IRV causes clean campaigns

By Shaktari Leslie Belew
Published July 26th 2005 in Ashland Daily Tidings

In an effort to support the intent of democracy — that of government by the people in which all voices are heard — instant runoff voting has recently found strong support across the nation.

IRV allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference (1, 2, 3...). After the first count, if no one has a majority, whoever gets the fewest ballots is eliminated, and his or her ballots get redistributed according to the voter’s second choice. This is repeated until there is one winner with a clear majority (50 percent plus 1).

The benefits of this method are both dramatic and subtle.

Most obviously, IRV ensures that whoever is elected has the backing of at least a majority of those voting. It eliminates the idea of a “spoiler” candidate who splits the vote among other candidates holding similar platforms, thus permitting an unsupported candidate to win. It means all votes are counted toward the eventual winner, and thus eliminates the concept of “wasted votes.”

The subtle benefits are also impressive. It means that candidates must court all voters, because unless there is a clear majority winner during the first vote count, second and perhaps third or fourth choice votes will be included. Suddenly negative campaigns in which the opponent is vilified become counter-productive. Candidates tend to stick to the issues.

Centrist candidates tend to win over one-issue candidates or those with extreme points of view. Centrist candidates must embrace the issues concerning a wider range of constituents, including minorities. In fact, when San Francisco voted in favor of IRV (which they call Ranked Choice Voting), the communities of color strongly supported it: by 69 percent in Latino precincts, 62 percent in African American precincts and 55 percent in Asian-American precincts.

A perfect example of minority support are the New York school board elections, which have used IRV since 1969. Not only have large numbers of non-English-speaking voters participated with ease, but statistics show that Asian-American candidates achieved greater electoral success under IRV than any other system. Latino and African-American candidates also did well. Why? Because IRV encourages coalition-building and teamwork — positive characteristics in any setting.

After two recent presidential elections in which the outcome was unclear, millions of Americans are asking for a revamping of our electoral process. Adopting IRV locally, across the country, can represent a first step in a multi-step program of making that desire a reality.