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Metro West Daily News

Rader: Support for instant run-off voting

By Ed Rader
July 23, 2002

Did Ralph Nader "spoil" it for Gore? Could Jill Stein "spoil" it for the Democrats in Massachusetts? Could Carla Howell "spoil" it for the Republicans?

If you're a political pragmatist, who sees no substitute for the status quo, your answers are yes, yes and yes.

If you believe in democracy, are willing to vote your convictions and let the chips fall where they may, then the answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO!

The very notion that one candidate could spoil it for another is as undemocratic as could be. It assumes that one candidate has more intrinsic right to your vote than another does.

It is our voting system that caters to two parties and makes voters fearful of voting their convictions that is spoiled. It is a system of elections in which ever growing numbers feel coerced into holding their nose and voting for the lesser of two evils that stinks to high heaven.

But a fresh breeze of reform is rolling across the country, from San Francisco to Vermont. From Utah to Cambridge, and up to Alaska. It's called instant run-off voting (IRV) and it is the wave of the future.

IRV allows for better voter choice and encourages wider voter participation by accommodating multiple candidates in single seat races and assuring that a "spoiler" effect will not result in undemocratic outcomes. Instant runoff voting allows all voters to vote for their favorite candidate without fear of helping elect their least favorite candidate, and it ensures that the winner enjoys true support from a majority of the voters.

IRV asks voters to rank candidates as their first choice, second choice, third, fourth and so on. If a candidate does not receive a clear majority of votes on the first count, a series of runoff counts are conducted, using each voter's top choice indicated on the ballot.

To illustrate, assume in a four way race, the Republican finished ahead with 40 percent of the vote, the Democrat second with 35 percent, a Green with 20 percent, and a Libertarian with 5 percent. For the sake of discussion, assume all those voting for the Green candidate as their first choice voted for the Democrat as their second choice. and that all those voting for the Libertarian voted Republican as their second choice. The Libertarian would be eliminated first, and their 5 percent would go to the Republican. Then the 20 percent of the vote going to the Green candidate would be reassigned to the Democrat. The final result is the Democrat with 55 percent of the vote over the Republican's 45 percent. The result is that a candidate would be elected by majority vote, and the victory of the candidate most people liked least was avoided.

The seeking of voters second choices discourages candidates from engaging in negative campaigning, and assures a more productive, positive election dialogue among candidates. Why throw mud on a candidate that you know will be your constiutiencies second choice? Why besmirch the frontrunner when you are trying to build up a solid, supportive base for future campaigns?

IRV allows third, fourth, and fifth parties to be heard. It opens up the electoral process to new voices. Most important of all, it gives the more than half of voters who stay home even for Presidential elections a reason to vote.

Rob Richie, director of the Center for Voting and Democracy, commented, "Even as Congress moves toward apparent passage of bills to ban soft money in campaigns and modernize the way we run elections, the thirst for a better democracy will continue. In cities and states around the nation, democracy advocates are involved in new efforts to improve our politics. Instant runoff voting is an essential component of the future of reform."

In San Francisco, IRV has been implemented with the support of Democrats, Greens and Libertarians. In Utah, the Republican Party has chosen to elect candidates using IRV. More than 50 cities and towns use it in Vermont, and 12 states have IRV bills pending.

Isn't it time that the state where "the shot heard around the world" joined this new democratic revolution?

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Copyright 2002 The Center for Voting and Democracy
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