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
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
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
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
governor, but the stranglehold of big money all over Beacon
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
"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
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
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.