Reform idea: Run-off elections might be an improvement

By Theresa Novak
Published October 23rd 2004 in Corvallis Gazette-Times (OR)

Several voter frustrations have emerged (or re-emerged) during this election campaign that give new life to an on-going discussion: Why not implement instant run-off voting to neutralize the "spoiler" effect of third-party candidates such as Ralph Nader?

It's a simple concept, also known as ranked candidate voting. As one dictionary defines it, "it is much like holding a series of runoff elections in which the lowest polling candidate is eliminated in each round until someone receives majority. A simple majority is the common requirement for votes to pass a measure. It requires more votes in support than against. Tie votes do not meet simple majority and are classified as failures."

This kind of vote tallying already is employed in the Republic of Ireland and the Australian Senate. Here, for example, it would enable someone to cast their primary vote for The Pacific Green Party candidate and their second choice for the Democratic candidate, allowing them to select a second choice whose views more closely match theirs.

Someone who wanted to select a third-party candidate would not be placed in the unenviable position of being "punished" for a third-party vote by having its real-world effect be to support a candidate least like the voter's primary choice.

Kicked around for a long time now, the movement has gained real steam in the wake of of the wrath of Democrats who blame Ralph Nader for the election of George W. Bush four years ago, escalating the unproductive rancor that has since become the warp and woof of modern political discourse.

Critics of this voting method say it isn't real campaign reform because it still would not eliminate the two-party system, as a clear majority still would need to emerge.

However, it would have the advantage of "re-enfranchising" those voters who feel they are being marginalized for not supporting the major candidates and give more legitimacy to third-party candidates who receive short shrift from the public and media because everyone knows they don't have a chance.

Advanced run-off voting is more fair, and that alone is a huge point in its favor. Our current system dates back to a time when voting was a horse-drawn process involving gathering votes from far-flung locations from men who were free, white and 21.

It made sense to uncomplicate things by allowing one person, one vote and winner took all. Run-offs were only in case of a tie.

Now that suffrage is universal and vote tallying is something done almost instantly by computers, there is no practical reason that technology should not follow the spirit of the Constitution (if not the word) and pump new life into the political process.

We're certain that Thomas Jefferson, who invented many useful gadgets, would have approved of this improvement to our system of selecting our leaders.