Understanding the instant runoff

By Martin Dyckman
Published June 8th 2003
More bad news from Tallahassee: They're going to go without runoff primaries yet again next year. If Bob Graham, who's running for president, doesn't seek re-election to his U.S. Senate seat, a dozen or more people may make the race. A runoff is the only insurance against the extreme wings of the major parties controlling the nominations, which would leave more than 6-million voters with utterly dismal choices in November.

The excuse this time is the same as in 2002: Florida's costly new voting systems may count votes more accurately, but they take longer to prepare.

The supervisors of elections do make a compelling case that they can't do it right with only four-week intervals between a primary, a runoff and a general election. That problem could be overcome, however, by holding the first primary before Labor Day rather than after, but the Legislature is not exactly wild about voting in August.

Why not try an instant runoff? It ought to be easy to manage with all those new computers and optical scanners, and would cost far less than a conventional runoff without imposing any significant extra demands on the supervisors.

Some legislators are interested in this option, but the leaders who could make it happen say it's too arcane for the public.

That's a dodge. Instant runoff voting is no more complex than saying what flavor of ice cream you want if they happen to be out of chocolate. Instant runoffs are used to elect the Australian House of Representatives, the mayor of London, the president of Ireland, and in hundreds of other public and corporate situations. The voter simply marks a second choice at the same time as the first. What is there about it that's so hard for Florida legislators to understand?