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Campus Interest in IRV
Keeps Growing

Major Student Association Adopts IRV, More News

July 2002

Two major state universities adopted instant runoff voting in the past year. Below are news and articles from more campuses using alternative systems.  

University of Wisconsin

The United Council of University of Wisconsin Students has adopted IRV. The United Council is the nation's oldest, largest, and strongest statewide student association, representing over 140,000 students at 24 UW System Campuses.

Stanford

This spring the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) held its second IRV election of its president, and for the second year in a row, avoided a costly and runoff election.  See results and a copy of the online ballot .  IRV also received good press in the student newspaper. The April 16 top story was an explanation of how IRV works and why it was adopted, accompanied by a flow chart . The editorial below was also part of the April 16 edition.  Also below is commentary from Dave Robinson of California IRV.

In addition, we recently learned of two universities in the past year where editorial writers strongly backed instant runoff voting. Read the pieces below from the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota.

Dave Robinson of California IRV writes:

Candidates included a student government insider, a dark-horse candidate who won major endorsements, a labor activist, a left-wing protest slate, and a joke slate put forward by a satire magazine.

It was nice to see that IRV allowed the protest/joke slates to expand the debate without raising the risk of a 'spoiled' election. The other big issue is that campaign spending limits were ruled to be in violation of the student government's charter. The three serious candidates each spent between $1000 and $2000 in a one-week campaign. An additional two-week runoff campaign would have meant punishment rather than victory. The student government insider (who spent almost $2000) came in third, and his elimination handed victory to the labor activist, who spent the least of the three. 

The senior and sophomore class presidents also required several instant runoff rounds to determine majority winners. The election was administered professionally and smoothly by the ASSU election commission.

Democracy ASSU-style
Stanford Daily
By Josh Sohn
April 16, 2002

Ah, Election Day. The day where we reaffirm democracy here at Stanford...the truth of the matter is, the structure of ASSU elections and the ASSU itself is incredibly democratic. In fact, the ASSU could teach our national government a few things about being of, by and for the people...

The "instant runoff" feature of ASSU elections allows for multiple viable candidates, and prevents the kind of two-party stranglehold that exists in our national elections. For example, suppose I really like the Chappie [satire] slate for ASSU president and vice-president, but I don't think they have a realistic chance of winning. Under ASSU rules, I can still vote for them without worrying about throwing my vote away. I simply put my preferred "serious" slate as my second choice, and if the Chappie slate is eliminated, my votes are automatically redistributed to that backup slate.

Imagine if we had this procedure on the national level. In the last election, a liberal voter could have voted for Nader, put Gore second, and not worried about indirectly electing Bush to the White House. In other words, minor parties can flourish, because their support doesn't impinge of the support for the two major parties.

In the name of democracy, I propose that we send an ASSU delegation to Washington, to educate those backward, uncivilized politicians on the way to set up a proper representative government.

... So when you cast your vote today, do it with pride. Know that you are supporting a great democratic institution, a far purer system then the shoddy affair we keep in Washington. We may not have the biggest government in this great land of ours, but damned if we don't have one of the best.

Runoff voting can help fix a failing democracy
Michigan Daily (University of Michigan)
Staff Editorial
October 2, 2001

Ann Arbor - The past two weeks have seen numerous pundits discussing the value of democracy in various foreign states, ranging from Saudi Arabia in the Middle East to Afghanistan in Central Asia. What is lost in this finger pointing at other states is that our own democracy is far from perfect.

Democracy is traditionally defined as a majority rule -- yet in the United States, touted as a beacon of democracy, the last three presidential elections have resulted in a winner with less than 50 percent of the vote. In local elections this trend is even more pronounced as candidates often win city council elections with less then 30 percent of the popular vote. There is, however, an easy solution: Instant Runoff Voting. Traditionally, voters select the candidate they wish to vote for and that individual gets their vote. This system is flawed because when there are more than two candidates the chances of a candidate winning with a plurality are substantial. The IRV would have voters rank their candidates in order of preference: 1, 2, 3, etc. In the case of no candidate receiving more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the least amount of first choice votes is eliminated and the second choice votes from these ballots are transferred to other candidates. A recount then takes place. This procedure is repeated until one candidate receives more then 50 percent of the vote.

In the past this system has been discredited as being too labor-intensive for those who must count the votes. However, the implementation of computer voting systems makes IRV a possibility without being a detriment to the speed or accuracy of the elections. This ystem has already taken effect in several countries; in Australia IRV is used to elect the prime minister, while in London it is used in mayoral elections.

There are numerous benefits to the IRV. Initially, it would allow more independent or third party candidates to run for office without being accused of being a spoiler. With the IRV, voters could select the candidate of their choice without the fear of wasting their vote or inadvertently helping a candidate that they dislike to win. Additionally, it would lend legitimacy to winners of controversial elections. Last year's Florida debacle would have been avoided had Florida been using the IRV.

The IRV is not flawless. It would require time and money to educate voters about how the IRV works. However, this would be considerably better than continuing with our current system of voting, which often results in winners having less then majority support. There is currently an initiative in Ann Arbor, Mich., to get the city council to use IRV in City Council elections; members of the University of Michigan community should support this initiative, as the IRV is currently the best way to restore legitimacy to U.S. democracy.

Staff Editorial
Minnesota Daily (University of Minnesota)
March 14, 2002

Meaningful election reform has finally landed in the United States, and Minnesota voters need to start pressuring city and state officials to make sure it finds its way here. Last week, California voters approved an amendment to their state constitution requiring all ballots be counted -- an idea U.S. voters had taken for granted until the 2000 presidential election and, specifically, the election mismanagement by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Even more important, San Francisco voters approved a resolution calling for implementation of an Instant Runoff Voting system in an effort to fix the city's contentious system. IRV, an old idea that has recently resurfaced in the United States after making its rounds in Europe and Australia, gives voters the option of ranking candidates instead of picking just one. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated. The second-choice votes of those who ranked him or her first are then distributed to the remaining candidates, and the process repeats until one candidate gets the majority of the votes.

This system provides voters with more choices than election practices currently in place without forcing voters to settle; citizens don't have to rank their choices and can still vote for one candidate. In addition, this system substantially reduces the problems many voters have faced during the past three elections that resulted in many people voting for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for the candidate in whom they believed. By doing away with the need to vote strategically simply to prevent a worst-case scenario, the true intentions and beliefs of voters will be documented, allowing for a more accurate sampling of public opinion and giving public officials a better understanding of their constituents' ideals.

It also carries the added benefit of fostering the growth of minor parties into major political forces, which would aid the ultimate goal of true representation of the population among government officials.

Political squabbling over election reform resulting in a history of marked inaction on the issue within the federal government gives little reason to believe this reform can take place on a national level. Like nearly every step of meaningful progress taken in U.S. history, the push for a switch to IRV will have to begin locally.

San Francisco voters took the long-overdue first step last week. Minnesotans should follow their lead and change the way local elections are conducted. Beginning there, this reform can prove its effectiveness and eventually make its way to the state and national levels. But it must first take root in individual communities.


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