Excerpt from A More Perfect Union: Advancing New American Rights
By Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., with Frank Watkins
(Welcome Rain Publishers, October 2001)

From Chapter Nineteen: Politics (Pages 438-441)

Robert Richie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy, proposes an additional idea: instant runoff voting (IRV). In the general election, IRV would allow voters to rank candidates in their order of preference rather than simply voting for one candidate. The highest turnout in the world among nations without compulsory voting has been in Malta, where they use an IRV-type system of proportional representation, and turnout has been more than 95 percent in recent elections. Of countries with compulsory voting, Australia has had the highest turnout, also with IRV. Because many Americans are fed up with voting for the lesser of two evils, they are either not voting or looking for a third party alternative. Richie suggests, as a first step, changing the rules of our political elections that usually keep voters from taking independent candidates seriously.

As used in Ireland, Australia and London, IRV requires the winner of an election to earn a majority of votes-unlike Clinton in 1992 or Bush in 2000. Voters rank candidates, in case their favorite candidate is eliminated, in which case the votes of the candidate's supporters count for their second choice in an instant runoff that is accomplished through the voting equipment in an immediate second tally. This process continues until one candidate earns a majority of the votes.

For example, in 2000 progressive voters might have chosen Ralph Nader as their first choice and Gore second, with conservatives selecting Buchanan first and Bush second. Buchanan finished last, so he would be eliminated, but his voter's ballots would be assigned to those voters' runoff choices, most likely Bush. That would not have given Bush a majority, however, so Nader's voters' second choice would then be awarded, most likely to Gore. In 2000 Gore would have gained a majority and won. This simple change for greater voter choice would allow for a different method of tabulating results. The candidate with the most first-place votes would not automatically win as he or she does under the present plurality system. Instead, a candidate would need a 50-percent-plus-one majority to win. Such a winning democratic majority would also provide a mandate to govern.

The most recent IRV election in the United States occurred in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Democratic and Human Rights Parties had been splitting votes, allowing Republicans to win. The Human Rights Party was the antiwar and more progressive party, and the people adopted IRV in a 1974 charter amendment. It was first used in the mayoral election of 1975. In that election the Republicans won 49 percent of the first choices, the Democrat won about 40 percent, and the Human Rights Party candidate won the rest. The Democratic candidate eventually won because nearly all the backers of the Human Rights Part candidate ranked the Democrat as their runoff choice. As a result, Albert Wheeler became the first black mayor in the city's history. Conservative Republicans, of course, went ballistic, primarily blaming the new voting system for their loss, and they were able to repeal IRV in a 1976 special election. But IRV could just as easily work in the Republicans' favor in other circumstances. For example, if IRV had been in place nationally in 1992, Bush likely would have defeated Clinton. But without it, Perot probably cost Bush the election. In Ann Arbor the majority of voters won in 1975. In 1992, nationally, the majority of voters and democracy conceivably lost. And of course, the same thing happened in the presidential election of 2000, with Gore actually receiving the most votes.

IRV is the system used to elect the Australian parliament and the Irish president. It could be adopted by states and cities for all elections, from city council and school board elections to state legislative and federal congressional races. With IRV, our politics would take a strong step toward what democracy should be all about: majority rule, providing voters with real choices, encouraging debate on issues, and building coalitions among people.

If in 2004 or beyond a popular progressive Democrat ran for president on a third-party ticket in the general election, I believe that many currently frustrated progressive and liberal Democrats and other so-called disinterested voters would have a reason to vote and would. But almost all Democrats fear that such a candidacy would split the Democratic vote and allow a Republican to win-as was the case with Ralph Nader and the Green Party in 2000. IRV is the way to eliminate that fear.

With IRV, for example, a Ralph Nader candidacy would help beat the Republican candidates, not hurt Democrats. Nader would bring progressives out to vote, and they would likely list other Democrats as their second and third choices. Likewise, a Pat Buchanan candidacy would help to galvanize conservatives and neo-Confederates, and with their second and third choices would likely choose the most conservative Republicans on the ticket-which would help Republicans defeat Democrats, not hurt Republicans.

IRV would encourage a more diverse range of candidates to run and thereby help remedy a flaw in the current system: Many citizens feel left out by its limitations. This more inclusive process would give voters a greater reason to vote, with an increased chance of their vote counting toward a winner. By opening the field to more choices, which, according to polls, a majority of Americans would welcome, IRV could help to lift voter turnout in the United States.

[Note: Congressman Jackson below references that instant runoff voting cannot be enacted for president by statute. This refers to national action by Congress. States have the power to enact IRV for federal elections in their state]

It would take a constitutional amendment to make IRV applicable when electing a U.S. president. However, IRV could be introduced nationwide by a simple statute for electing members to Congress, legislation that I have introduced. It could also be implemented by state and municipal legislatures for state and local elections. Some states would need to find new ways to tabulate ballots, but such a one-time reform would be a small price to pay in exchange for providing democratic majority rule and engaging the electorate in what is the most important public choice they will make-who will represent their interests when it comes to dividing up the economic pie. Such technical infrastructure advances in our voting procedures would cost additional dollars, so I have introduced federal legislation to pay for these additional costs.

With a wider choice of candidates, voters would not have to choose between the "lesser of two evils." There would be increased voter participation because no one need fear that his or her vote is going to elect someone with a dramatically different ideology or platform. The candidate preferred by a majority of the voters would win. And the winner would have a bigger mandate to govern.

Let me illustrate how instant runoff voting works using two examples of 100 voters:

• Assume in 2004 that Gore was the first choice of 43 voters, Bush the first choice of 37 voters, Ventura the first choice of 11 voters and Nader the first choice of 9 voters. As the lowest vote getter, Nader would be eliminated, but 8 of his voters chose Gore and 1 chose Ventura as their second choice. Ventura would now have 12 votes, Bush would still have 43 votes, and Gore would now have 51 voters, a majority, and would be declared the winner.

• Assume that in 2004, as above, Gore got 43 votes, Bush 37, Nader was the first choice of 11 voters, and Ventura the first choice of 9 voters. As the lowest vote getter, Ventura would be eliminated, but 7 of his voters chose Bush and 2 chose Nader as their second choice. Bush would now have 44 votes, not a majority, but the lead over Gore, who remains at 43 votes. Bush could still not be declared the majority winner, and Nader would now have 13 votes. Nader now becomes the lowest vote getter and is eliminated, but all 11 of his first choice voters chose Gore as their second choice; also, the 2 Ventura voters who chose Nader as their second choice, chose Bush as their third choice. Bush would now have 46 votes. Gore would be declared the winner by garnering a majority with 54 votes.

[Table shows prospective instant runoff voting elections for 2004 based on the above examples]