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Daily Herald

Poll shows support for 'instant runoff'
By Eric Krol Daily
February 27, 2004

With 15 candidates running for U.S. Senate next month, it's likely both the Democratic and Republican nominees will have advanced to the November election without securing a majority of the vote.

That lack of a popular mandate could be eliminated if Illinois switched to "instant runoff" voting, a measure pushed by the Midwest Center for Democracy, a nonprofit, non-partisan election reform group.

In an instant runoff process, voters could rank their choices in order instead of merely voting for one candidate. If no candidate got better than 50 percent of the vote, the first go-around, elections officials would add up voters' second choices and so on until a candidate reached a majority.

"People often feel torn they only have one vote," said Dan Johnson-Weinberger, director of the center, which also wants a return to the cumulative voting, three-member Illinois House districts voters scrapped more than 20 years ago. "But most importantly, this system requires a candidate to earn a majority of the votes to secure the nomination in their party."

The instant runoff is used in Ireland and Australia, and it's gaining momentum in Minnesota and Washington, where measures have passed through one chamber of each state's legislature.

Weinberger's group commissioned a U.S. Senate poll to test its theory. As it turns out, both Democrat Blair Hull and Republican Jack Ryan amassed the biggest number of both first- and second-choice votes in the poll if the system were in place.

In Springfield, a measure sponsored by state Rep. Paul Froehlich, a Schaumburg Republican, would allow places like Aurora, Naperville and Chicago, which elect council members from single-member districts, to use an instant runoff system. Chicago already has a runoff system for aldermanic primaries in which no candidate gets more than 50 percent, but the elections take place weeks apart. Froehlich's measure is buried in committee, however.

Weinberger said that at this point, it's not so much that there's opposition to the instant runoff system as much as most people just don't know about it.

It might be a while before any momentum builds, given the example Weinberger cites when asked for a state race the system would have affected. Weinberger said the system could have changed the result of the tightly contested 2002 Democratic governor primary. He said many of third-place finisher Roland Burris' voters might have listed as their second choice Paul Vallas, who finished a close second to Gov. Rod Blagojevich. If that were the case and the runoff were in place, Vallas might be governor today, he said.


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