A better way to run a runoff?

By Richard Halicks
Published August 6th 2006 in Atlanta Journal Constitution
"Instant runoff voting" and how it works:

The voter receives a "ranked ballot"; instead of voting for one candidate, the voter ranks all of them. If one candidate captures at least 50 percent of the No. 1 rankings, he wins. If no one wins a majority, the "instant runoff" begins. In a four-way race, say Candidate D comes in last place. All the votes for that person are eliminated. If your top choice was Candidate D, your vote is now awarded to your second choice. If none of the three remaining candidates has a majority after that, then the third-place candidate, Candidate C, is eliminated. If your top choice was Candidate C, your vote is now awarded to your No. 3 choice. This continues until one candidate has at least 50 percent. He wins.

Ryan Griffin is a research fellow at the Center for Voting and Democracy, a nonpartisan group that advocates instant runoff voting, presidential election by popular vote and other electoral reforms. Instant runoff voting is not used in any statewide elections, but a number of U.S. cities employ the practice. In a phone interview last week, Griffin talked about instant runoff voting.

Q. Runoffs cost Georgia voters more than $1 million, and voter turnout is abysmal. Have runoffs outlived their usefulness?

A. It's not runoffs that have outlived their usefulness. It's the system of runoffs, we think --- having two separate elections, which is where instant runoff voting comes in. What this does is it preserves the good thing about the runoff, which is what ensures you have a majority winner in an election. Instant runoff allows you to do that in just a single election, which saves significant amounts of money. The other great benefit is the turnout effect that it has.

Q. Is there any trick to counting these kinds of ranked ballots?

A. That is in fact the biggest reason you don't see this system in more places. Our voting equipment in a lot of places is unfortunately not compatible with ranked ballots.

Q. How does instant runoff affect campaign tactics?

A. One of the most fascinating things about IRV is that it oftentimes leads to cleaner campaigns, more positive campaigning, less mudslinging at your opponents.

Q. Why is that?

A. Under an instant runoff system, if you don't have a majority already lined up, you're going to need some of that other candidate's voters to say, well, "I like this guy first, but if he doesn't get in, I'd rather see you than the Democrat." So you're going to have to get support from some of his voters on their second choices. In San Francisco, this has been studied really well. They've found, for the board of supervisors, candidates actually working together, lining up on a slate together . . . campaigning to win the second choices of other candidates' voters.
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