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Thursday, November 4, 2010

(Long Past) Time For Instant Run-Off Voting!

Dayton - Emmer Recount

Twice in two years, Minnesota is mired in what could be a messy, protracted statewide election recount.

It didn't have to be this way.

"Instant run-off voting" -- also known as "ranked-choice voting" -- would have resolved the gubernatorial race by Wednesday morning.

No expensive legal challenges. No cross-allegations of balloting screw-ups (or worse). No delay and uncertainty.

No More Spoilers

Already on the books for Minneapolis City Council elections (and in dozens of other jurisdictions nationwide), "ranked choice voting" merely applies 1970's-era computing power to modern balloting.


Voters simply rank-order their choice for each office "#1," "#2," "#3" and so on.

If no candidate reaches 50.1%, the last-place candidate in each race is eliminated, and that candidates' votes are reallocated to the voters' second choice.

The process continues until one candidate reaches a majority.

Ranked Choice in Practice

Going back to the Dayton - Emmer race, the 12%, or 251,000 votes, amassed by Independence candidate Tom Horner would have shifted to Dayton and Emmer based on Horner supporters' second choice.

As long as Horner voters weren't split 50%-50% between Dayton and Emmer, they effectively would have decided the race.

In fact, voters who support third-party candidates almost always break decisively for one of the two major-party candidates.

That's because, practically by definition, third-party candidates arise from the political fringes, when the "establishment" candidates are perceived to be insufficiently pure or ideological.

Revisiting Gore - Bush 2000

That certainly characterizes the Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan candidacies, respectively, in the 2000 Presidential race.

Had Florida used ranked choice voting then, it's likely that something like 90% of Nader's supporters would have selected Gore #2 on their ballots, delivering him the Presidency.

Lest Republicans see third-party candidates as more likely to arise on the left -- and therefore continue to oppose ranked choice voting -- they may want to consider the risk of insurgent Tea Party candidacies in 2012.

To pick just one example, the U.S. Senate race in Delaware this year, in a three-way contest between (Tea Partier) Christine O'Donnell, Chris Coons (the Democrat), and Mike Castle (the Republican Congressman who lost in the primary), a majority of Delaware voters would likely have voted for either O'Donnell or Castle.

Instead, "the spoiler factor" effectively delivered the seat -- and continued control of the U.S. Senate -- to Coons and the Democrats.

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