Legislator's proposal: Vote for a first choice - and a second

By Ron Capshaw
Published January 20th 2003 in Scott County Virginia Star

A state legislator wants to remove any doubt over who has the majority support of voters when more than two candidates are on the ballot.

Under Delegate William Barlow's unusual solution, voters would get to mark not only their first choice but also a second choice on Election Day. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes, election officials
then would look at the second-choice votes -- thus creating what Barlow calls an "instant runoff."

"Jesse Ventura won the governorship by getting only 1 out of 3 votes," he said. That's not a good way to vote."

 In 1998, Ventura, running as an independent, won the Minnesota governor's race with 37 percent of the vote. The Republican candidate got 35 percent and the Democratic nominee 28 percent. Or, Barlow said, consider the 2000 presidential race.

Nationwide, Republican George W. Bush received 48 percent of the vote, and Democrat Al Gore 48.3 percent. Most of the remaining votes went to Ralph Nader of the Green Party. In several states, because of Nader, no one got more than half of the popular vote.

Barlow, a Democrat from Smithfield, believes his instant-runoff system will not only provide a conclusive winner quickly but also restore voter interest in the process. "People lose interest when there is a runoff," he said.

"Runoffs are expensive and take 10 days. With my bill people can vote for a first and second choice. "If, for instance, I had been a Nader voter in the last presidential election, I could have voted for Nader first and Gore second. A clear victory might not have been in doubt. With my bill, someone can emerge with 51 percent of the vote."

If the General Assembly approves his proposal, Virginia would become one of the first states to adopt an instant-runoff system, Barlow said."Some other countries are already doing this." If the bill doesn't pass this year, it will eventually, Barlow said. "Instant runoff is going to happen soon." He also is sponsoring a bill to revamp the redistricting process.

Every 10 years, after the census, the General Assembly redraws legislative districts. Typically, whichever party is in control tries to draws the lines to its political advantage. "It's partisan, whether its Democrats doing it or Republicans," Barlow said.

"Citizens are getting increasingly unhappy with this process." His solution: Have an independent, nonpartisan commission redraw the political maps. "The main questions are, who will appoint the commission members and then who will these members appoint?"
 Barlow offers his answer to those questions with a proposed constitutional amendment creating the Virginia Redistricting Commission. The commission would have 11 members -- one from each of Virginia's congressional districts. The panel would be appointed by the most recently retired chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court.

 The former justice, in turn, would select other retired judges as commission members. "They retired, so they aren't beholden to the governor or the Assembly or anyone," Barlow said. "They would have to abide by the law, though."

The commission members would be selected on the basis of geography, integrity and race, although race should not be a predominant factor, Barlow said.