IRV06 Mar 2004
Preferential voting is getting a lot of good press lately. Particularly Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). In an article in The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel lists three things we could do to end the “two-party duopoly”: 1) proportional representation, 2) IRV, and 3) fusion voting. It’s a good article, check it out.
What is IRV, exactly? Well, it’s a form of preferential voting. For a more detailed explanation, check out the wikipedia links above. John Anderson gave a good, succint description in this article:
Unlike most democracies, our states have set up presidential elections so that the candidate with the most votes wins all electoral votes, even if opposed by a majority of voters. That makes third-party or independent candidates “spoilers” if they split a major party candidate’s vote. It’s this concern that drives the major parties to exclude other voices from the debates, and for the current condemnation of Ralph Nader for entering the presidential race.
Fortunately, there’s a solution, one already practiced for top offices in London, Ireland and Australia and in Utah and California for key elections: instant runoff voting. Any state could adopt this simple reform immediately for all federal elections, including the presidential race. There has been legislation backing instant runoff voting in nearly two dozen states, and former presidential candidates Howard Dean and John McCain advocate the system.
In instant runoff voting, people vote for their favorite candidate, but also can indicate subsequent choices by ranking their preferences as 1, 2, 3. If a candidate receives a majority of first choices, that candidate wins. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and a second round of counting occurs. In this round, your ballot counts for your top-ranked candidate still in the race. Rounds of counting continue until there is a majority winner.
With instant runoff voting, we would determine a true majority winner in one election and banish the spoiler concept. Voters would not have to calculate possible perverse consequences of voting for their favorite candidate. They could vote their hopes, not their fears.