Majority Would Really Rule
March 25, 2002
An offbeat but common-sense
and beneficial election reform idea is spreading across the country:
"Instant Runoff Voting" or IRV.
Voters no longer would be limited
to voting for only one candidate for each office. Instead, they
would be permitted, but not required, to rank two candidates in
order of preference.
Any candidate getting more than half the No. 1
votes becomes the party nominee in a primary election or wins a
general election. If none of three or more candidates gets more than
half the votes cast for No. 1, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated.
Then the preference voting comes into play.
For example: With 100
voters, 46 vote for Smith as No. 1, 44 vote for Clark and 10 for
Jones. Nobody gets more than half the votes cast for No. 1, so Jones
is eliminated as a candidate. But the 10 people who voted for Jones
see their No. 2 candidate choices counted in the "instant runoff."
They give Smith three No. 2 votes and Clark seven No. 2 votes. That
makes Clark the ultimate winner, 51-49.
Critics say IRV could
confuse some voters, especially older people or those not fluent in
English, and invite lawsuits challenging election results.
Supporters, like the Center for Voting and Democracy, the League of
Women Voters and Common Cause, make a more persuasive case:
upholds the concept that an election winner should have majority
voter support. No longer could someone win with a tiny fraction of
IRV increases voter turnout over the usual puny showing
in regular primary runoffs by attracting voters who regard the
election as decisive.
IRV saves taxpayer money by eliminating the
need for separate, expensive runoffs. (Florida had runoff primary
elections in the past, but lawmakers agreed to a one-time experiment
to ban runoffs this year.)
IRV reduces campaign spending by
candidates, and strain on voters, eliminating one election.
deters negative mud-slinging. "Candidates know that winning may
require second-choice votes from opponents' supporters," says law
professor John Anderson of Fort Lauderdale, who chairs the Center
for Voting and Democracy.
On March 5, San Francisco became the
first major U.S. city to adopt instant runoffs for nearly all its
municipal races. That same day, voters at 51 of 54 Vermont town hall
meetings favored IRV. Cambridge, Mass., City Council elections have
used IRV since 1941.
Florida experimented with instant runoffs for
several elections in the early 1900s. State lawmakers now have
plenty of reasons to launch a careful study of IRV's pros and cons,
with an eye toward asking state voters to approve it for all future
city, county and state elections. "Instant runoff voting" means "the
majority really rules" and "every vote counts."