Voting center poses
instant runoff method
By Rob Seal
April 18, 2003
The Center for Voting and
Democracy is urgin voting reform on college campuses nationwide to
eliminate separate runoff elections.
The center is a
national nonprofit organization specializing in alternative voting
methods, said John Russell, the center's program associate.
The group proposes a system called instant runoff voting. In
this system, voters put their first and second choices for office on
the ballot instead of voting only for their first choice, Russell
said. If no candidate receives a majority vote after the election,
then the candidate who comes in last is eliminated, and the
second-choice votes from that candidate's ballots are distributed.
This process would continue from the last-place candidate upward,
until one candidate has a majority.
Under USC's current
system, a runoff election is held between the two candidates who
received the most votes if there is no clear majority after the
SG President-elect Katie Dreiling said runoff
elections are a problem.
"It's hard enough to try and get
students to vote for a first election," Dreiling said. "In a runoff,
a lot of students either don't know that they have to vote again, or
they just don't want to."
Russell said several other schools,
such as Duke, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton,
have already switched to instant runoff voting. Russell said San
Francisco recently became the first major city to adopt instant
runoff voting in its citywide elections.
legislatures are considering whether to allow municipalities to use
this system, or to use it in statewide elections," Russell said.
"There are currently 20 states considering this legislation, and it
does not appear that South Carolina is one of them."
professor Don Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National
Committee, said there are dangers associated with any change to a
"Generally speaking, when you change the
voting system, you get some unanticipated consequences," Fowler
said. "One of the things you're doing by starting at the bottom in
allocating votes is, in effect, rewarding the people who favored the
least popular, and presumably least capable, candidate. In some
theoretical world, you could say that the people who voted for the
poorest candidate are the dumbest crowd and you're giving the
dumbest crowd the first choice at selecting the final
Fowler also pointed out that there are several ways
an instant runoff voting system could be manipulated.
could have a race where one person was the obvious front runner and
another person was No. 2 or No. 3," Fowler said. "The No. 2 or No. 3
person could go out and make deals with other candidates that were
down the line. If they got all of their people to vote for No. 2 as
their second vote, the election could be manipulated, instead of
reflecting people's straightforward choice."
turnout for a runoff election is generally much lower, and runoff
elections can generate more cost, Russell said.
"If I were
lord and master of Student Government at USC, I would lower the
required percentage of votes to win before I would change to a
different voting system," Fowler said. "That would be my first
choice, before any big change."