time, money with instant runoffs
By Rob Richie and
April 11, 2002
Congress has been debating ways to
improve elections in the country, but our cities and states do not
have to wait. They can implement an important reform -- instant
runoffs -- that could save taxpayers money and time. San Francisco
has pointed the way, and Atlanta and Georgia should follow.
March 5, San Francisco voted to replace traditional "delayed" runoff
elections for its major offices with instant runoff voting.
runoff voting is new to many in the United States, but it was
invented by an American in 1870. Voters indicate both their favorite
and their runoff choices by ranking candidates: first choice, second
and so on. If no candidate wins a majority, the weak candidates are
eliminated. The second choice of those who voted for the eliminated
candidates is added, and this process continues until someone gets a
Used for major elections in Australia, Ireland and Great
Britain, IRV permits candidates to win with majority support in one
election. We especially need it in Georgia because we rely on
delayed runoffs in local and primary elections and in general
elections for statewide office if no candidate receives 45 percent.
Instant runoff voting not only will save San Francisco
approximately $2 million a year, but it will also weaken the
influence of special-interest contributors, promote higher voter
turnout and remove incentives for negative campaigning.
IRV would have numerous benefits
Candidates are less likely to be indebted to
special-interest contributors. Right now, candidates often fight
to make the runoff and then find their campaigns strapped for
cash. One only has to recall the 1997 Atlanta mayoral election,
when candidates were desperate to raise money. This scamble for
cash all too easily leads to ethical abuses.
All votes will count, and the winner gets a
majority. By combining the two rounds of the runoff, IRV ensures
maximum turnout in one decisive election. In traditional runoffs,
voter turnout typically drops in the second election. In the U.S.
Senate runoff in 1992 between Wyche Fowler and Paul Coverdell,
voter turnout dropped by nearly a million voters from the November
election to the December runoff.
Georgia's new electronic voting machines can make it
even easier for voters to rank candidates. Instant runoff voting
saves taxpayer money, helps clean up campaigns and ensures majority
rule with maximum participation. Let's not wait for Congress to pass
election reform. Let's hope the Georgia Legislature and governor
will take the lead in adopting instant runoff voting in state
elections and make it an option for local elections.
Rob Richie is executive
director of the Center for Voting and Democracy. Robert Pastor is
professor of political science at Emory University and president of
Common Cause Georgia.