Illinois Poll Shows Support for IRV
FairVote, in partnership with the Midwest Democracy Center and Roosevelt University,on Feb. 20-22, 2004 conducted a telephone poll in Illinois heading into the state's March 16 primary. The poll included several questions directly about instant runoff voting.

Here is a preliminary review of results. There also was a news article in the Daily Herald (IL).

Our poll was done with 550 Democrats and 550 Republicans. We asked for second and third choices in both the U.S. Senate primaries (each major party has large fields of candidates), in the Democratic presidential primary and, for Republicans, for president in the general election.

We asked four questions measuring support for instant runoff voting. Here are the results. Note the strongest support was for using IRV for general elections for the President.

1. In some previous primary elections, the winner has earned less than 50% of the vote because votes are spread among several candidates. Are you comfortable with the current way of voting, which can result in a
non-majority winner, or would you like to see changes that would better assure that the winner is supported by more than 50% of primary voters?
         Comfortable with current way of voting-  54%
         Would like to see changes - 41%
         Don't know - 5%

2. In some parts of the United States, voters can pick both a first-choice candidate and a second-choice so that its easier to know which candidate has majority support. Would you like to have the option to pick a first-choice candidate and a second-choice candidate when you vote in Illinois primaries?
         Yes - 47.0%
         No  - 46.5%
         Not sure - 5%

3. Would you like to have this option when electing mayors and local elected officials?
         Yes  - 44%
         No  - 51%
         Not sure  - 5%

4. When electing the U.S. President, each state has a certain number of Electoral College votes. In Illinois, all the Electoral College votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in the popular election. Would you like a second choice option to better ensure that the winner of Illinois Electoral College votes has the majority support of Illinois voters?
          Yes - 50%
          No - 41%
          Not sure  - 9%

* Fully one-third of voters admit to being likely to switch from their favorite choice in the primary if they perceive that candidate would not have a chance to win. That shows the self-fulfilling power of voter perception that can boost  the power of the media and of polling and increase the odds for candidates who have the resources to spend money early and get attention as a front-runner.

* The survey of second choices had useful nuggets, showing an unofficial alliance among supporters of the top two front-running Democrats in the Senate primary -- which could lead to attacks between those campaigns, as they're going after similar voters -- and showing just how solid John Kerry's support now is in the Democratic presidential race.

* You can see the full survey here. Also posted there is FairVote's initial analysis, done in conjunction with James Lewis of Roosevelt University

Illinois Drive to Revive Cumulative Voting

In 1999 the Institute for Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) at the University of Illinois received a major grant to conduct a study of the impact of the state's conversion from cumulative voting to single-member districts in 1980. The IGPA formed a task force to analyze different electoral systems and make recommendations. Co-chaired by former Republican governor Jim Edgar and former Democratic Congressman and federal judge Abner Mikva, the task force members included leading state legislators and civic leaders.

The task force has called for reviving cumulative voting, and the Institute for Government and Public Affairs has issued an excellent report about their deliberations and the history of cumulative voting in the state. The Illinois story is a testimony to the impact of even very modest full representation plans. In this case, it still required close to 25% of the vote to win a seat in a in three-seat district, but this change was significant for a broader range of political forces to participate in elections, win representation and contribute to good policy-making.

Read the executive summary of the report here (pdf)

Let the most popular candidate win
Instant runoff voting is simple and effective

By John B. Anderson
Published September 28th 2007 in Christian Science Monitor
Fort Lauderdale, Fla. - Ross Perot. Ralph Nader. Like theirs, my face is pinned up on the dart boards of angry partisans everywhere. I was bitterly accused of spoiling the 1980 election and helping Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter.

But the real culprit is America's practice of plurality voting, by which candidates win without an absolute majority. In this system, third-party hopefuls can rarely aspire to be more than "spoilers." Worse, the one-third of all voters who are not registered as Republican or Democrat feel pressured to vote against their worst nightmare rather than their best hope.

A simple reform would correct this problem. Instant runoff voting (IRV), which lets voters rank their choices, would allow America to achieve the basic goal of its electoral system – electing the candidate with the most support.

Plurality voting, used by all states in presidential elections, allows candidates to win all of a state's electoral votes without getting an absolute majority of the popular vote. In recent elections, this system has hurt Democrats and Republicans alike. In 1992, Ross Perot took 19 percent of the vote. That support, observers speculate, sapped George H.W. Bush's support, giving himjust 37 percent of the vote and helping Bill Clinton to win with 43 percent. In 2000, Al Gore lost Florida and the presidency by 537 votes to George W. Bush, even as Ralph Nader won 97,488 votes in Florida – more than 181 times Bush's victory margin.

Because the majority can split its vote with third-place contenders and lose, plurality voting forces too many Americans to vote for their second-choice candidate who has the better chance of winning, rather than the one we actually want.

General elections should be a marketplace of innovative ideas, and independent and third-party candidates can prevent them from becoming a showcase for an overly narrow ideological duopoly. Yet such candidates are pilloried for trying to break the red-blue grip and add a fresh voice to the debate.

It is unfortunate that independent candidates must face these attacks when about one-third of Americans are not registered with a major party. Throw in their distorted nomination process, and it becomes painfully obvious why so many people feel frustrated with electoral politics.

If the US used IRV for presidential elections, voters could avoid the currently dysfunctional system and choose their leader by popular vote, by ranking candidates in order of preference.

IRV is an increasingly popular voting method that leading politicians have supported and other countries already use. Prominent leaders from both parties have backed IRV, including once and current presidential contenders John McCain, Howard Dean, and Barack Obama. Ireland elects its president by IRV; London, its mayor; and Australia, its House of Representatives.

Although critics say IRV would be too complex for voters to understand, the process is as simple as deciding among friends where to go for dinner – everyone knows how to rank their preferences. Voting machines and software could be upgraded to handle the new system.

For IRV to spread nationwide, states could adopt the voting method for congressional and presidential races by mere statute. Indeed, Vermont's state legislature may send the governor a bill to adopt for congressional offices this winter. Voters in nearly a dozen cities, including Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Oakland, Calif., have passed IRV ballot measures, typically by a landslide.

By supporting IRV, Democrats and Republicans can defend their majority status at the polls rather than through machinations over access to ballots and debates. Perhaps some fear this system would encourage third parties to flourish, but third-party and independent candidates already are part of the political system, and they are only likely to grow in support given the increasing apathy toward the major parties.

As the presidential primaries draw near, all eyes are on the major party frontrunners as they stump across the nation to raise money and harvest votes. But some of the biggest 2008 headliners may be quietly waiting on the sidelines. Challengers to the duopoly may well come from the left and the right, meaning that both parties may have at least one fit of anxiety before next November.

Perhaps by 2012, Americans will have decided they want a system that allows them to vote their consciences instead of their fears. Instant runoff voting is one choice voters are sure to embrace.

Former Illinois Congressman John B. Anderson was an independent candidate for president in 1980 and is chair of FairVote, a nonpartisan electoral reform organization based in Maryland.