Local view: Instant-runoff voting system would save money and trips to the polls

By Jeanne Massey, Tyrone Bujold and Robert Wahman
Published December 29th 2007 in Duluth News Tribune
On Nov. 6, Duluth voters went to the polls ­ just two months after casting votes in a primary election that cost local taxpayers about $41,000.

But not all cities required voters to make two trips to the polls this year. In San Francisco; Cambridge, Mass.; Takoma Park, Md.; Cary, N.C.; and Hendersonville, N.C.; voters went to the polls just once. They elected local winners using an instant-runoff voting system.

This method of voting not only saves voters a second trip to the polls, it also saves candidates money they would need to spend on a runoff campaign and cities the cost of twice setting up polling locations.

Exit polls show voters understand instant-runoff voting, and, more importantly, like it better than the traditional two rounds of voting.

Cary and Hendersonville voters experimented with instant-runoff voting for the first time this year, and it worked well there, just as it does everywhere it’s used in the U.S. and abroad.

Imagine it in Duluth. If instant-runoff voting was used to elect the mayor, for example, voters would cast ballots for their favorite candidate but also would mark their second and third choices. If a clear favorite didn’t emerge with 50 percent or more of the vote in the first round, the least favorite candidate would be eliminated and the ballots cast for that candidate would be redistributed to the remaining candidates according to the second preferences on those ballots. If a voter’s first-place candidate were still in the running, his or her vote would continue to count for that candidate. All votes would be added again, and with a majority winner, the election would be over. Without a majority winner, the process would be repeated until one candidate emerged.

That’s it. The runoff happens in a single election on the first Tuesday of November when voter turnout is highest.

Primaries are not only expensive to run, they attract fewer voters than general elections ­ 36 percent fewer this year in Duluth. And good candidates often get eliminated who might otherwise win in a higher-turnout, more-diverse general election.

Before Duluth’s next election for mayor and City Council, the city ought to consider instant-runoff voting. It’s cheaper, faster, fairer and, most importantly, more likely to reflect the desires of more voters. It sounds to us at FairVote Minnesota like a better way to vote.

Minneapolis voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure for instant-runoff voting in 2006 and are planning to use it in 2009. Minneapolis is just one of many cities that have adopted and are scheduled to use instant-runoff voting in the near future. St. Paul, has a campaign under way to put instant-runoff voting on the ballot so voters can decide if they’d prefer it to runoff campaigns in electing their local leaders.

Perhaps Duluth should do the same.

Jeanne Massey of Minneapolis is executive director, Duluth native Tyrone Bujold of Minneapolis is a director and Robert Wahman of Duluth is a member of FairVote Minnesota (www.fairvotemn.org), a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that focuses on voting systems.