'Instant Runoff' idea is gaining momentum

By Janet Lundquist
Published May 30th 2006 in The Herald News
A push is on across the country for local and state governments to adopt Instant Runoff Voting, a method that supporters say ensures a candidate is elected with a majority of the votes.

National organizations such as FairVote.org and regional groups like MidwestDemocracy.org have promoted IRV for years.

Now Will County Green Party founder Tim Tacker would like to see his hometown of Plainfield — and the rest of the state — use Instant Runoff Voting for its municipal elections.

In Instant Runoff Voting, people rank candidates first, second and third instead of voting for one person. If nobody has a majority (51 percent) of the votes once the ballots are counted, the candidate with the least votes is thrown out and the ballots are recounted.
Each voter's ballot counts as one vote for the highest-ranked candidate they picked who is still in the race.

The process is continued until one candidate has a majority of the votes.

Instant Runoff Voting helps eliminate the "spoiler" effect, Tacker said, where a third candidate draws votes from another candidate that may have been voters' second choice — which some say happened in the 2000 election with George Bush, Al Gore and Ralph Nader.

"I believe in majority elections," said Tacker, who applied for a vacant trustee seat last year but was not appointed. "I think Plainfield was a good example. We had a number of candidates (for mayor) ... and as I watched this election unfold, I thought it was a good time to bring it up."

There were five candidates for mayor of Plainfield last spring, including current Trustees Michael Collins and Paul Fay and then-acting Mayor Kathy O'Connell. Waldorf won the contest by 23 votes, with about 22 percent of the vote.

Better voter turnout

Elections using IRV have had better voter turnout and more positive campaigns, Tacker said. Candidates try to appeal to all voters, not just their party faithful, so they tend to avoid negative attacks on their opponents.

The voting method has also been criticized

The Illinois General Assembly has introduced IRV bills for several years, which have more co-sponsors each year but have not been passed, Tacker said. He said he is not aware of any Illinois municipalities that have used IRV, but added that is likely because officials simply aren't aware of the option.

The Illinois Municipal Code states the candidate with the highest number of votes is the person elected to that office. In September 2005, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wrote an opinion that a home-rule municipality may adopt instant runoff voting by a referendum vote, which would then supersede the state election code and municipal code. Plainfield became a home rule community after a special census last year counted more than 25,000 residents.

Village officials are interested in the idea and have asked Tacker to give them more information. The county's current optical scan voting technology would work with an IRV system, Tacker said.