Southwest Florida should consider a new system for counting votes that could eliminate runoffs and just possibly encourage a better brand of politics
What if we were able to streamline our city and town elections, make them less expensive, and at the same time, ensure that the winner garnered a majority of more than 50 percent of the vote?
Each municipality's election would require only one trip to the polls, with no more worries about poor turnout in the primaries.
A number of states and communities are doing just that with Instant Runoff Voting, also known as Ranked Choice Voting, whereby voters rank candidates in order of preference. This method of voting isn't limited only to municipal elections either. It has benefits for presidential elections.
It's been endorsed by Republican Sen. John McCain and 2004 Democratic primary candidate Howard Dean.
Many third-party candidates like it because it eliminates the accusations that they are "spoiler" candidates.
The spoiler effect may have played a part in Florida in the 2000 election, when Ralph Nader was said to have drained (crucial, it turned out) votes that otherwise would have gone to Al Gore.
HOW IT WORKS
Instead of casting a ballot for just one candidate, the voter may vote for one or all of them, but ranks them as first choice, second choice, third choice, etc., depending on the number of candidates. All elections in Australia are done this way.
The first-choice votes are counted, and if a candidate has the support of the majority of the voters, the election is over. If no candidate has the support of a majority, the candidate with the least votes is dropped and his supporters' ballots are distributed among their second-choice candidates. So it goes, until a candidate has more than half the votes.
This also eliminates the unhappy situation where a candidate can win an election with the support of a minority of the voters. For instance, in a simple plurality election, a candidate can win with, say, 20 percent of the votes, leaving 80 percent of the voters dissatisfied.
WHO USES IT
IRV-type voting is common, suggested by Robert's Rules of Order. That's how our Lee County Attorney selection committee made its recent recommendation to the county commissioners.
It's used in Ireland, Australia and Great Britain, Fiji, New Guinea and New Zealand. It's gaining ground across this country. San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, Calif., use it. After the Vermont League of Women Voters recommended it for electing state officials, Vermont endorsed it.
Last month, Ferndale, Mich., voters overwhelmingly passed a proposal to change their city charter to elect their mayor and city council by IRV. Washington state will consider it in 2005.
IRV supporters say that it increases voter turnout, because voters are allowed to express their complete set of preferences and thus feel empowered. This could solve Cape Coral's worries about poor turnout for city elections after they were moved to the Spring.
IRV supporters also say: It encourages more candidates to run for office and promotes positive issue-based campaigns, discourages mudslinging among candidates who must compete for second and third-place votes from each others' supporters and it more accurately gauges the true level of support that exists for each candidate.
It's time we considered IRV here. Municipal elections would be a good place to start.