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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Majority Would Really Rule
Editorial Board
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:

IRV upholds the concept that an election winner should have majority voter support. No longer could someone win with a tiny fraction of votes cast.

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.

And IRV 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."

 
 
 
 
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Copyright 2002 The Center for Voting and Democracy
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