A More Perfect Union:
Advancing New American
Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.,
with Frank Watkins
From Chapter Nineteen:
Politics (Pages 438-441)
Robert Richie, executive director
of the Center for Voting and Democracy, proposes an additional idea:
instant runoff voting (IRV). In the general election, IRV would
allow voters to rank candidates in their order of preference rather
than simply voting for one candidate. The highest turnout in the
world among nations without compulsory voting has been in Malta,
where they use an IRV-type system of proportional representation,
and turnout has been more than 95 percent in recent elections. Of
countries with compulsory voting, Australia has had the highest
turnout, also with IRV. Because many Americans are fed up with
voting for the lesser of two evils, they are either not voting or
looking for a third party alternative. Richie suggests, as a first
step, changing the rules of our political elections that usually
keep voters from taking independent candidates seriously.
As used in Ireland, Australia and
London, IRV requires the winner of an election to earn a majority of
votes-unlike Clinton in 1992 or Bush in 2000. Voters rank
candidates, in case their favorite candidate is eliminated, in which
case the votes of the candidate's supporters count for their second
choice in an instant runoff that is accomplished through the voting
equipment in an immediate second tally. This process continues until
one candidate earns a majority of the votes.
For example, in 2000 progressive
voters might have chosen Ralph Nader as their first choice and Gore
second, with conservatives selecting Buchanan first and Bush second.
Buchanan finished last, so he would be eliminated, but his voter's
ballots would be assigned to those voters' runoff choices, most
likely Bush. That would not have given Bush a majority, however, so
Nader's voters' second choice would then be awarded, most likely to
Gore. In 2000 Gore would have gained a majority and won. This simple
change for greater voter choice would allow for a different method
of tabulating results. The candidate with the most first-place votes
would not automatically win as he or she does under the present
plurality system. Instead, a candidate would need a
50-percent-plus-one majority to win. Such a winning democratic
majority would also provide a mandate to govern.
The most recent IRV election in
the United States occurred in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Democratic
and Human Rights Parties had been splitting votes, allowing
Republicans to win. The Human Rights Party was the antiwar and more
progressive party, and the people adopted IRV in a 1974 charter
amendment. It was first used in the mayoral election of 1975. In
that election the Republicans won 49 percent of the first choices,
the Democrat won about 40 percent, and the Human Rights Party
candidate won the rest. The Democratic candidate eventually won
because nearly all the backers of the Human Rights Part candidate
ranked the Democrat as their runoff choice. As a result, Albert
Wheeler became the first black mayor in the city's history.
Conservative Republicans, of course, went ballistic, primarily
blaming the new voting system for their loss, and they were able to
repeal IRV in a 1976 special election. But IRV could just as easily
work in the Republicans' favor in other circumstances. For example,
if IRV had been in place nationally in 1992, Bush likely would have
defeated Clinton. But without it, Perot probably cost Bush the
election. In Ann Arbor the majority of voters won in 1975. In 1992,
nationally, the majority of voters and democracy conceivably lost.
And of course, the same thing happened in the presidential election
of 2000, with Gore actually receiving the most votes.
IRV is the system used to elect
the Australian parliament and the Irish president. It could be
adopted by states and cities for all elections, from city council
and school board elections to state legislative and federal
congressional races. With IRV, our politics would take a strong step
toward what democracy should be all about: majority rule, providing
voters with real choices, encouraging debate on issues, and building
coalitions among people.
If in 2004 or beyond a popular
progressive Democrat ran for president on a third-party ticket in
the general election, I believe that many currently frustrated
progressive and liberal Democrats and other so-called disinterested
voters would have a reason to vote and would. But almost all
Democrats fear that such a candidacy would split the Democratic vote
and allow a Republican to win-as was the case with Ralph Nader and
the Green Party in 2000. IRV is the way to eliminate that fear.
With IRV, for example, a Ralph
Nader candidacy would help beat the Republican candidates, not hurt
Democrats. Nader would bring progressives out to vote, and they
would likely list other Democrats as their second and third choices.
Likewise, a Pat Buchanan candidacy would help to galvanize
conservatives and neo-Confederates, and with their second and third
choices would likely choose the most conservative Republicans on the
ticket-which would help Republicans defeat Democrats, not hurt Republicans.
IRV would encourage a more
diverse range of candidates to run and thereby help remedy a flaw in
the current system: Many citizens feel left out by its limitations.
This more inclusive process would give voters a greater reason to
vote, with an increased chance of their vote counting toward a
winner. By opening the field to more choices, which, according to
polls, a majority of Americans would welcome, IRV could help to lift
voter turnout in the United States.
[Note: Congressman Jackson below
references that instant runoff voting cannot be enacted for
president by statute. This refers to national action by Congress.
States have the power to enact IRV for federal elections in their state]
It would take a constitutional
amendment to make IRV applicable when electing a U.S. president.
However, IRV could be introduced nationwide by a simple statute for
electing members to Congress, legislation that I have introduced. It
could also be implemented by state and municipal legislatures for
state and local elections. Some states would need to find new ways
to tabulate ballots, but such a one-time reform would be a small
price to pay in exchange for providing democratic majority rule and
engaging the electorate in what is the most important public choice
they will make-who will represent their interests when it comes to
dividing up the economic pie. Such technical infrastructure advances
in our voting procedures would cost additional dollars, so I have
introduced federal legislation to pay for these additional costs.
With a wider choice of
candidates, voters would not have to choose between the "lesser of
two evils." There would be increased voter participation because no
one need fear that his or her vote is going to elect someone with a
dramatically different ideology or platform. The candidate preferred
by a majority of the voters would win. And the winner would have a
bigger mandate to govern.
Let me illustrate how instant
runoff voting works using two examples of 100 voters:
• Assume in 2004 that Gore was
the first choice of 43 voters, Bush the first choice of 37 voters,
Ventura the first choice of 11 voters and Nader the first choice of
9 voters. As the lowest vote getter, Nader would be eliminated, but
8 of his voters chose Gore and 1 chose Ventura as their second
choice. Ventura would now have 12 votes, Bush would still have 43
votes, and Gore would now have 51 voters, a majority, and would be
declared the winner.
• Assume that in 2004, as above,
Gore got 43 votes, Bush 37, Nader was the first choice of 11 voters,
and Ventura the first choice of 9 voters. As the lowest vote getter,
Ventura would be eliminated, but 7 of his voters chose Bush and 2
chose Nader as their second choice. Bush would now have 44 votes,
not a majority, but the lead over Gore, who remains at 43 votes.
Bush could still not be declared the majority winner, and Nader
would now have 13 votes. Nader now becomes the lowest vote getter
and is eliminated, but all 11 of his first choice voters chose Gore
as their second choice; also, the 2 Ventura voters who chose Nader
as their second choice, chose Bush as their third choice. Bush would
now have 46 votes. Gore would be declared the winner by garnering a
majority with 54 votes.
[Table shows prospective instant
runoff voting elections for 2004 based on the above examples]