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Daily Herald

Just because majority of voters hate you, it doesn't mean you can't win
By Burt Constable
March 14, 2002

Democrats could go to the polls Tuesday and elect a governor candidate the overwhelming majority of party members didn't support. The GOP could hand the nomination to a gubernatorial candidate most Republicans shunned. Consider these possible scenarios:

Buoyed by a turnout of abortion rights advocates, Corinne Wood takes 34 percent of Tuesday's Republican primary vote to upset Jim Ryan and Pat O'Malley, who each capture 33 percent of the vote. This would mean the abortion rights candidate wins even though two out of every three Republicans cast votes against her.

Meanwhile, Paul Vallas captures 34 percent of the Democratic vote to win the nomination even though 66 percent of his party preferred Rod Blagojevich or Roland Burris.

The bottom line would be that we enter the general election with two candidates who couldn't even win support from 40 percent of their own party members, many of whom actually donated money that was used for TV commercials blasting the eventual winners.

And we wonder why voter turnout is low.

"I don't think that strengthens our democracy," says John Anderson, the popular 10-term Illinois congressman who left the Republican Party to wage an invigorating third-party campaign for the White House in 1980 as an independent candidate against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. "People aren't turning out. People aren't voting. And we need to change that."

For the last decade, Anderson has been a leader in an election reform movement that promises to curb attack ads, increase voter turnout and ensure that the winning candidates actually garner more than 50 percent of the vote. Called Instant Runoff Voting, the process won approval from voters in San Francisco and Vermont earlier this month.

"We are tremendously heartened by those victories," says Anderson, who just celebrated his 80th birthday with a party in his hometown of Rockford. A bill before the Illinois Senate, sponsored by Chicago Democrat Barack Obama, would establish instant runoff for primary elections in Illinois and permit cities to use it to decide mayoral contests.

"I think it would be a tremendous boost and encourage a lot of people who think voting is a waste of time," Anderson says. "It would broaden the debate, bring ideas ... and increase the vitality and strength of our democracy."

Under Instant Runoff Voting, voters rank the candidates. If no candidate wins the majority of the votes, the candidate who finishes last would be eliminated and the second-place votes on those ballots would be counted. This continues until one candidate captures more than 50 percent of the vote.

In 1992, Americans who voted for Ross Perot essentially "wasted" their votes on a third-place candidate. Had the instant runoff system been in place in 1992, the nearly 20 million Americans who voted for Perot would have seen their second choices counted. Without instant runoff, Bill Clinton won the election with 43 percent of the vote.

In 2000, supporters of third-party candidate Ralph Nader faced the same dilemma, and George W. Bush won with less than 48 percent of the vote.

"With Instant Runoff Voting, the 93,000 Florida residents who voted for Nader, of which I was one, would not have had to wait 36 days for a Supreme Court decision to tell us who won," quips Anderson, who teaches classes in the electoral process and constitutional law at Nova Southeastern University Law School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"This is the time to ask for Instant Runoff Voting," notes Rob Richie, executive director of The Center for Voting & Democracy, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit agency that advocates election reform. As states update and reform the election machinery, the idea of touch- screen computer voting, which reduces errors and makes Instant Runoff Voting ridiculously easy, is gaining momentum. For more information on Instant Runoff Voting, check out the Web site

"The idea is totally sound. It really makes a reality out of the notion a candidate should be elected by a majority," says Anderson, who captured 6.6 percent of the vote in 1980 but clearly lost votes from supporters who didn't want to "waste" their vote.

"I don't think I would have affected the outcome really," Anderson says when asked how he would have fared with Instant Runoff Voting. "But it would have given some people the satisfaction of voting for the candidate they thought was best for the job."

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