American Friends Service Committee
Sara Burke, Managing Editor
Sam Diener, Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Instant Runoff Voting for a Healthier Democracy
Steven Hill is a senior policy analyst with the Center for Voting and Democracy and author of Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner Take All Politics. Rob arichie is the Center's executive director. Contact the Center at www.fairvote.org.
In 2000, Al Gore beat George W. Bush in the state of New Mexico by a mere 356 votes -- a slimmer margin than in Florida. Ralph Nader polled 21,000 votes. Nader not only nearly cost Gore the state, but forced him to expend valuable resources there in the campaign's waning days, draining his effort from Florida.
Flash forward to 2004. Once again the Democratic and Republican candidates are locked in a tight race nationally. Once again Nader's entry into the race threatens Kerry's hold on New Mexico. And once again two candidates who share many views and bases of support -- instead are players in a Cain and Abel drama, courtesy of the all--or-- nothing, winner--take--all nature of our presidential election method.
Yet there is a way out -- Democrats in New Mexico, for example, could pass into law -- right now -- a runoff or instant runoff system with a majority requirement for president.
Here's how. For electing the president, the Constitution mandates the antiquated Electoral College system in which there is a series of elections in the fifty states and the District of Columbia rather than one national election. But the Constitution specifically delegates to states the method of choosing its electors. States historically have used a variety of different approaches, including letting the state legislature appoint electors, as suggested by Florida Republicans in 2000.
Nebraska and Maine, for example, award two electoral votes to the winner of the statewide vote and one vote to the winner of the popular vote in each congressional district. This approach is problematic, however, because each major party gerrymanders, to its own advantage, congressional districts in the states it controls.
The remaining states use a statewide winner-take-all plurality method where the highest vote-getter wins 100 percent of that state's electoral votes, even if that candidate wins less than a popular majority. With plurality voting, a majority of voters can split their vote among two or more candidates and end up winning nothing. Indeed, because of the presence of Nader and other candidates like Pat Buchanan, nine states in 2000 awarded all their electoral votes to a candidate who did not win a popular majority. Fully 49 of 50 states were won without a majority in 1992. It is the lack of a majority requirement that leads Nader and Kerry forces to clash so bitterly.
To be sure, Republicans may cry foul if New Mexico Democrats suddenly switch to a runoff system, but even if Democrats' actions are self-interested, it's also in the public interest to protect majority rule and allow for voter choice. One approach would be to adopt a runoff system similar to that used in most presidential elections around the world, most southern primaries, and many local elections: A first round with all candidates would take place in New Mexico in early October. The top two finishers would face off in November, with the winner certain to have a majority.
Better still would be to adopt instant runoff voting (IRV). Used in Ireland and Australia and recently adopted for city elections in San Francisco and for congressional and gubernatorial nominations by the Utah Republican Party, IRV has drawn support from Howard Dean, Jesse Jackson Jr., and John McCain. By allowing voters to rank the candidates, IRV can resolve the spoiler problem. Voters are liberated to vote for their favorite candidate without helping to elect their least favorite. IRV also saves candidates the campaign costs of a runoff election and preserves more voter choice in the decisive November election when voter turnout is highest.
New Mexico's state senate in fact already passed IRV legislation in 1999 in the wake of Democrats losing two congressional seats due in part to Green Party candidacies. Despite support from the AFL- CIO and Common Cause, the proposal died because of concerns about costs of implementing it and because some Democrats would rather destroy Greens than allow for co-existence.
But only Democrats and Republicans
have the power to change the rules of the game. Democrats' failure
to use that power begs the question: would they rather engage
in name-calling and suppressing candidacies, even at the risk
of costing themselves the presidential election, than allow new
political voices to join the fray? More people, of all political
affiliations, should begin asking party leaders: why not IRV?