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The Oregonian Web Site

"It's easy being Green"

Xander Patterson

May 7, 2001

It seems David Sarasohn thinks Ralph Nader and the Greens are heretics who should be burned at the stake for daring to participate in our electoral democracy ("For Bush, Nader can't do enough," April 25).

He has a point. Under our current first-by-the-post plurality voting system, Greens are often relegated to the role of "spoiler." The same is true for all "third" parties. Libertarians have spoiled more congressional races for Republicans than Greens have for Democrats. But it is not minor parties who are spoiling the system. It's the system itself that is spoiled.

Dimpled chads are the least of our problems. Worse is our plurality voting system's insane logic, by which a vote for Nader is transformed into a vote for Bush, or a vote for Perot into a vote for Clinton. Thus, voters concoct wild schemes like trading a vote in a safe state for a vote in a contested one. Or they wait until the last minute to see if it is safe to vote their conscience. Ultimately, many feel tortured into voting for a lesser of two evils they do not, in their hearts, support.

That's not what democracy looks like.

Fortunately, there is a simple electoral reform that will solve the spoiler issue and restore a modicum of sanity to our system. It's called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).

Under IRV, voters rank the candidates on the ballot in order of preference rather than choose just one. If no candidate receives a majority of first choice votes, a runoff election is held "instantly," without the need (and expense) of another election, by eliminating the candidate with the least votes and transferring his or her votes to the next choice marked on each ballot. These runoffs continue until a candidate obtains a clear majority.

The benefits of IRV are clear: No spoilers, no wasted votes, every winner get a majority and a mandate -- unlike our last two presidents. IRV benefits all major and minor parties across the political spectrum. Above all, it benefits the voters.

IRV is not some new, untested idea. In 1908, our forebears passed an initiative to amend Oregon's constitution to explicitly permit IRV. Australia has been using IRV for 75 years, Ireland for 50, and London just adopted it a couple of years ago. The American Association of Political Scientists uses it to elect their officers. Eugene's City Council just came out in support of IRV. Fair Vote Oregon (Favor ) has filed an initiative to finally implement IRV in all Oregon elections.

Unlike Sarasohn, most Americans want more choices than just the Republicans and Democrats. They want a debate with a wider range of views than just how big a tax cut to give the rich and whether we should gut the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty as Clinton did, or simply withdraw from it. We want the option of voting for a candidate who questions whether we should surrender our jobs, our environment and our national sovereignty to corporate managed global trade through the WTO and FTAA. We won't get that choice until our electoral process allows new parties to compete fairly in a free market of political ideas.

The fact is the Pacific Green Party is not going away. Contrary to what Sarasohn may think, the last election was a tremendous success for the Greens. We are the fastest growing party in Oregon, the United States, and indeed the entire world. Instead of grousing about how Greens are "spoiling" the democratic process, Sarasohn and all Oregonians -- Democrats, Republicans and others -- should join us in fixing it.

Xander Patterson is co-chair, Pacific Green Party


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