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The California Aggie

Taking Democracy a Step Further

By Glendon McCreary

November 4, 2004


In the past few months, Americans have focused on different ways voters would cast ballots on Tuesday - from punch-cards, paper ballots, to the new electronic voting systems. Despite differences in the voting machinery, the fundamental voting method was the same, allowing voters to make one choice per elected office.

But San Francisco became the first city in the country to implement a new form of voting on Tuesday, called Instant Runoff Voting.
Most UC Davis students are familiar with the choice voting system used to elect ASUCD officials. In much the same way, instant runoff voting allows voters to rank the various candidates in order of preference. Previously, San Francisco voted in the same way the rest of the country did, by picking only one candidate, with the candidate winning who receives the majority of the votes. In the case that neither candidate received a majority, the city would hold a runoff election between the top two vote-getters.

Instant runoff voting eliminates the need for separate runoff elections. Like choice voting, IRV would consist of several rounds of vote tabulation. The first time votes are counted, the candidate receiving the least number of votes would be eliminated. For every voter who casts a first-choice vote for the eliminated candidate, instead of having the vote nullified, the voter's second-choice vote would be counted instead. This process continues until a single candidate receives a majority of the votes. In this sense, the runoff vote takes place simultaneously with the general election.

Implementing instant runoff voting nationwide would also eliminate the infamous "wasted vote syndrome." Many democrats claimed the candidacy of Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the presidency in the 2000 presidential election, by siphoning votes away from people who would otherwise have voted for Gore. However, with IRV was in use, voters could have ranked candidates in order of preference.

As a result, major parties would not attempt to quell third-party messages because they would pose no vote-siphoning threat. Third parties would grow, as voters would no longer be apprehensive to cast their votes for lesser known candidates with views not endorsed by mainstream media.

Some who oppose IRV claim it would be too complicated for voters to understand. Though it may be difficult to learn a new system, supporters believe that if the time and money were spent on educating voters on the issue of IRV, most would be receptive to it, as it eliminates the common complaints about voting. Some pundits might also argue that it would be too difficult to implement on a nationwide scale. But, politicians from both major parties, including Howard Dean and Arizona Senator John McCain, support the implementation of IRV in state and local elections.

Depending on how well San Francisco's IRV experiment goes, election officials could begin a gradual shift towards IRV in other cities and states. Not only does IRV save money by foregoing the need for runoff elections, but it liberates voters from the shackles of the two-party system by allowing a voter to select who to win, rather than who not to win. In the end, a vote for instant runoff voting is a vote for democracy.

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