Californians for
Electoral Reform
PO Box 128, Sacramento, CA 95812
916 455-8021

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Voice for Democracy

Newsletter of Californians for Electoral Reform

Fall 2006

Sacramento High School Adopts Ranked Voting

With help from several CfER activists, Sacramento's C. K. McClatchy Senior High School adopted ranked voting for its Spring 2006 student government elections. The process was much easier than expected, which bodes well for other California high school student governments to adopt IRV and choice voting.

As far as I know, McClatchy is the first high school in California to use IRV in student government elections, although students in San Francisco high schools used IRV to elect a representative to the Board of Education in October 2004, immediately before the city’s first IRV election.

About 2,400 young women and men attend McClatchy. The student body is very diverse. Some of the major ethnic and racial backgrounds include Hmong, Chinese, Russian, Mexican, African American, Guatemalan, Vietnamese, Laotian and Filipino.

The effort to introduce ranked voting began in fall 2005. My first call resulted in a conversation with a government teacher who said elections are held just before the term ends in early June, and I should make contact again in the spring. During the winter, school board member Jerry Houseman asked CfER Sacramento County Coordinator Chuck O'Neil and me to be on a student United Nations Day committee with him and another government teacher at McClatchy. That teacher introduced me to Tim Douglas, chair of the McClatchy history department and director of student activities, which includes being student government advisor and overseer of student elections. He was already familiar with ranked voting, and had compared voting systems with students. He invited CfER representatives to talk to students.

On May 3, CfER Executive VP Paula Lee and I briefed the student government on both IRV and FairVote's 100% Registration Project, whose goals include registering all high school students starting at age 16. Students seemed excited.  It helped to tell them about the large number of universities and colleges that use choice voting for student government elections, especially UC Davis, next door to Sacramento. A week later Mr. Douglas told me that choice voting would be used in elections held May.

The election was held on May 22. The freshman, junior and senior classes each elected three class officers and three Associated Student Government representatives. CfER founding member Jim Lindsay's handout, “Procedures for a Hand-Counted Choice Voting Election” worked very well for both ballot layout and counting the 1,238 votes cast. A student clerk read the directions on marking the ballot. Very few voting mistakes were made, such as using check marks or X's or voting for only one candidate. The count started the next day, Thursday, and was completed by midmorning on Friday by about six students. Of the 18 offices, six required instant runoff because there were more than two candidates. Of those six, three resulted in first place candidates having less than 50% of the vote and losing on the second or third transfers of votes. We heard no complaints from candidates or supporters about this. Mr. Douglas said the election went well and students enjoyed the new process.

CfER invited Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill Levine to watch the count and discuss ranked voting with the students. She showed interest in the process and seemed to be familiar with the basics of ranked voting.

It should not be hard to gain access to student government advisors and elected student leaders to convince them to use ranked voting systems, and to introduce 100% student registration. Government and history teachers at McClatchy already knew the basics of ranked voting and were ready to try it. Mr. Douglas, as student activities advisor, had the authority to conduct elections using IRV. There seemed to be no need to get permission from administrators. I’m sure it helped to have a Sacramento school board member who favored choice voting (he had seen Chuck O'Neil and I run five choice voting elections in our Unitarian church) working with a McClatchy government teacher on a project.

Most high school elections are held in the spring, but some are held in September. I recommend making contact with your local high school student activities advisor or chair of the government department, and asking to brief student government on the benefits of ranked voting. Give teachers the hand count procedures noted above, and the FairVote handouts “High School Voter Registration; Facts for Education and Civic Engagement Organizations” and “High School Voter Registration; Facts for Students”.

Pete Martineau, Vice President for Legislation

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