Grosso (I-At Large). Also called ranked-choice voting, the system allows voters to select candidates in order of preference and requires candidates to get a majority, not a plurality, to win. The system has been used successfully in other countries as well as a growing number of U.S. cities.
Mr. Grosso introduced a similar measure last year but it languished in committee, without so much as a hearing. Two other council members, Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) have signed on as cosponsors this year, and we hope that creates some movement. There have been too many elections in the District in which candidates have been able to squeak into public office with the barest of a plurality because the vote was split among multiple candidates. Instant-runoff voting not only ensures that officials have a mandate from the majority of voters but also offers benefits, like discouraging negative campaigning and empowering voters to make more meaningful choices.
The upcoming special elections in Wards 4 and 8 to fill vacancies caused by Muriel E. Bowser’s election as mayor and the death of Marion Barry are shaping up to have large fields of candidates but, likely, low voter turnout — the very conditions that call out for instant-runoff voting. It may not be feasible — either logistically or legally — to put a new system in place in time for these April contests, but the council should see what’s possible. And it most definitely needs to make sure that the next campaign cycle doesn’t come and go without any reform.