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Last night at the Cunningham Town Board meeting, proponents of instant runoff voting, a controversial method of election where voters are able to rank their preference of candidates on the ballot, scored a small victory when the board deferred a move that could have quashed their efforts to have an advisory referendum placed on the November ballot.

During the last few years activists have used the Cunningham Town meeting, where citizens are able to place to place advisory referendum on the November ballot largely free of elected officials, to push issues ranging from the withdrawal of troops from Iraq to the impeachment of President Bush.

In April, activists seeking to place an advisory referendum on instant runoff voting on the November ballot were given a black eye when members of the local Democratic Party establishment flooded the annual Township meeting and clobbered their efforts.

Still smarting from the April meeting, IRV proponents cleared the necessary hurdles to have a Special Town meeting held on June 30 to reconsider placing the issue on the ballot, in addition to another calling for greater financial disclosure from the city of Urbana.

Only three questions can be placed on the ballot any year. Last night’s regular Township meeting (where only the Urbana mayor and alderman can vote) could have crushed their efforts by placing three different advisory referendums on the November ballot, rendering the outcome of the June 30 meeting moot.

The proposed referenda would have addressed:

  • The current system of voting.
  • The issue of Urbana’s fiscal transparency.
  • The issue of drivers using cell phones.

The primary point of contention throughout much of the evening was the issue of instant runoff voting. For the better part of an hour, citizens of Urbana passionately blasted the effort to hinder the June 30 meeting during the public comment section.

Citizens of Urbana heaped scorn on Mayor Laurel Prussing and her push to nullify the issue of IRV deriding it as “elitist,” “undemocratic,” and “arrogant.” One went so far as to compare the actions of the board to the “machinations” seen in the state level.

During the meeting, board members stressed that the city goes to great efforts to post financial information on the city’s website and satisfy any requests for information. At one point, Alderman Charlie Smyth (D-Ward 1) suggested that the city would have to pay someone just to post documents on the website to maintain complete transparency.

“We are looking for an honest-to-god discussion of IRV,” Dianna Visek chair of the Champaign County Libertarian Party and member of Urbana Citizens for IRV, who was pleased to see the issue advance. Visek was also “pleased” that the board expressed interested in fiscal transparency.

Citizens for IRV also complained about the lack of notice given for the meeting. An agenda was not placed neither the city of Urbana nor the township’s website.

Many citizens who came out last night were confused by what had transpired. Very little information was made available before or after the meeting.

“I’m very confused about what just happened,” said Gary Storm of Urbana Citizens for IRV about the vague descriptions of the referenda on the agenda.

Calls to Mayor Prussing and Alderman Smyth were not returned as of 11 a.m. this morning.