TOPIC OF THE DAY: Third-party influence
Runoff system produces majority

By Steve Welzer
Published November 15th 2005 in The Asbury Park Press
In the 12th District Assembly race, the Republican team (Jennifer Beck and Declan O'Scanlon) defeated the Democratic team (Michael Panter and Robert Morgan) by a very slim margin, less than 1,500 votes.

Meanwhile, Green Party candidate Ann Napolitano received 2,303 votes and her running mate, Judith Stanton, received 2,044 votes. Arguably, had the Green candidates not been in the race, the outcome would have been reversed, with the Democratic incumbents returning to the Assembly.

Since 2000, when Ralph Nader was labeled a "spoiler" for taking votes away from Al Gore and thus influencing the presidential election, the Green Party has been urging the Democrats to help advocate for a solution to the "spoiler" problem. In San Francisco, to cite one example, Greens and Democrats were successful in passing legislation for Instant Runoff Voting. This is a system where voters can rank their choices.

If we had it in place for the last election, someone could have ranked Napolitano No. 1 and Panter No. 2. In a first round of counting, if Napolitano had the fewest votes, her ballots would be reallocated according to her second-place choices. So the majority of ballots listing Napolitano as choice No. 1 probably would have gone to Panter in the second round of counting. As a result, Panter would have gained enough additional votes win. Due to the presence of third-party candidates in the race, Beck and O'Scanlon won without achieving a majority of votes. With Instant Runoff Voting, where votes are reallocated round-by-round during the counting, all winning candidates do achieve majorities in the end.

The Green Party is not going away. It has a distinct message for ecology and renewal of community that resonates with more and more voters. Our electoral system could be opened up to accommodate "more voices and more choices," as Ralph Nader said. Everyone could benefit, even the major parties, if reforms like Instant Runoff Voting were adopted.