Instant runoffs could curb negative ads
Published October 15th 2009 in Crain's New York Business
State Sen. Liz Krueger says instant runoff voting would do more than save the expense of repeating elections when no candidate gets 40% of the vote. It would reduce negative campaigning and thus boost turnout, she says. Voters would rank candidates, and if no candidate wins a majority of No. 1 votes, the last-place finisher would be dropped and a new count made combining No. 1 and No. 2 votes, and so on until someone surpasses 50%.

“Candidates don't want to be seen as nasty [to rivals], because if they can't get your vote for No. 1, they want your vote for No. 2,” says Krueger, D-Manhattan. She overcame attack ads by Republican Andrew Eristoff, including one accusing her of supporting public urination, to win her seat in 2002. Krueger believes the ads backfired because her district's voters are the most educated in the state, but she was nonetheless scarred.

“I hate negative campaigning,” says Krueger. “It's an insult to voters and democracy and decreases participation, and there is a whole bunch of decent people who won't run for office because they say, ‘I can't put my family through that.' ”

Krueger has a bill pending that would allow localities to implement instant runoff voting, which is common in Europe. “We have to ask the question, How come voter turnout is so appallingly low in this country? Maybe it's something we're doing.”

The bill would not have affected the increasingly nasty mayoral race, but an instant runoff could have elevated David Yassky over John Liu in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary. Yassky would likely have received more No. 2 votes than Liu from supporters of Melinda Katz and David Weprin, who finished third and fourth. Turnout plunged in the Sept. 29 runoff, and Yassky lost by 12 points.

IRV Soars in Twin Cities, FairVote Corrects the Pundits on Meaning of Election Night '09
Election Day '09 was a roller-coaster for election reformers.  Instant runoff voting had a great night in Minnesota, where St. Paul voters chose to implement IRV for its city elections, and Minneapolis voters used IRV for the first time—with local media touting it as a big success. As the Star-Tribune noted in endorsing IRV for St. Paul, Tuesday’s elections give the Twin Cities a chance to show the whole state of Minnesota the benefits of adopting IRV. There were disappointments in Lowell and Pierce County too, but high-profile multi-candidate races in New Jersey and New York keep policymakers focused on ways to reform elections;  the Baltimore Sun and Miami Herald were among many newspapers publishing commentary from FairVote board member and former presidential candidate John Anderson on how IRV can mitigate the problems of plurality elections.

And as pundits try to make hay out of the national implications of Tuesday’s gubernatorial elections, Rob Richie in the Huffington Post concludes that the gubernatorial elections have little bearing on federal elections.