Instant runoff voting is worth consideration
Published March 12th 2006 in The Decatur Daily
Amid the talk about election reform, state legislators would serve their constituents well to consider more radical alternatives that, in the long run, would be more fair and save taxpayers money.

The state Legislature is considering moving the state's Democratic and Republican runoff elections from June 27 to July 18 to give military personnel overseas a chance to return their runoff ballots in time to be counted. That is fair to our troops abroad, but it is a headache for candidates and those of us at home, who would be forced to endure more than a month of campaigning between the primary and the runoff.

There is, however, a possible solution that merits the Legislature's attention.

Instant runoff voting would allow the state to eliminate runoffs entirely. Voters would rank all candidates for an office in order of preference, rather than cast a single vote. For example, in a four-candidate race, voters would rank the candidates in order, from favorite to least favorite: No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No 4.

If a candidate received a majority of the first-place (No. 1) votes, he would win.

But if no candidate received a majority of the No. 1 votes, the candidate with the fewest No. 1 votes would be eliminated. Then, his votes would be awarded to his voters' No. 2 choices. This process would continue until a candidate had a majority.

According to the Center for Voting and Democracy, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, instant runoff voting would decrease negative campaigning because, to win, candidates would need some second- and third-place votes, meaning they couldn't risk alienating other candidates' supporters. It would also save money by eliminating the need for runoff elections, which can cost the state more than $2 million.

It's a radical, and confusing, idea to be sure, and one that, so far, has been used only on the local level in the United States. But it's an idea that lawmakers should consider, nevertheless.