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 runoff voting

By Mitch Chase
Published November 11th 2002 in The Decatur Daily

Recount or not, it's unlikely Gov. Siegelman got enough votes to win last week's gubernatorial election.

But from the way I look at it, neither did U.S. Rep. Bob Riley.

Neither one of them received a majority of the vote, obviously the most definitive way to select a leader.

It also should be the American way.

States with open primaries, such as Louisiana, already elect their leaders in this manner, holding runoff elections in which the two top vote-getters in the primaries compete. Because there are only two in the runoff, the winner always gets a majority of the votes.

In last week's gubernatorial race, Siegelman and Riley each accounted for about 49 percent of the vote, with the Libertarian candidate, John Sophocleus, garnering the remaining 2 percent.

The situation is similar to the 2000 presidential election in which George W. Bush and Al Gore each picked up about 48 percent of the vote (Gore getting about a half million more than Bush), with independent candidates, largely the Green Party's Ralph Nader, getting the remaining 4 percent.

In both cases, a runoff election would have avoided a lot of turmoil, and have ensured the choice of a majority of voters for these important positions.

The traditional argument against runoffs is their cost. Not only do governments have to foot the bills for new elections, they also force the runoff candidates to spend more money on their extended campaigns, not a happy topic amid current calls for campaign finance reform.

The ideal way would be to hold runoff elections at the same time as the general elections, and the technology exists to do that right now.

It's called IRV, or instant runoff voting, and it's used to decide elections in some foreign countries, including Australia and the Republic of Ireland.

It's also being examined by a growing number of states and municipalities interested in improving the election process. (San Francisco, for example, will implement the system next year.)

Under the system, voters choose not just their preferred candidates, but second and third choices (and maybe even more) for the elected post 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 votes 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.

In the case of last week's gubernatorial election, the more than 23,000 votes for the third-place Libertarian candidate, Sophocleus, would have been redistributed to Riley and Siegelman according to the second-place preferences of the voters who cast them.

Who would have been the winner?

Who knows?

It's a safe bet, though, that Professor Sophocleus' party would have done far better under an IRV system, perhaps even preserving the Libertarians' "major party" status in Alabama by garnering at least 20 percent of the vote in at least one statewide election.

That's because voters are more apt to support underdog candidates in primaries if they know they'll have another chance to vote in the runoff if their candidate doesn't make it.

The IRV system instantly provides that. And by doing so, it encourages more parties and candidates (and presumably more voters) to get involved in the electoral process.

Most importantly, though, it ensures that winning candidates have the support of the majority of the voters.

And that should be the American way.

Mitch Chase is a DAILY copy editor. For more information on instant runoff voting, check the Web site of the Center for Voting and Democracy (chaired by former U.S. presidential candidate John B. Anderson) at