Letter to the editor

By David Brensilver
Published July 8th 2001 in The New London Day
To the Editor of The Day:

We've heard quite a bit about campaign finance reform of late. We've also heard plenty of discussions about updating the voting machines themselves. What we have not heard much about, at least in Connecticut, is modifying the process by which we elect candidates to office. In many places though, such concerns are being taken very seriously.

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), a system conceived in 1870 by MIT professor W. R. Ware, has, in the past few decades, been resurrected in this country. Not surprisingly, IRV has enjoyed regular use outside America for years.

Explained briefly, Instant Runoff Voting ensures victory by majority. Obviously, under current plurality standards, a winning candidate may be voted into office with less than 50 percent of the vote. IRV allows voters to rank their choices for office. Whichever candidate earns the lowest tally at election time is eliminated, with his or her votes transferred to each ballot's respective second choice.

Had IRV been the national standard in 1992, for example, Ross Perot would have been dismissed from contention having only received 19 percent of the vote. His tally would have then have been divided between Clinton and Bush, according to each ballot's specifications. While Clinton had earned 43 percent of the vote to Bush's 37 percent, one could easily speculate about the outcome. While Perot's constituency likely would've listed Bush as their second choice, Clinton was closer to the finish line.

This past year, had IRV been the standard, Ralph Nader's constituency- not Florida- would have essentially decided the election. Which brings about a significant benefit of Instant Runoff Voting. Negative campaigning, the real meat and potatoes of political races of late, would be senseless.

By virtue of IRV design, each stumping candidate must not only cater to his or her party base, but also rigorously lobby for the support of the other candidates' constituencies.

The inherent beauty of Instant Runoff Voting is the fact that it insures a majority. Certainly, an official elected to office with the favor of most, can accomplish more in terms of actual agenda. The trickle down would be extraordinary. Imagine the pulse of the majority actually represented.

Implementing IRV is hardly a far-fetched notion, even in our rigid society. It is already in use in some municipalities, and legislation to implement its use on varying levels is underway in over a dozen states. For instance, Instant Runoff Voting will appear on the next ballot in Alaska, unless it is already passed by the state legislature. In the cities of San Leandro, Oakland, and Santa Clara, measures have passed adopting IRV as the method of electing members to city council.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Instant Runoff Voting has, for some time, been procedure to elect members of city council.

In Connecticut, the movement to put IRV on the discussion table exists, albeit with a relatively unheard voice. The Connecticut Green party issued a press release in November asking the state legislature to take a look at the merits of Instant Runoff Voting. Connecticut's Government Administration and Elections Committee briefly looked at it some years ago however, it remains a non-issue for now.

Instant Runoff Voting makes a world of sense. Each state legislature that has taken the time to listen to voices of reason has made hasty plans to at least put it to the people. In all cases, IRV has enjoyed bipartisan support, because it is inherently unbiased.

Third-party voices shouldn't frighten major parties- they should hold considerable appeal. After all, third party constituents, for now, would really be constituents up for grab. Nader wasn't going to actually win the election back in November, or December, or whenever it was. He could have, however, had IRV been the national standard, represented some platform definition. Had Gore and Bush been competing for Nader's votes, they would have each had to define, in a more detailed way, their agendas. That would have also allowed the public to listen to more than sound bytes and insults.

The real winners would have been we, the people. Imagine feeling as though you'd not just thrown your vote away. Imagine your vote representing real importance. After all, each vote would have represented order of preference, not a choice for the lesser of two evils. Instead of November, or December, or whenever it was, being about lawyers, it could have been about somebody being elected with the approval of at least half of we, the people.

David Brensilver

David Brensilver is a free-lance writer who lives in Mystic.