Instant Runoff Voting would strengthen democracy, St. Paul

By Joe Rasmussen and Maren Hagman

Although elections have held the political spotlight this year, little attention has been focused how our voting system can better represent the people. The Macalester chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (more commonly known as MPRIG) has been advocating for a new voting system that would improve our elections.This system is instant runoff voting (or IRV). In IRV voters rank candidates by preference. Once the votes are tallied, if there is no candidate who receives over 50% of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is removed, and all the votes he or she received go to the voter’s second choice. This goes, round by round, until one of the candidates has over 50% of voter support.

A referendum to use IRV passed in Minneapolis and is in the process of implementation. The democracy taskforce of MPIRG is working in coordination with the Better Ballot Campaign to encourage St. Paul to follow suit and move to a fairer elections method.

First and foremost, IRV ensures that every vote counts and that the winner has majority support. No longer would the relatively small percentage of voters who show up for primary elections have a disproportionate amount of power in deciding the outcome of the election. In an IRV system no candidate can win without majority support.

IRV encourages third party candidacy while removing the possibility of a spoiler candidate. In the upcoming election, many liberal voters may prefer Ralph Nader to whomever ultimately wins the Democratic nomination. However, many may not vote for Nader because he is not a viable candidate and voting for him would ultimately help John McCain (similarly to the way George Bush benefited from the votes Nader pulled from Al Gore in 2000). With IRV, this is not a concern. There would be no such thing as a spoiler candidate and voters are free to vote with their conscience without worrying about helping elect the worse of two evils.

IRV leads to positive campaigns, which have become altogether too rare. According to a New York Times article dated Sept. 30, 2004, when IRV was first used in San Francisco for electing the County Board of Supervisors it forced all of the candidates to “be on friendly terms so as not to alienate their opponent’s supporters.” It discourages candidates from attacking one another because if no one has a majority, a candidate may need the second choice votes of another candidate in order to win.

Not only does IRV help make elections fairer and more positive, it saves time and money with the elimination of the primary election and possible runoff elections. All of those resources could be diverted and put to more use elsewhere.

This system is already in use in several communities in the United States including San Francisco (as previously mentioned), Burlington Vt., and Cambridge Mass. The Star Tribune, the St. Paul Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, Barack Obama, John McCain, Al Franken, and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer have endorsed IRV. Another supporter of IRV is David Schultz, an expert in election law and a professor at Hamline University. In response to concerns about the constitutionality of IRV, Schultz observed, “The courts, mindful of voters’ demands for more options, have properly responded by interpreting election laws to empower and not limit options on election day.”

IRV would greatly improve the fairness and efficiency of our elections and should be supported by the city of St. Paul.

Joe Rasmussen ’11 can be contacted at [email protected]

Reach Maren Hagman ’11 at [email protected]