By Letters
Published November 25th 2002 in Daily Standard
Rachel DiCarlo's article, Spoiling Some of the Fun, fails to address why Libertarian candidates are able to "spoil" the campaigns of Republican candidates. The culprit is the first-past-the-post, winner-take-all electoral system used in most U.S. elections since the country's founding.

Libertarians have had no role in perpetuating the winner-take-all system, which according to Duverger's Law creates two strong political parties and marginalizes the rest. Indeed, Libertarians have advocated the adoption of electoral systems successfully implemented elsewhere, such as "preferential voting" (a.k.a. "instant runoff voting"), that won't break down when more than two candidates compete and would prevent the spoiler problem. But even though they proposed and endorsed the idea, Republicans in Alaska couldn't get together to pass an IRV measure when it came up for a statewide vote earlier this year. Indeed, several Alaska Republicans argued self-servingly that plurality rule was just fine by them, especially when their candidates won.

Understandably, many Republicans and Democrats are content with an electoral system that protects their two-party duopoly from meaningful competition and keeps non-incumbent political parties out of office. Republicans and Democrats have made and maintained this Procrustean electoral bed that they now claim tortures them. Until they put in place electoral systems that accommodate more than two political parties, I won't be very sympathetic to their complaints about being "spoiled."

--Rob Latham, Board Member, Californians for Electoral Reform

I've thought about the issue of election spoilers a lot. And yes it burns both ways to the Republicans Rachel DiCarlo mentions, and obviously to Democrats.

Maybe we need a run-off system. In the first election, you can vote for who you really want. It might even propel Libertarians, Greens, and other third party candidates to 2nd place finishes, and into the run-off. Then in the run-off election, you simply vote for the one that you dislike the least.

Of course this approach might help Republicans, who would probably do better in run-offs than most Democratic candidates. This happened with the late Georgia senator Paul Coverdell. He won his seat in the early 90s in a run-off when he failed to get 50 percent in the general election. We'll see if this pattern hold up in Louisiana on Dec 7.

--S. Epstein
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