Letter: Improve elections with rank system

By Paul Fidalgo
Published July 5th 2007 in New York Newsday
In "Independents don't change system" [Opinion, June 25], Joshua Spivak warns that a third-party presidential candidacy's best hope is to play the spoiler, serving to elect a president who might otherwise have lost had he or she not thrown a hat in the ring. While this is usually the case, the fault lies not with the candidate, but with the system in which he or she runs.

As things are now, it takes a plurality of votes - not a true majority - to rake in a state's electoral votes. This creates a situation where even a candidate who only garners low numbers, such as Ralph Nader did in 2000, can spoil an election. If voters had a chance to rank their choices, however, the spoiler problem would be virtually eliminated.

In instant runoff voting (or IRV), voters can rank candidates in order of preference: 1, 2, 3, and so on. If no candidate wins a majority of first choices, the lowest-earning candidate is eliminated, and those votes are allocated to whomever their supporters ranked as their second choices. This way, supporters of third-party candidates need not worry about "wasting" their votes or helping a spoiler. Instead, they can rank their favorite candidate as their first choice and still have their voices heard in the final showdown if their first choice goes down.

In the current winner-take-all plurality system, independents can indeed wreak havoc on an election, but with IRV in place, people can vote their consciences without fear of spoiling anything for anyone.

Paul Fidalgo Editor's note: The writer is communications director for FairVote - The Center for Voting and Democracy. Takoma Park, Md.