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Trenton Times

Voting system expert backs 'instant runoff'
By Katy Hall
March 14, 2002

"If majority rule is to have any meaning in our country, we need to step back and make sure the majority is not being denied simply because of an outdated electoral system," said Robert Richie, an expert on voting systems.

Richie, who is executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy, criticized the existing presidential election procedures in the United States and proposed an "instant runoff" system yesterday afternoon in Princeton University's Robertson Hall.

Richie, whose organization seeks improved voter turnout and fair representation, said the current winner-take-all electoral system allows a candidate without a majority to win and can leave most of the voters feeling voiceless.

"Over half the states in the past three presidential elections were won with less than 50 percent of the popular vote," he said. "It's high time we take a look at these rules."

Richie said the center advocates a so-called "instant runoff" to help correct the problems. Under an instant runoff, the voters rank their choices instead of choosing just one candidate.

If someone has a majority on the first count, he or she wins. If not, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. On a recount, that candidate's votes are redistributed according to the voters' second choice. The procedure continues until someone gets a majority.

According to Richie, that would ensure the election of a candidate with a majority of votes and would give minorities more influence.

"The current system does not represent diversity, especially as that diversity becomes more complex and diffused over larger geographical areas," he said.

Richie said an instant runoff policy would also save money because it would eliminate the need for runoff elections and would stop "spoiler" candidates from distorting results by taking votes away from a candidate who would have otherwise received a majority.

Although changing the U.S. electoral system is no easy or quick process, Richie said, the debate over shifting to an instant runoff system "is a more serious one over the next five to 10 years than most people think."

Richie has been executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy since it was formed in 1992.

 
 
 
 
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