Aspen votes 1-2-3 on Tuesday: First IRV election has highest turnout ever

by Rob Richie // Published May 7, 2009

Aspen (CO) became the latest city to implement instant runoff voting on Tuesday, May 5th. It was a hotly contested election, with three challengers to an incumbent mayor and seven challengers to two incumbent city councilors in at-large races.

IRV passed in flying colors.

1. Record turnout -- more people voted than ever before in an Aspen city election.

2. All races were decided by instant runoffs. No candidate won election on first choice rankings alone, instead having to win by combining first choice support with earning support from backers of other candidates.

3. The mayoral race had 100% valid ballots. Everyone who chose to vote in the election cast a vote that counted. (There were a few people who skipped over the race and voted in other races, which is common.) There were more than 99% valid ballots in the city council race. (The council election had more overvotes tied to using IRV for two at-large seats and people being used to voting for two candidates from the previous system -- a small number of people voted for two on the first row. )

4. As is becoming an interesting pattern in IRV elections, big money didn't win out. The second-place finisher in the mayor's race raised more money than her three opponents combined, while the biggest spender in the city council race did not win. Money always helps in campaigns, but it helps less when you have more opponents and have to make the case for yourself as much as against others.

5  Unlike what would have happened with its previous runoff system, Aspen now has winners and can move onto governance. It was a "change" election, with the mayor facing a tough challenge and both incumbents defeated. Locals report that these results were an accurate reflection of the "majority spirit" of Aspen. The city didn't need to have another month of more polarizing campaigning and taxpayer dollars to confirm that majority.

6. We have ongoing challenges with media awareness. Some press accounts talked about 186 "spoiled ballots" in the council race with two seats as if those voters lost their votes. In fact, these were voters who received a new ballot at the polls and corrected their mistakes after error notification. Aspen took good steps for implementing instant runoff voting. The latest coverage from the Aspen Daily News is commendable, however, including gracious comments from defeated incumbent Jack Johnson -- Jack was a real hero for backers of instant runoff voting in raising it as a councilor and playing a key role in establishing good rules for using it in Aspen.

Here are links to the city's release Instant Runoff Voting: How Did We Do and a news article on the high turnout.