New Democratic National Committee chairman supports IRV
Published April 1st 2005

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is one of a growing number of political leaders that endorse instant runoff voting. As governor of Vermont, Dean championed IRV as a solution to vote-splitting with a viable minor party, and continued to push for reform on the presidential campaign trail. He writes about it extensively in his new book, What We Do Now. The following is an excerpt:

One of the first issues we need to address if we’re going to get out the vote at a level required by a truly participatory democracy is the lack of excitement many people feel for the candidates put forth by our parties.

Right now, in primaries, and in general elections where there’s a third-party candidate, a fair number of voters feel forced to choose the candidate they think is viable. In the end, if they really want to defeat the opposition, they choose the candidate they think is most likely to do so, without enthusiasm and without much pride. As they often put it, they feel as if they’re choosing the lesser of two evils. A population that feels like this is not going to be very motivated to vote.

One way to overcome this problem is by changing our voting system so that people can vote for candidates they believe in without risking the kind of outcome we saw in 2000 when third-party candidate Ralph Nader drew enough votes from Al Gore to ensure President Bush’s Electoral College win. Other countries do this through a multi-party system that rules by coalition. We can do it in America by bringing in a new voting system that allows coalitions to be built as you vote. It’s called instant runoff voting.

Instant runoff voting is a system in which you vote by ranking two or three candidates in order of preference. When the votes are tallied, if your top choice gets knocked out of the running, your vote reverts to your number two, and so on. It’s like having a runoff election, only you don’t need two elections to do it. This system, which has attracted the interest of a number of reform-minded people around the United States, is already in use in Europe and in city council elections in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Instant runoff voting was successful in San Francisco on Nov. 2. Although there were some minor glitches, I suspect they will keep using it.

By way of illustration: Had we used instant runoff voting in 2000, most Nader supporters would have gone to the polls and voted for Ralph Nader first and Al Gore second. Since Nader, in the three-way tally afterward, wouldn’t have finished in one of the top two slots, Al Gore would have been the beneficiary of roughly 60 percent of his votes and would have been chosen as the next president of the United States. (Most of Pat Buchanan’s votes most likely would have gone to President Bush.)

Instant runoff voting would be beneficial for our electoral process, because it would encourage candidates to hold a firm set of principles without worrying that their beliefs could make them unviable. It would allow people to vote for candidates they really want to elect, thereby increasing both enthusiasm and turnout.