Putting fun back into elections
It's almost over except for the litigation

By Mitch Chase
Published November 2nd 2004 in Decatur Daily

As we go to the polls to decide our nation's future, one can only hope it will all end with today's vote. 

That's unlikely, though. The lawyers are already in place to dispute election outcomes and voting procedures around the country. 

The Democrats and John Kerry's campaign have as many as 10,000 lawyers ready to go nationwide, including five "SWAT teams" to be sent into key states to contest votes. 

The Republicans probably have just as many lined up to man the litigation trenches some 200 GOP attorneys are on duty in Alabama today, according to press reports, and this is a state forecast to be a walkover for President Bush. 

But when you have hordes of legal beagles out looking for things to keep themselves occupied, chances are they'll find quite a few bones to gnaw on. In the days to come, we'll be hearing a lot about such issues as alleged voter intimidation, malfunctioning voting machines, questionable "provisional votes," "disenfranchised" voters in places where strict voter registration requirements are in force and "unqualified" voters in places where voter registration requirements are lax. 

It may take awhile to sort things out. Quite possibly, as happened in the 2000 presidential election, a court may decide the winner of today's vote. 

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of President Bush, and many supporters of Vice President Al Gore raised an uproar over an election being decided (or stolen) by "five votes" those of the five yea-voting Supreme Court justices. It's a great sound bite, unless you consider that these same outraged Gore supporters would have been perfectly content to allow a half-dozen Democratic members of the Florida Supreme Court rewrite voting regulations to ensure a Gore victory. 

Hypocrisy knows no bounds in partisan politics, particularly when radical extremes have disproportionate power within their party structures. 

Wouldn't it be great if there were a viable third party one that includes everybody except the radical militants on both sides of the political spectrum? 

The U.S. election system, of course, isn't exactly third-party friendly, but there's hope. 

San Francisco is experimenting today with what it calls "ranked choice voting" on its municipal ballots. 

Under the system, also called "instant runoff voting," voters choose not just their preferred candidates, but second and third choices (and maybe even more) for the posts up for grabs. 

If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the least amount of first-place votes is eliminated. The second-place choices of the voters for this candidate are then counted as first-place votes for the remaining candidates. The process is repeated until one candidate gets a majority and is declared the winner. 

I like the system, which has been successfully used abroad, for two reasons: 

It supports third parties because voters are more likely to support underdogs if they know they'll have another chance if their candidates tank (which they usually do). This would enable some third parties to qualify for future elections without going through the costly qualification process every four years getting signatures on petitions, etc. (In Alabama, a party needs 20 percent of the vote on one statewide ballot to qualify for the next election.) 

It also would ensure "majority" wins, instead of "plurality" victories, as has been the case in each U.S. election since 1988. (The vagaries of the Electoral College still might mean the presidency not going to the top vote-getter on occasions.) Here's another reason to like it: It sounds like fun.