Instant runoff: It's a better way to vote
A good idea being touted by several of Minnesota's "third"
parties is still a good idea, even though those parties failed to
score any world-shocking victories in last week's election.
idea is "instant runoff voting," a vote-by-number system that is
particularly well suited to multicandidate elections. It gives
voters the option of expressing a second choice in a field of three
or more candidates. If a voter's first-choice candidate comes in
third or lower, that voter's second choice is counted. The sorting
of ballots by second choices continues until one candidate has
achieved a 50 percent-plus-one vote majority.
consider last week's election for governor. Republican Tim Pawlenty
won with 44.4 percent of the vote in a race that included four
major-party and three-minor party candidates. In an instant runoff
system, that total would not have been sufficient for victory. But
it's likely that when the second choices of people who voted for the
five candidates who finished in third place or below were tallied,
Pawlenty still would have achieved a majority of more than 50
In other elections, the presidential election of 2000 for
example, instant runoff voting would allow people who favor someone
like Ralph Nader to vote their conscience without fearing they might
be helping elect the candidate who least reflects their views.
instant runoff voting would have produced the same result in this
year's governor's race, why try it? Here's why: Candidates must
appeal to a majority of voters to win. A plurality isn't good
enough. Speaking to and for only a narrow base of voters won't cut
Candidates in two-way races have always known as much. That
knowledge is behind the politicians' two-step that is so familiar to
American voters -- move toward one's ideological base to be
nominated, move away from it to be elected. That's not a cynical
dance; it's a necessary and important one. The majority-wins
requirement of two- party politics has served this country well,
producing governments of pragmatism and moderation.
parties give way to three or more, as has happened in Minnesota, a
majority vote is no longer needed to win. Neither is majority
appeal. The assent of a little more than one-third of those voting
was sufficient to elect the current governor. It's not hard to
imagine a future election that might be won with the votes of an
even smaller slice of the electorate.
The better way to guarantee
majority rule, some will say, is to discourage third parties. Make
it more difficult for them to receive public campaign funds. Make
filing for office more onerous. Further, some will predict that,
after last week's poor showing, the Independence and Green parties
will fade away before the next general election.
We doubt that
Minnesota's third parties can be so easily discouraged. This state's
tradition of political ferment is too well established, and voters'
desire for wider choice too evident, for those whose ideas lie
outside the two-party mainstream to fall silent. The inspiration
they can draw from Independence Gov. Jesse Ventura's 1998 victory
will long outlast his tenure as governor.
Rather than trying to
stifle third parties, the Legislature would do well to adjust state
election law so that multiparty politics can be practiced without
sacrificing the benefits of majority rule. Instant runoff voting
would nicely serve that goal.