The Decatur Daily
By Mitch Chase
November 11, 2002
Recount or not, it's unlikely
Gov. Siegelman got enough votes to win last week's gubernatorial
But from the way I look at it,
neither did U.S. Rep. Bob Riley.
Neither one of them received a
majority of the vote, obviously the most definitive way to select a
It also should be the American
States with open primaries,
such as Louisiana, already elect their leaders in this manner,
holding runoff elections in which the two top vote-getters in the
primaries compete. Because there are only two in the runoff, the
winner always gets a majority of the votes.
In last week's gubernatorial
race, Siegelman and Riley each accounted for about 49 percent of the
vote, with the Libertarian candidate, John Sophocleus, garnering the
remaining 2 percent.
The situation is similar to
the 2000 presidential election in which George W. Bush and Al Gore
each picked up about 48 percent of the vote (Gore getting about a
half million more than Bush), with independent candidates, largely
the Green Party's Ralph Nader, getting the remaining 4
In both cases, a runoff
election would have avoided a lot of turmoil, and have ensured the
choice of a majority of voters for these important positions.
The traditional argument
against runoffs is their cost. Not only do governments have to foot
the bills for new elections, they also force the runoff candidates
to spend more money on their extended campaigns, not a happy topic
amid current calls for campaign finance reform.
The ideal way would be to hold
runoff elections at the same time as the general elections, and the
technology exists to do that right now.
It's called IRV, or instant
runoff voting, and it's used to decide elections in some foreign
countries, including Australia and the Republic of Ireland.
It's also being examined by a
growing number of states and municipalities interested in improving
the election process. (San Francisco, for example, will implement
the system next year.)
Under the system, voters
choose not just their preferred candidates, but second and third
choices (and maybe even more) for the elected post up for grabs.
If no candidate receives a
majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the least amount
of first-place votes is eliminated. The second-place votes of the
voters for this candidate are then counted as first-place votes for
the remaining candidates. The process is repeated until one
candidate gets a majority and is declared the winner.
In the case of last week's
gubernatorial election, the more than 23,000 votes for the
third-place Libertarian candidate, Sophocleus, would have been
redistributed to Riley and Siegelman according to the second-place
preferences of the voters who cast them.
Who would have been the
It's a safe bet, though, that
Professor Sophocleus' party would have done far better under an IRV
system, perhaps even preserving the Libertarians' "major party"
status in Alabama by garnering at least 20 percent of the vote in at
least one statewide election.
That's because voters are more
apt to support underdog candidates in primaries if they know they'll
have another chance to vote in the runoff if their candidate doesn't
The IRV system instantly
provides that. And by doing so, it encourages more parties and
candidates (and presumably more voters) to get involved in the
Most importantly, though, it
ensures that winning candidates have the support of the majority of
And that should be the
Mitch Chase is a DAILY copy
editor. For more information on instant runoff voting, check the Web
site of the Center for Voting and Democracy (chaired by former U.S.
presidential candidate John B. Anderson) at www.fairvote.org.