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)

Instant democracy available in instant runoff elections

By Eric Zorn
Published March 2nd 2009 in Chicago Tribune
An extensive Q&A and reference section on this topic is posted here.

How dizzying is Tuesday’s special primary election?

Saturday night, a Chicago newspaper columnist who writes frequently about politics had a chance encounter at Northwest Side social event with a prominent Chicago Democratic office-holder.

The columnist, whom I will not name so as to avoid embarrassing him, confessed sheepishly that he wasn’t even sure how many Democrats were running to succeed Rahm Emanuel in the 5th Congressional District.

The big Dem, whom I will not name for the same reason, confidently assured me—I mean him—that it’s 11.

In fact it’s 12. Along with six Republicans and five Green in their parties’ primaries.

History suggests that the winning Democrat will win the general election. And mathematics tells us that a small plurality—as low as 8.4 percent of the vote, but probably closer to 20 percent of the Democratic vote—will be enough to prevail in such a crowded field and launch the winner to Washington.

That’s not just dizzying, that’s absurd. Elections, even primaries, ought to be about measuring the will of the majority. And there is a better way.

Under an “instant run-off” preferential voting system touted by reform groups, voters register not just their first choice, but their second and sometimes third or fourth choices down the ballot.

If no candidate in a multicandidate race gets more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes, then officials add in the second-choice votes of those who supported also rans—usually starting with the candidate who received the fewest first-choice votes—and count again.

In the simplest example—a close, three-candidate race with no majority winner—each vote for the last-place candidate is, in effect, reassigned to one of the top two candidates by looking at second choice votes.

Why is this a better way? Because it eliminates the effect of so-called spoiler candidates who siphon off support from candidates whose views are actually more popular among the electorate.

In Tuesday’s Democratic primary, for instance, it’s possible that liberal voters will split among the group of progressive candidates vying for their vote, and a more traditional, establishment Democrat will eke out a win.

Supporters say instant run-off voting encourages voters to come to the polls even if they don’t think their first choice has a chance, prompts them to play closer attention to the entire field of candidates, and eliminates the expense of run-off elections where those are held.

It’s an unusual but not radical idea. A handful of places in the U.S. have used it—San Francisco is the largest to date—and Minneapolis plans to give the system a try this fall. President Barack Obama supported a proposal for an “instant run-off” preferential voting system when he was in the General Assembly, and similar proposals are floated (and shot down) in Springfield nearly every year.

Admittedly, this “better way” isn’t perfect. Opponents argue that anything more elaborate than “check one” can confuse voters, inspire excessive pandering by candidates, break down party discipline and hinder the hopes of strong minority candidates in certain instances. Brute majority rule has its drawbacks as well, and no voting system will help even the self-styled experts keep track of dizzyingly large candidate fields.

Still. My first choice is to at least give second choices a try. How much more absurd could it possibly be?


Again, an extensive Q&A and reference section on this topic is posted here.