Takoma Park’s instant runoff voting system was put to the test for the first time July 17 for the Ward 5 special election. The city instituted the system in 2006, but this year marks the first election where three or more candidates did not earn a majority of the vote. Of the 189 votes cast in the election, winner Jarrett Smith received 97 votes and runner-up Eric Hensal garnered 80 votes. Third-place finisher Melinda Ulloa received 33 votes, 13 of which went to Smith in the second round and nine to Hensal. In the instant runoff voting system, voters have the option to rank their first, second and third choice candidates. When no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the votes, second-choice votes for backers of the third-place finisher are added to the first- and second-place finishers.
Rob Richie, the executive director of FairVote (a nonprofit that advocates election reforms), said this system eliminates the split-vote issue. “Let’s have a system that gives voters the chance to vote for who they want without having to split the vote,” Richie said. He said the instant runoff voting encourages candidates to reach out to more people.