Hampshire Gazette

Are elections just a game of chance?
By Mary Carey
August 16, 2003

Some electoral reform advocates said they are encouraged by the state's draft plan to implement the new federal voting standards known as the Help America Vote Act. In its insistence on buying state-of-the-art voting machines, the state's plan would help accommodate reforms such as instant run-off voting, said Peter Vickery of Amherst. "I'm pretty happy that it commits the secretary of the commonwealth to evaluating voting equipment regularly to assess its compatibility with alternative voting systems," Vickery said. "That's good news for IRV supporters."

Under IRV, a system endorsed by voters in the legislative districts represented by state Reps. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, and Ellen Story, D-Amherst, voters in an election with three or more candidates could rank the candidates according to their preference. If no candidate received more than 50 percent of the votes in the first tally, ballots would be counted again, eliminating the candidate with the least votes and reapportioning that candidate's votes among the remaining candidates until one received over 50 percent of the votes.

Proponents say that implementing the new system is largely a matter of re-programming voting machines that already are in place. They argue that the system eliminates the "spoiler" effect and ensures that the winning candidate is supported by a majority of the voters.

Vickery said the California gubernatorial election is a perfect example of why Massachusetts should adopt IRV.

"In California, it takes a majority of voters to recall the governor, but only a plurality to replace him," Vickery said. "So even if 49 percent want to keep Gray Davis, but a bare majority wants to recall him, the successor could be a candidate with less than 10 percent of the votes.

"The California recall is showing us once again that the plurality voting system just cannot cope with an election with more than two candidates," he said. "With so many people running, they might as well spin a roulette wheel."