CVD homepage
What's new?
Online library
Order materials
Get involved!
About CVD

South Carolina Daily Gamecock

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 first election.

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.

"Several state 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."

USC professor Don Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said there are dangers associated with any change to a voting system.

"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 winner."

Fowler also pointed out that there are several ways an instant runoff voting system could be manipulated.

"You 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."

The voter 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."

top of page

     The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 610, Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616        [email protected]