the next Florida fiasco
By Neil Davis
July 12, 2001
What if someone invented a system that would
have eliminated much of the controversy surrounding the chaotic
presidential election? How about a way to remove all doubt about for
whom a voter intended to cast a ballot? Or what about a method that
would have let Nader lovers cast their third-party votes without
fear of helping George W. Bush into the White House? Stop the press.
There is a system that could have solved these problems and others,
and it's been around for almost 100 years.
Instant runoff voting
is a process that avoids third-party controversy, saves money and
ensures that winners are supported by a majority of voters. IRV's
benefits are so clear that it is being currently being considered
for both Austin and UT student government elections. Instant runoff voting
is a system that allows voters to rank candidates in order of
preference. If no candidate earns a clear majority, the votes are
recounted, with the candidate who received the fewest first-place
ballots being eliminated. Ballots are retabulated, with each ballot
equaling a vote for the voter's favorite candidate who has yet to be
eliminated. If a person's top-ranked candidate is already gone,
their vote goes to their second choice, otherwise it remains with
their first. The process is repeated until a single candidate
emerges with a majority. This eliminates the so-called "spoiler
effect" of third-party candidates. In the 2000 presidential election
almost 3 million Green Party supporters were faced with the dilemma
of aiding George W. Bush by voting for Ralph Nader. Had IRV been in
place, Nader voters could simply have ranked Al Gore as their second
choice, and he would have received their vote in the decisive
IRV thus would allow
people to cast their ballot based on conscience rather than
No one worth their salt
will argue that IRV does not save money. Since a close race is
settled by voters' second and third choices, there is no need for
expensive runoffs. This would be especially relevant for the
University, given that the large number of candidates for top SG
offices usually necessitates runoffs. Last semester's runoff
elections cost the university around $6,000 for staffing costs,
parking and advertising. While this figure may not seem significant,
at least this much is thrown away every year a runoff takes place.
Over a 10-year period that $60,000 could hire at least one
professor, or two custodial workers, to help alleviate the dreadful
understaffing at those positions.
In addition, IRV is
easily compatible with current proposals such as Internet voting.
While changing voting infrastructure is usually an expensive
proposition, IRV could be programmed into the voting program, making
the cost of the transition negligible.
Perhaps the biggest
advantage of IRV is the assurance that candidates will no longer
slip into office without majority support from the electorate. Under
the current plurality system, a single ideological force can sweep a
candidate into office provided they have a large enough voting
block. This leads to disproportionate influence by groups such as
the elderly, the religious right or unions. Each holds tremendous
influence in certain areas of the country, where their stamp of
approval can be enough to single-handedly turn an election.
Once voters are given
the power to rank candidates, the power of any one group goes down
tremendously. Any candidate who panders to a single group runs the
risk of alienating the rest of the electorate, who consequently will
rank the candidate lower on their ballot, costing them the election.
Thus IRV makes candidates look out for the interests of all voters
rather than a few.
a time when voting methods are under increasing scrutiny, IRV
presents simple solutions for complex problems. It manages to
protect the integrity of the democratic process while providing an
inexpensive and efficient solution to problems both past and
present. There is no better time than now to institute reform, after
all, does anyone want a recount in