Detroit Free Press
Local Comment: A better
way for state to vote
By Tom Ness
May 29, 2003
running out for Michigan citizens to speak up on how some $28
million to $48 million of federal money is to be spent on new voting
machines mandated for as many as 92 percent of Michigan's voting
precincts by November 2004 under the Help America Vote Act. Passed
in response to the Florida debacle in the 2000 presidential
elections, HAVA provides substantial money to most states for new
voting equipment in an attempt to standardize voting procedures
across the nation.
As a result of the act, voting machines in at
least 26 percent of Michigan's precincts must be replaced before the
next presidential election. According to the Michigan Secretary of
State's Office, the bipartisan HAVA State Plan Advisory Committee
will wrap up a series of public hearings on June 2.
testimony will be accepted indefinitely, but the committee's final
report will be published by the end of June. So those wishing to
comment must act very quickly. (Send testimony to Jeanette Sawyer,
Bureau of Elections, 208 N. Capitol, Lansing, MI 48933.)
Focus on Reforming Elections, a nonpartisan citizen organization
formed in December 2002, has chosen instant runoff voting as its
first general goal.
If the advisory committee recommends voting
machines for Michigan that cannot accommodate instant runoffs, this
popular voting method will effectively be killed even before
Michigan has a chance to consider its merits.
voting, invented in 1870 by an MIT professor, lets voters rank all
their choices (1, 2, 3, and so on). If no candidate gets 51 percent
of the first-choice votes, the one with the lowest score is removed
and all the ballots are counted again. The process repeats until one
candidate has the support of a simple majority. Thus, it guarantees
that the greatest possible percentage of voters are happy on
A growing body of empirical evidence strongly
suggests that instant runoffs lead directly to increased voter
participation. Obviously, they also provide a more precise method of
measuring the electorate's true desires.
In areas that hold runoff
elections, instant runoffs can save millions of dollars by instantly
combining the runoff with the regular election. This eliminates the
problem of "spoiled" elections, in which two candidates who combine
to represent a majority split their vote and deliver victory to a
In the 2000 presidential election, a simple majority of the
country preferred Al Gore to George W. Bush. With instant runoff
voting, most experts agree that Gore would have won with the
eventual support of many voters whose first choice was consumer
activist Ralph Nader.
But those who approach election reform with
partisan intent are not only ethically suspect but also playing a
dangerous game. In '92, most experts agree that with instant
runoffs, President George H.W. Bush would have beaten Bill Clinton,
because of the spoiler role played by Ross Perot.
establish instant runoffs are pending in some 20 state legislatures.
Interest is growing rapidly across the nation, and several Michigan
cities are now considering this voting method. But if the 30 members
of the state committee recommend machines that are incapable of
handling ranked ballots, they will have effectively decided the
issue for all of us.
Happily, all the major voting machine vendors
provide instant runoffs compatibility for little or no extra cost --
if ordered when the machines are originally purchased. Later
upgrades are expensive and often not even possible. Thus, reformers
are begging the state committee to recommend that any new voting
machines be capable of handling ranked ballots.
We're not asking
the committee to take a position for or against ranked voting. It is
not for the committee to decide whether or not ranked voting should
be part of Michigan's future. We merely want the option to remain
open so Michigan voters can decide.