Instant Runoff Voting respects voter wishes

By Anne Alexander
Published November 14th 2006 in Fort Collins Coloradoan
I was surprised by the Nov. 9 headline, "4th District bucks the trend." It is true that the seat did not go to the Democratic candidate; however, I don't believe the Fourth District bucked the trend. The majority of those voting clearly wanted change, voting either for Angie Paccione or Eric Eidsness. Musgrave did not win the simple majority (i.e. more than 50 percent). In the election, 104,876 (46 percent) voted for Marilyn Musgrave, while 123,550 (54 percent) voted for either Paccione or Eidsness. Rather than feel frustrated that a third-party candidate could throw the election to your least-favorite candidate, or feel frustrated by having to vote for one of two candidates and not feeling enthusiastic about either choice, there is another way.

It's called Instant Runoff Voting. Ireland has used it for 90 years to elect its president, and Australia for 90 years to elect its House of Representatives. It is used in cities in Minnesota, California and the state of Vermont in statewide elections. For more information, visit and

IRV is a system that guarantees the winning candidate has a majority of the votes (rather than a plurality) and eliminates the "wasted vote syndrome" caused by third-party candidates. It allows voters to rank
the candidates by preference on a single ballot (first, second, third choice etc.), so it can simulate an "instant" runoff election if no candidate has a majority of the votes.

A "plurality" means the candidate with the most votes wins, as in most of our elections. Most people think of this as the epitome of democracy, and it is when there are only two candidates. When there are three or more candidates for one office, the plurality winner may actually get a "minority" of the votes, that is, less than 50 percent. (This is what just happened in the Fourth District.) A majority winner gets more than 50 percent of the votes and this is what IRV guarantees.

This is how it works: If anyone receives a majority of the first choice votes, that candidate is elected. If not, the last place candidate is defeated, just as in a runoff election, and all ballots are counted again. This time each ballot cast for the defeated candidate counts for the next choice candidate listed on the ballot. The process of eliminating the last place candidate and recounting the ballots continues until one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

Under this system, if the pollsters are right that two of every three votes cast for Eidsness were from a moderate or liberal voter, then Paccione would have won with a gain of 17,135 votes. If your top pick
were Eidsness, you would have still been able to vote for him, without throwing the election to your least-favorite candidate.

Instant runoff voting was invented by an American, W.R. Ware, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, around 1870. No voting system is perfect, but IRV is generally considered the best
method for measuring both the breadth and intensity of the voters' support for a candidate.

I call on citizens of all political beliefs who are interested in a more accurate form of democracy to join forces to bring instant runoff voting to Colorado.

Anne Alexander lives in Fort Collins.