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Metrowest Daily News

Proposed Voting System is Exercise in Free Speech
By Jill Stein
December 10, 2002

Jill Stein is a physician and was the Green Party candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in 2002.

As election day approached this year, the Democratic Party called out its
big guns to warn voters who were leaning toward voting for me that they would "throw their votes away" if they voted their beliefs. Mitt Romney was portrayed as a slick villain against whom the only defense was to elect Shannon O'Brien. Polls - later shown to be inaccurate - were cited to show that the race would be so close that even a handful of votes could decide the winner.

Many reporters were quick to take up the Democratic fear campaign, though it relied on a misleading comparison to the presidential election of 2000. In truth, Massachusetts is a world apart from that election because the Democrats in this state - unlike those in Congress - have an 85 percent, veto-proof legislative majority that can pass any law, implement anybudget, and override any veto.

Thus the implied risk of a perilous, Bush-like concentration of power in
the executive was misleading. Furthermore, the fear campaign implied that the election of a Democratic Beacon Hill insider was the answer to a myriad of problems caused in large part by the failures of Democratic Beacon Hill insiders. 

In fact, the Democratic legislature has presided over growing crises in
health care, housing, the environment and the economy for a decade - while enacting costly favors for their big campaign donors. Clearly the real problem in Massachusetts politics is not the political party of the
governor, but the stranglehold of big money all over Beacon Hill. 

Many voters who succumbed to the campaign of fear are now confronted with the disturbing irony that they indeed "wasted their votes". They didn't stop the "greater of two evils." Even worse, they were lured into political silence as their protest vote was twisted into an endorsement of a Beacon Hill insider and Finneran ally. Consequently, Beacon Hill leaders have been allowed to falsely claim that the electorate has uniformly lurched to the right. Declaring that Shannon O'Brien's centrist positions were too liberal for the electorate, they now assert a conservative mandate. Sadly, the stage is set for the Democratic legislature and Republican governor to collaborate in a massive slashing of programs for health, housing, education, and the environment - while preserving tax breaks for their well-connected campaign donors.

If the public had been allowed to hear a response to the misleading
"spoiler" argument, more voters might well have seen fit to vote their conscience. A stronger voice of opposition in the gubernatorial election would have put politicians of all stripes on notice that they could no longer ignore pressing public needs - for economic opportunity, fair taxes, a safe environment, universal health care, and campaign finance reform - without facing a growing challenge at the polls.

The 2002 gubernatorial election gives us a good reason to take a hard look at a voting system that makes it possible for voters to vote their conscience without fear. It's called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). Used in citiesacross the U.S. and countries around the world, IRV allows voters to rank their choices rather than voting simply for one candidate. If your first choice loses, your vote is reassigned to your second choice. For example, a progressive supporter could have voted for me knowing that her vote would transfer to her second choice (presumably O'Brien) if I came in third.

An election is about a lot more than just who finally wins the contested
office. It's also about openly debating public policy and allowing voters
to send a message to their government. In that way, casting a vote is a lot
like exercising free speech. 

No voter should have to fear voting for the candidate that best represents his views. Before the next election, we should show respect for voters by implementing IRV. IRV not only allows voters to cast a positive vote for a candidate they genuinely trust, it also discourages negative campaigning (since candidates seek the "second choice" votes of their opponents) and allows for a greater diversity of candidates. 

This will increase voter interest and turn-out, which in turn will help
revitalize our ailing democracy. And that will be good for us all.

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Copyright 2002     The Center for Voting and Democracy
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