Wisconsin State Journal
’ÄúI want my IRV’Äù
By Kevin Kniffin
November 21, 2002
Campaigns to improve financial literacy across our
communities became commonplace when Wall Street was booming in the
mid- to late-1990s.
But how many of us have similar
familiarity with campaigns to improve civic literacy about tools for
democracy developed during the same period?
For example, do the
same number of people who know anything about individual retirement
accounts, or IRAs, also know something about instant runoff voting,
IRV allows individuals to vote for a first-choice,
second-choice, third-choice, and so on. If none of the candidates
win a majority after first-choice votes are counted, then the people
who voted for the last-place finisher have their second-choice
preferences counted in a second round of tallying. This process
continues until someone wins with more than 50% of the vote.
Governor-elect Jim Doyle claims an interest in advancing campaign
reform. Since he’Äôs just won his last two electoral contests without
majority support, however, Doyle is not likely to make IRV part of
his reform package.
To illustrate some of the ways in which IRV
would have impacted our election of the next Governor: if
Wisconsinites had the opportunity to vote for more than one
candidate in order of relative preferences, then assuming
temporarily that everyone voted for their first-choice the 10% of
people who voted for Ed Thompson would have had a chance to impact
whether or not Doyle or McCallum should be our next governor.
easy to imagine that among the people who would have had an easier
time voting with IRV, former Governor Tommy Thompson could have
comfortably voted for his brother as first-choice and McCallum as
his second-choice. If most of Ed Thompson’Äôs supporters fit this
model, then McCallum would be the Governor for four more years.
wait a minute. Before you assume that Doyle would have been running
against McCallum in the first place, consider that in the Democratic
Party’Äôs gubernatorial primary, the 150,161 people who voted for
Kathleen Falk would have had their second-choice votes counted just
like Thompson’Äôs if the contest had been enhanced by IRV. This would
have amounted to a re-allocation of 27.12% of the votes placed in
the Democratic primary, and very possibly Tom Barrett would have
ended up as the winner with majority support.
An obvious benefit of
IRV is that our elected government positions get filled only by
people who win majority support. Less directly, but just as
meaningfully, IRV gives voters significantly greater freedom to vote
In the gubernatorial contest, people who had a
relative preference for Doyle over McCallum while also holding a
deeper preference for Jim Young (G) and Ed Thompson (L) could have
let their ballots reflect these preferences.
For example, those who
believe that the State is jailing too many of its citizens and
pursuing a wrong-headed ’Äúwar on ’Äòdrugs’Äô’Äù could have voted for Young
and Thompson ahead of other candidates such as Doyle and McCallum,
both of whom seem satisfied with no change.
To consider the
election’Äôs results in greater detail, if we temporarily assume that
everyone who voted for Young also preferred Thompson over McCallum
and Doyle, then there would have been an additional 12% of the
electorate whose next-choices would have contributed to a winner
between Doyle and McCallum.
More likely, however, is that the
results in an IRV-enhanced election would not have shaken out the
same way and that both Jim Young and Ed Thompson would have received
significantly more first-choice votes than they did on Election Day.
Indeed, without IRV, it is truly remarkable that approximately
227,500 voters chose to forfeit their right to register a preference
between Doyle and McCallum and instead stood their ground in support
of Thompson, Young, and others.
Creative legislators willing to
show leadership will read these results to mean that there is a
freshly-vibrant constituency that presumably would reward initiative
to adopt IRV.
The primary criticism levied against IRV has been
that the tool is too complicated.
If someone visited our country
from another planet, however, I expect she would be baffled by this
argument particularly after observing the sophisticated financial
literacy required to look at The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, or
Business section of any daily newspaper!
In his book One Market
Under God, Tom Frank titles a chapter ’ÄúI want my NYSE’Äù satirizing
the early cable-television slogan ’ÄúI want my MTV’Äù and the 1990s rush
to Wall Street as a fountain of riches.
In a more civic-minded way, I
hope that this year’Äôs election results encourage more people to
adopt the rallying cry and political demand: ’ÄúI want my IRV!’Äù