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San Francisco Examiner


Instant runoffs for the future
By David Heller
November 25, 2002

As the initial results of the election rolled in, I was worried that once again the Greens would be blamed for spoiling the Democratic governor's race.

The Democratic Party needs to look at future elections and decide whether it is willing to risk losing an election by not reforming our election laws. Clearly, in a closer race, where the Republicans had a more formidable candidate, the 5.3 percent of the vote Peter Camejo garnered could have spelled the difference between winning and losing.

I could not find a Green Party candidate anywhere in the country that was not promoting Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).

It seems like political consultants and campaign managers are attempting to keep voter turnout as low as possible. Could it be they feel it's easier to poll and manipulate a smaller demographic of people? Could it be they want to dumb down the debate to make it less likely their candidate will slip up?

After the 2000 presidential disaster in Florida, one would think that the Democratic Party would be working feverishly to get IRV across the country to prevent such an event from ever happening again and to affirm that the winner of an election has a majority support of the people.

IRV accomplishes this. It allows voters to rank their ballot with their first, second, third, etc. choice. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote after the first-choice votes are tabulated, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and all those second-choices are retabulated into the remaining candidates. The process is repeated until someone gets over 50 percent of the vote, guaranteeing a majority, rather than a plurality winner and, most importantly, eliminating the spoiler effect.

Voting is a citizen's most powerful form of speech and if we are forced to decide whether to vote for the lesser of two evils or our conscience, our free speech is put under duress. Anyone, left or right, should be allowed to vote their conscience without fear of electing their least-favorite candidate.

Clearly we are in a crisis in America. Far less than half the eligible voters are turning out to cast a ballot. The current system is bankrupt. The people are given less appealing candidates every round of elections.

By giving people a wider choice, by allowing them to vote for someone who thinks like they do, or looks like them or is the same gender, perhaps we will get more minorities and women to the polls. Perhaps it will eventually lead our leaders to become more accountable.

Finally, it will be good for the Democratic Party because the likely outcome of a high voter turnout is that more Democrats will get elected. Who cares if they win with 5 percent or 10 percent of the second choice votes? They still win and so do the third-party candidates and voters who get to express themselves. Who knows, maybe we will eventually get back to the days when we had almost 70 percent turnout.

Our voting system in America has not changed since our country began more than 200 years ago. It is time to bring 21st century ideas and technology to the voting booth.

We need to wrest control of our government back from highly manipulative PR firms and nefarious campaign hucksters. IRV will be a giant stride in that direction.

I urge anyone who cares about the future of the Democratic Party, the right of third party candidates to evenly participate in the electoral process and/or our First Amendment right to free speech, to write their legislators immediately, while the results of this month's election are still fresh in our minds, and urge them to pass legislation which will liberate and empower voters to vote their conscience and rank their ballots according to their preference of candidate.


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