Would runoff system be worthwhile here?

By The Capital Editorial Board
Published November 14th 2005 in The Annapolis Capital
LAST TUESDAY Takoma Park voters approved a new voting system that in some elections would allow voters to rank candidates for office instead of voting for just one. If the city council changes Takoma Park's charter, as expected, the city will become one of only a few places in the country - and the first in Maryland - with instant runoff voting.

Would it work in Annapolis? Interest in it might be spurred by last week's mayoral election, won by incumbent Mayor Ellen Moyer because she had more votes than the other two candidates - but not a majority.

Under the instant runoff procedure, voters in a race with three or more candidates, if they want, indicate a second choice on their ballots. If one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes, the election is over and the second choices don't matter. If no one gets more than 50 percent, there's another round of counting in which the candidate who got the fewest first-choice votes is dropped, and the second choices made by his voters are assigned to the remaining candidates.

The process continues until one candidate gets more than 50 percent. It's the functional equivalent of having a runoff - without holding a second election.

The process is intended to prevent a candidate from running just to divide votes that might otherwise go to a challenger. In Annapolis' case, one could argue that Republican George Kelley was the spoiler for Independent Gil Renaut's campaign. Actually, we are certain Mr. Kelley didn't run to prevent Mr. Renaut from winning, but we can see how something like that could happen someday.

We're not arguing in favor of such a change in Annapolis. But if voters here feel strongly that no mayor should take office without a majority of votes - the view of 84 percent of Takoma Park's voters - then such a procedure is worth a look.