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Take Back America Conference

June 2004

The Center for Voting and Democracy attended the annual "Take Back America Conference" this year to provide information on fair elections. This year our staff focused on showcasing Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s proposed "Right to Vote" amendment and our July 26 event during the Democratic National Convention and on conducting a demonstration election to illustrate the benefits of instant runoff voting (IRV). 

The IRV demonstration election asked participants to select a potential vice-presidential running mate for Sen. John Kerry. The election resulted in a victory for Sen. John Edwards while revealing noteworthy patterns in voter behavior that deserve further analysis.

Attendees cast 128 legitimate ballots conveying their preference for the 10 candidates listed, and various write-ins of their choice. (An additional 45 ballots placing John Edwards first were discarded because they were cast by the same voter.) Edwards ran well ahead on the first count with support of 39% of voters, but lacked a majority. When the  field was reduced to two, Edwards defeated Republican senator John McCain 75% to 25%. The big winner in our IRV demonstration at the Take Back America convention, Governor Howard Dean, finished third.

IRV's impact is to ensure that the winner has majority support (over 50%), or at least acceptance. IRV consolidates all potential runoff elections into a single election through the simple device of allowing voters to rank candidates. (How IRV works).   

Here are a few notes on how to read the charts we have posted on the results. "Election Data and Analysis" explains the elimination of the candidates round-by-round. It shows each candidate's vote increase per round, and uses that number to determine the "winner by round." By comparing each candidate's marginal increase rates per round, that individual candidate's "most successful round" was determined. (Note that John Edwards reached the 64 vote threshold after Round 6, but we continued the IRV counting process after Edwards was declared the winner for the sake of obtaining more information about participants' preferences.).  

"Candidate Trend Charts" graphs the votes for the six strongest candidates by round, demonstrating the trends of vote distribution for each individual candidate. For example, while Howard Dean and Edward's graphs display a somewhat steady upward slope, exhibiting voter consistency round to round, Bill Richardson's and John McCain's slopes plateau in the first few rounds but soar towards the end, revealing the tendency of some voters to rank these candidates towards the end of their sequence, but ahead of the other leading candidates.

"Second Choice Data and Analysis" shows the distribution of the second choice preferences based on a voter's first choice. For example, we see that 12 out of the 50 people who ranked Edwards first, ranked Wesley Clark second. It also shows that Clark collected the most second choice votes at 20 (16%), and candidates like Dick Gephardt and John Lewis who received little first choice support, enjoyed a significant increase in second choice support. Edwards was the first or second choice of 52% of voters.

IRV is a well-established voting system that makes sense for a range of elections. It is already used in Australia and Ireland to elect their legislators. IRV elects the mayor of London, and San Francisco is getting ready to use IRV in their citywide races in November. IRV is a sensible alternative to the current plurality voting system; it eliminates the spoiler problem, ensures that the winner of the election has a majority of the votes and inspires candidates to campaign to be the second choice of other candidates, resulting in less negative campaigns that demonstrate that politics can be a civil sport.     

 


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