New Jersey Star-Ledger
way around runoffs
May 11, 2002
There ought to
be a better way to decide our elections than having a runoff several
weeks later. In fact, there may be a better alternative in place
already. A system that has been used for years in Ireland and
Australia is getting its first American tryout in San Francisco, and
this will bear close watching.
There are several arguments against
runoffs, which are used at many election levels. One is that they
are extremely expensive. Another is that they often produce voter
apathy and results that are to no one's liking.
If you want to know
how bad a result a system of runoff elections can produce, look at
the recent experience in France. Voters assumed that the presidency
would be decided in a runoff election between Jacques Chirac and
Lionel Jospin, and few went to the polls in the initial round. As a
result, Jospin was edged out by the extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen for
a place in the runoff.
Newark's May 14 mayoral election is unlikely
to end in a runoff, but this is not entirely out of the question. If
so, the second round would not be until June 11. Do we really want
another month of this acrimonious campaign?
One answer to the
runoff is a system of weighted voting now being tried in San
Francisco. Voters in a race of more than two candidates would select
their first, second and third choices. The low vote getter in the
field would be eliminated and the second- place votes on his line
added to the votes for the other candidates. If a voter's first and
second choices are eliminated, his third choice would be applied to
the remaining candidates. The process would be repeated until there
was a winner with more than 50 percent of the vote.
It's not a
perfect system, to be sure. In the beginning, it might produce voter
confusion. There are advantages, however, that make it worth
watching and deserving of consideration for use in other places --
including New Jersey.