By Howard Ditkoff
In the shadow of a dismal election season, Greens may find solace
in the growing awareness of and momentum for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).
On Nov. 2, the system was used in San Francisco for the first time
to help fill several supervisor seats and will be used in the future
to elect most of the cityĺ─˘s key officials. Early polling shows a
high level of satisfaction with the system among the cityĺ─˘s
Meanwhile, IRV made gains in three other locales Nov. 2. In
Ferndale, Mich., Proposal B passed by a margin of 70 percent,
providing for IRV in future mayoral and city council elections.
Burlington, Vermont voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum
advising IRVĺ─˘s use to elect their mayor, while 68 percent of
voters in 16 western Massachusetts towns approved a nonbinding
motion in support of IRV.
IRV is best known for solving the ĺ─˙spoilerĺ─¨ problem that
perennially plagues third-party candidates, who receive more
attention for their potentially detrimental effect on the major
party candidates than for their own platforms. The ĺ─˙spoilerĺ─¨
label serves to demean and dismiss third-party candidates in races
at all levels of the U.S. electoral system. ĺ─˙Many party Democrats
Iĺ─˘ve spoken to are comfortable with simply labeling the Greens as
ĺ─˛spoilersĺ─˘ as a way to marginalize us,ĺ─¨ said Maine State
Representative John Eder, also a member of Greens for Impact (GFI),
a group of elected Greens who have promoted IRV in a series of
editorials. ĺ─˙Iĺ─˘m introducing legislation for IRV because many of
my constituents are Democrats and they want to give the Greens a
chance to lead but they fear theyĺ─˘ll wind up with Republicans.ĺ─¨
Providence, R.I., Councilmember David Segal, chair of GFI, adds,
ĺ─˙People wonĺ─˘t vote Greenĺ─ţrightfullyĺ─ţuntil they feel safe
IRV is used in London, Ireland and Australia and allows voters to
rank the candidates 1-2-3, etc., rather than simply choose their one
favorite candidate. If no candidate wins a majority of votes on the
first count, the last place candidate is eliminated, and all ballots
are counted again. The process continues until one candidate has a
majority of the votes and is declared the winner.
IRV increases voter turnout, encourages more candidates to run
for office, promotes positive issue-based campaigns, and discourages
mudslinging among candidates who are competing for second- and
third-place votes from each othersĺ─˘ supporters. IRV also more
accurately gauges the true level of support for candidates, since
voters no longer fear that voting for their favorite candidate may
help elect his or her political opposite.
The IRV advances this year build on the momentum gained by Berkeley,
Calif., which passed Measure I by a margin of 72 percent, enabling
future use of IRV. And the issue went national in October, when U.S.
Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Il.) introduced H.R. 5293, the
Majority Vote Act of 2004, which would require states to conduct
general elections for federal office using IRV.
Many Greens recognize the strategic priority of achieving further
IRV successes. ĺ─˙Building a campaign around IRV is, in and of
itself, a way to grow the party. And structural reforms like IRV are
the most important investment we can make in our partyĺ─˘s
future,ĺ─¨ Segal said.
Other notable Greens such as California gubernatorial candidate
Peter Camejo and former San Francisco Board of Supervisors president
Matt Gonzalez have continuously made IRV a key component in their
speeches, writings, and campaigns.
To take their advice, Greens must elevate the issue to the top of
their agenda and find common ground with democracy activists of all
political persuasions. Ferndale Councilmember Craig Covey,
intimately familiar with the current systemĺ─˘s Green-Democrat
antagonism as a member of both parties, was an early and strong
advocate of IRV in that city. ĺ─˙Collaboration and coalition
building with leaders and citizens of all parties for particular
issues important to Greens can lead to success,ĺ─¨ Covey said.
ĺ─˙IRV received broad support throughout Ferndale from Democrats,
liberals, Greens, moderates, and independents.ĺ─¨
Green presidential candidate David Cobb, who touted IRVĺ─˘s
merits at every chance on the campaign trail this year, agrees.
ĺ─˙We need to recognize the value of working in coalition with other
people and other political parties to achieve our mutual goals of a
more democratic electoral process.ĺ─¨
Cobb is hopeful: ĺ─˙The Green Party is not going away. We are
getting bigger, stronger and better organized in every election
cycle. What some people call ĺ─˛spoiling,ĺ─˘ we call participating.
The problem isnĺ─˘t that there are too many candidates running for
office; the problem is an electoral system which forces people to
vote against what they hate instead of for what they want. Instant
runoff voting is the solution for this problem.ĺ─¨
Howard Ditkoff coordinated the IRV campaign in Ferndale, Mich.
He can be reached at [email protected].
For more info visit www.fairvote.org/irv/