Joe Lieberman's independent political test: genuine reform

By John B. Anderson
Published August 24th 2006 in McClatchy-Tribune News Service
In a year of great political intrigue, with control of Congress on the line and presidential contenders jockeying for attention, one particularly important election is under way in Connecticut, where Sen. Joe Lieberman has been ousted as his party's nominee for re-election a mere six years after serving as Al Gore's running mate.

In a concession speech in the wake of losing the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, Lieberman proclaimed that his election season had only reached half-time. Hours later, he turned in petitions to run as an independent, which placed him on the November ballot alongside Lamont and the Republican nominee.

Lieberman obviously hopes to win with the votes of Democrats who skipped the primary, independents without a political voice in partisan primaries and the many Republicans now abandoning their nominee in droves to support a "lesser of two evils" who still caucuses with Democrats.

Despite unwavering support for independent politics, I have grave concerns about Lieberman's move. In 1980 I departed the Republican Party to run as an independent candidate for president. I have never looked back because I do not see the role of asserting political independence as simply that of a bridging device to extend the primary season and merge it with the general election.

Unfortunately, Lieberman seems to be pursuing a personal agenda rather than staking out a claim for real independence. If a true independent, one whose action were based on a belief that his party had abandoned core principles as I believed mine had done in 1980, he would take action to help establish independents as a distinct class of voters with a meaningful place in the political arena - not just use them opportunistically to help overturn the results of his primary defeat.

Lieberman would join what seems to be an emerging majority. Independents are by far the fastest growing group of voters in America. Yet because of their unwillingness to state a party preference, most states deny them a seat at the table on primary day when many elections are effectively decided. Lieberman should turn his extensive talents as a legislator to electoral reforms to promote and accommodate increased voter choice.

One example is instant runoff voting - a liberating reform that already has earned the support of both Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Republican presidential front-runner Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has a history of legislative partnerships with Lieberman. Instant runoff voting has the twin virtues of ensuring winners have majority support from their constituents and allowing voters to consider outsider candidates freed of the "spoiler" role.

With instant runoff voting, voters gain the option to rank candidates in order of preference: first choice and, if they so choose, second and third. If no candidate has a majority of voters' first choices, their ranked ballots are used to determine a majority winner in a series of simulated runoffs. States can use this common-sense method to fold taxpayer-financed primaries where so few people vote into a single majority vote election in November.

Instant runoff voting is resonating across the country. A dozen American cities have adopted it or placed it on the ballot this year; indeed cities and counties with a combined population of more than 1.5 million people may adopt it this year; and North Carolina will soon use it for certain statewide vacancy elections.
Lieberman would enhance his credibility as a statesman and man of principle by linking his re-election bid with a call for such reforms. As matters stand, his maneuver looks like political expediency.

Americans deserve greater freedom of political choice - not just when it serves narrow political interest, but in all elections.
John B. Anderson, a former congressman and presidential candidate, is
chairman of FairVote (