City residents voted overwhelmingly in 2007 to adopt a new election system that would allow voters to rank each candidate in municipal elections via an “instant runoff” ballot.
The amended city charter calls instant runoff voting “an efficient and cost-effective process that fosters broad and diverse participation.” It touts that the system ensures city commissioners are elected with a majority vote.
However, more than a decade after 77% of voters endorsed it, instant runoff voting has not been implemented in Sarasota.
For more than a year, a growing group of residents has worked to accelerate the installation of the new system. Attempting to effect change at the city and state level — and working with private election hardware and software companies — the group says instant runoff voting could be in place in time for the 2019 municipal elections.
On Jan. 16, seven members of Ranked Choice Voting SRQ appeared before the City Commission to explain to officials what steps needed to be taken.
“We formed to try to clear a path to help the city understand what needs to happen, and to help the voters understand how this could help them,” said Graham Kukla, 27. “More choice, a more fair election — there’s a host of benefits.”
The group says there are just two things the city has to do to clear a path for instant runoff voting. One: Design a new ballot. Instant runoff voting asks voters to rank their preferred candidates in order. If no candidate earns a majority based on first preferences, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and the vote is recalculated.
With the proper ballot in place, the city would no longer have to hold two elections for commission races. That would save the city about $97,000 — and save time for voters and candidates, the group said. Members said the only other necessary change is an adjustment to the recount procedures that acknowledges the new system.
The commission voted 4-1 to hold a future discussion on the two recommended changes. That discussion is tentatively scheduled for March 5, City Attorney Robert Fournier said.
Although the 2007 ballot initiative doesn’t require the city to adopt instant runoff voting until two years after the state certifies election software for that system, Fournier said the commission has the discretion to install a new ballot earlier.
Sarasota has the necessary hardware to use an instant runoff ballot, but the state of Florida has not certified any software to tabulate those ballots and certify a valid election. As the city considers changing its regulations, Ranked Choice Voting SRQ is working with voting equipment firms to develop that software.
Kukla is hopeful a prototype of that software could be ready within the next six months, and could obtain state certification within a year.
He and Kaitlin Bockmeyer, 28, found out about Ranked Choice Voting SRQ following the 2016 election. Looking for an opportunity to get involved with electoral reform at a local level, the two were surprised to discover that Sarasota had already approved of an instant runoff voting system.
As the group has ramped up its public outreach, it says it has received positive feedback from locals on a topic that has bipartisan support nationwide. As a result, Ranked Choice Voting SRQ is optimistic it will finish a job that began more than a decade ago.
“There are very few sticking points left,” Kukla said. “We just wanted to establish what those sticking points were so we could move toward a remedy.”