Nationally Known Secretary of State Recommends Instant Runoff Voting

July 2002

In June, the Arkansas State Election Improvement Study Commission released a report recommending various changes in election law in Arkansas. Secretary of State Sharon Priest, the commission chair and former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, filed a minority report in which she recommended the adoption of instant runoff voting for judicial elections.

Her recommendation apparently had been introduced too late to be debated fully by the commission (Ms. Priest prefaces her minority report with "The following recommendations represent areas the study commission either did not address or left incomplete."). But instant runoff voting certainly makes eminent sense given that the commission recommended moving judicial elections to November, with a late-November runoff if there were no majority winner. With this schedule, turnout likely would plunge in the decisive round of voting. The Center has found that turnout nearly always drops in major runoff elections in the United States; for example, from 1994 to 2000, there were 70 federal primary runoffs, and turnout dropped in 68 of them. The average turnout drop in these 70 races was more than 30%.

The full Arkansas report is available online  in pdf format. Below is the relevant section on instant runoff voting.

Additional Findings and Recommendations
By Secretary of State Sharon Priest

The biggest challenge for Arkansas is consistency county-by county in the administration of election law. The following recommendation s represent areas the study commission either did not address or left incomplete.

My recommendations are:

1. Creation of a State Election Board

2. Uniform Early Voting Dates and Hours of Operation

3. Instant Run-off for Non-Partisan Judicial Elections

4. Participation in Federal Voting Assistance Program's Pilot Project

...3. Instant Run-Off for Non-Partisan Judicial Elections

The Arkansas State Election Improvement Study Commission recommended moving the Non-Partisan Judicial General Election to coincide with November General Election. To further complement this move, I recommend the implementation of instant run-offs for judicial candidates.

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is a simple voting method used to select a single winner from a list of two or more candidates. By collecting /more meaningful information from voters, it gives them a greater power of choice and measures their will more accurately. This process was invented in the United States and has been used in Australia and Ireland for many decades.

Under Instant Runoff Voting, instead of choosing just one candidate voters rank the candidates. For voters it is simple to understand, they just pick a first choice, a second choice, a third choice, and so on. These rankings are used to simulate a series of runoff elections, in which the last-place candidates are eliminated one by one. Each time a candidate is eliminated, the people who voted for him/her have their vote go to their next-choice candidate. Eventually someone gets a majority.

In general, instant run-off counting proceeds in the following manner: First by counting all votes. If a candidate receives a majority of votes he or she is elected. If no candidate receives a majority on the first or any subsequent stage then the last-place candidate at each stage is eliminated. The next choices on ballots for an eliminated candidate become votes for the candidates indicated in those choices and that process continues until all but one candidate has been eliminated.

This innovative voting option ensures majority rule, boosts voter turnout (low turnout for runoff elections), and makes your vote count. As for voting systems, most electronic systems currently in use have IRV-compatible equipment and paper ballots are commonly used for this method of voting (overseas).