Electoral Lessons From Australia

By Rob Richie
Published December 21st 2007 in The Washington Post
John Barron's commentary about Australian politics ["Election? Here's How You Do It, Mate," Outlook, Dec. 9] was misleading.

Although the leading contenders for prime minister indeed mirrored each other on many positions, Australians have far more choices and diverse candidates than Americans have.

The two major parties, Labor and the Liberal-National alliance, won 148 seats, but they lost two to independents and had real competition.

No district had fewer than four candidates, with an average of seven from across the spectrum. With instant runoff voting, every winner gained more than 50 percent of the final vote, but only 75 winners received an initial majority of voters' first-choice rankings. The rest had to win by earning the second-choice preferences of other candidates' backers.

The Green Party contested every seat and won 8 percent of the national vote in House races and 9 percent in Senate seats -- three times what Ralph Nader won in 2000. Labor earned most Green preferences and already has ratified the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Australia's major parties are close on many issues, but with instant runoff voting accommodating more choices in campaigns and with proportional representation in Senate elections, Australia creates a means to transform that center -- a combination of moderation and responsiveness that many Americans would be eager to see.

Executive Director, FairVote
Takoma Park