Thom Hartmann's book, What Would Jefferson Do?,
features the following excerpt on IRV:
Institute "instant runoff" voting, to make
minority parties viable.
Most democracies in the world today have healthy
multiparty systems, but older ones (such as America and the UK)
don't. The reason is simple: the idea of proportional representation
hadn't been conceived when the older democracies were formed.
It wasn't until the 1840s that John Stuart Mill first
wrote about it, which is why most democracies formed after 1850 have
healthy multiparty systems that represent a broad range of political
opinions. Older democracies are usually two-party states.
Knowing that there was a deficiency in the American
system, James Madison wrote long letters and articles begging
America's politicians not to form political parties, but it was all
for naught. By the late 1790s, the Democratic Republicans had split
off from the Federalists and we've had a two-party system in the
United States ever since.
The problem is that we have winner-take-all elections.
If more than two candidates run, it's possible for a candidate to
take the seat with fewer than a majority of the votes--and, as
Madison noted, then the people are represented by a candidate whose
opinions reflect only a minority of Americans. (A good example was
the presidential election of 2000, in which Bush got three million
fewer votes than his opposition, Gore and Nader.)
are two solutions to this problem. The first is proportional
representation, as they have in Israel, Germany, and many other
nations. If there are 100 seats in parliament, and party
"A" gets 22 percent of the vote, they get 22 seats. Party
"B" that got 19 percent of the vote gets 19 seats, whereas
Party "C" that got 31 percent of the vote gets 31 seats,
and so on, to 100 percent. The result is that politicians have to
form alliances and coalitions, and learn to work together, and it
guarantees that pretty much all the opinions of We the People are
represented by somebody in parliament.
that it's unlikely we'll amend our Constitution to allow for
proportional representation any day soon, a quick solution is
Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), as proposed by legislators in over 30
states and already instituted in some cities such as San Francisco.
If an IRV system had been in place during the 2000 presidential
election, for example, everybody would have been presented with a
two-tiered ballot. For each office, you could have selected your
first choice and a second choice if you want.
say that your first choice was Ralph Nader, but you'd tolerate Al
Gore. You could have picked Nader as number one and Gore as number
Then, if no candidate got more than 50 percent
of the vote (as none of them did), all ballots that didn't go for
one of the top two candidates would be counted again, using the
second-choice votes. most of Nader's votes would have become Gore
votes, and Gore would have been declared the winner. no candidate
could win without being selected (first or second) on a majority of
IRV encourages multiparty participation in
elections without creating the odd situation we have today in which,
when you vote for a third (or fourth) party candidate, you actually
hurt the mainstream candidate with whom he or she is most closely
aligned. IRV works well, and Australia has adopted a form of it
nationwide. Many communities across America have adopted it for the
local elections, and a few states are considering it. Not
surprisingly, the Green Party is working hard to get it passed
everywhere in the United States.
And it should be
passed. Because--regardless of your political beliefs--it enhances
the vitality of democracy and increases participation, because
nobody need feel that their vote would be pointless.
Jefferson's belief in the value of giving people a voice, it seems
certain that he would have approved.
Hartmann is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, The
Thom Hartmann Program, and the award-winning author of fourteen
books. He lives in Montpelier, Vermont, and can be found on the
Internet at www.thomhartmann.com.