Instant runoff voting will save money but not raise turnout

By Lynne Serpe
Published October 15th 2009 in
Two-round runoff elections are a waste of taxpayer time and money. Fortunately, there is an alternative to spending $15 million on an unnecessary and inconvenient second election: instant runoff voting.

IRV allows voters to rank candidates in their order of preference on a single ballot: 1, 2, 3, etc. First-choice ballots are tallied. If any candidate has over 50 percent of the vote, he or she is declared the winner.

If not, the candidate with the least support is eliminated. Voters who ranked that candidate now have their vote counted for their second choice and all ballots are recounted in an “instant” runoff. This process repeats until one candidate has majority support.

Seniors, people with limited mobility, parents with small children or those working two jobs can find it difficult to get to the polls twice in two weeks. IRV means one election, not two.

In cities and states where IRV is used, voters mark their preferences on a paper ballot creating a paper trail our antiquated lever machines do not provide.

But instant runoff voting is not a magic solution to plummeting voter turnout. There are several much-needed election reforms, starting with revising ballot access laws so voters are not denied their choice before they even get to the polls.

Studies show people vote in competitive elections and when they feel their vote matters. City voters put in term limits in 1993 and two terms were affirmed in 1997. One consequence was to make sure that every eight years there would be an open seat.

Last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council — including Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) — decided to ignore the will of the people and the result was that most incumbents decided to seek re-election and voter turnout dropped.

We have seen a few incumbents get knocked out in the primary election and there are other incumbents facing a serious challenge in the general election in November.

We cannot put a price on democracy, but in these tough economic times one thing is clear: Voters want change in their pocket and City Hall.