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Instant Runoff Voting: More Democracy inAmerican Elections

By       Message Lydia Howell     Permalink
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Since the Supreme Court declared George W. Bush the winner of the 2000 election, the word "spoiler"--first applied to Green Party presidential candidate and lifelong populist advocate, Ralph Nader--echoes. "Spolier" is the term used to dismiss third party candidates people often say they "prefer on the issues", but, won't vote for, because "I don't want to help the worst candidate [generally a rightwing Republican] win, so I have to vote for the Democrat."

Yet, it seems to me, we have a spoiled democracy.

America's electoral system is dominated by the two political parties, from who gets on the ballot to who gets heard in debates. More accurately, the two corporate-sponsored parties, have become more and
more alike in their actual policies, if not their public personas. I'm not suggesting that there's no differnces at all, but, that on fundamentals of economic and foreign policies, in essence, Democrats and Republicans march in the same direction--although at sometimes different speeds. Both parties support wealth above workers and promote an imperialist foreign policy. Bill Clinton's North American Free Trade Agreement escalated outsourcing American jobs and exploiting under-developed, "Third World" nations' labor and resources--a policy Bush continues. G.W. Bush gave us the quagmire of Iraq; John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson gave us Vietnam.

Whatever differences in these realms are largely superficial. Even as public opinion polls show over 60% of Americans want out of Iraq, most Democrats won't mention Iraq. Republicans vow to stay the course and many Democrats simply aim to "better manage" the occupation--by sending more troops.

If casting our votes is suppoed to be the ultimate 'will of the people' that determines change, being forced to choose between "the lesser of two evils" looks like not only a false choice, but, a dead end. UC Social Sciences professor, Bernard Grofman observes that in presidential elections, the United States is ..20 of 21 established democracies, with about 50% voter turnout in presidential elections to Canada's 75%. (Non-presidential election years U.S. turnout is even lower than 50%.) Other democracies ahve 65% voter turnout for presidential elections, due in part, Grofman proposes, because other countries have parlimentary systems with multiple parties that more completely represent more political perspectives.

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) could stop the American slide into cyncial dis-engagement and bolster our democracy---and it's on the Minneapolis, Minnesota ballot, as a referendum.

How does IRV work? It's a ranked voting method which eliminates the need for run-off elections by allowing voters to rank the candidates in order of perference. For example: I rank Green ..1, Democrat 2, Independent 3 and no preference for Republican for a Congressional seat. All the votes are tabulated and the candidate with the fewest FIRST choices is dropped and their votes TRANSFERED to one's SECOND choice candidate. The process is completed until a clear winner emerges. It's like a run-off election but, on one ballot and it makes room for more choices--which means more Third Party candidates.

With Instant Runoff Voting, no one can be called a "spoiler". So, if Greens ran under an IRV system and are some voters' first choice, but got the fewest first choice votes, those votes would then apply to
second choices--likely Democrats. But, it's also possible more people would risk making a Green candiate their first choice if it no loner meant that a candidate they strongly oppose might win. That means more Greens--and other Third Party candidates--might actually win, creating deeper debates and more policiies choices.

Some cities already have IRV: Burlington, VT,, Tacoma WA.; and other smaller cities, plus, Oakland, California has IRV on their ballot. In 1936, NYC had IRV.

IRV has other merits in that it encourges people to run issue-oriented campaigns hoping to become some voters' second choice. IRV creates a more fair system because a wider range of perspectives can be represented by more parties. The result of more choices and more chance to have one's views represented where political power is exercised means
more voters see a reacon to participate participate.

The essence of real democracy is We The People actually participayr in the political decisions that impact our lives--not only on Election Day, but, that's certainly a bare minimum requirement.

Bush's claimed pretext of "bringing democracy to the Iraqi people", to justify the U.S. invasion rang especially hollow to me--given the way he came to office in 2000 and the subsequent 2004 election "iregularities". In many regards, American democracy could be called a defective export product that should be recalled to the factory for serious repair.

Instant Runoff Voting is a reform that would, if you will, put the steering mechanism of our democracy far more directly in We The People's hands. IRV puts far more democracy into American elections. I hope the
citizens of Minneapolis make it a reality in our local elections on Nov. 7th.

Consider getting IRV on the ballot where you live for 2008 and doing your part to put moer democracy into American elections.
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Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis journalist, poet, activist and producer/host of "Catalyst:politics & culture" on KFAI Radio, all shows archived for 2 weeks after braodcast at www.kfai.org

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