Instant runoff: A voting method worthy of
July 5, 2001
Any election is about votes, but the Minneapolis city election
this year could offer an interesting twist: It could include a
public debate about how to vote -- or, more precisely, how
best to register and count votes in races involving more than two
A petition drive is in progress that could put on the Minneapolis
ballot this fall a switch to a voting method called "instant runoff
voting" in future city elections.
It is a voting method that allows voters to rank candidates in
order of preference, as many or as few as they like. Votes for the
candidate with the fewest first-choice votes are redistributed
according to their second choices, until one candidate achieves a
majority or, in the case of multiseat elections, passes the
threshold needed for election. The consequences are much the same as
conducting a runoff election, without the time and expense of
opening the polls for a second time.
Instant runoff voting has been used in various democracies around
the world since the mid-1800s. But it has not caught on in the
United States because most elections here have been two-way contests
-- until recently.
The rise of serious third-party candidates -- Gov. Jesse Ventura
most prominent among them -- is propelling new interest in the
method. It would enable third-party voters to redirect their votes
to the alternative candidate of their choice, should their candidate
not emerge on top. No more would they be accused of casting a
"wasted vote," or of playing the spoiler.
Instant runoff voting has detractors, too, particularly among
those who want to maintain two-party dominance in American politics.
Instant runoff voting encourages more choices but also results in a
winner who can claim majority support.
The merits and defects of instant runoff voting will become
matters of public debate, if the petition drive led by a coalition
of election reformers and third-party activists succeeds in landing
a voting-method charter change on the November ballot. It would be a
debate worth having. Minneapolis voters can help make it happen by
contacting David Kaminsky at 612-331-1681, or at [email protected].