Thursday, June 26, 2008

Instant: It's Not Just for Oatmeal (it's for runoff voting too!)

Our earlier discussion about straight ticket voting got me to do some reading on Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). It is an interesting idea, and has been implemented in a number of places (including my one time home of Ann Arbor, Michigan). There is a more detailed explanation of IRV here, but in case you aren't familiar with it (like me, say, five hours ago), here it is:

For any given single winner election, each voter is presented with a ballot of all candidates. Voters are instructed to rank each candidate 1 - x. If no candidate gets a majority of votes (one of the best elements of the system is that fact that a majority, not a plurality, is required-- this would avoid things like Texas Governor Rick Perry's "victory" in 2006), there is an "instant run-off". The last place candidate is eliminated, and the votes are recounted. On the other hand, this clearly isn't the same kind of majority as in a regular election-- a winner could emerge from getting mostly 2nd and 3rd place votes. How much would this favor centrist candidates, I wonder (not that it still couldn't be an improvement)?

So here's how it works, more or less:

There are five people running for Grand Poobah of French Lick, Indiana. Larry Bird (R), Morris the Cat (D), Jenna Bush (G), My Neighbor Mrs. Siebert (L), and The Corpse of Barry Goldwater (I). Jane Q. Voter, a conservative activist, votes thusly:

1. Goldwater's Corpse, 2. My Neighbor Mrs. Siebert, 3. Larry Bird, 4. Morris the Cat, 5. Jenna Bush

This allows Jane to vote for the candidate whose views are closest to hers. Now, say poor Mrs. Siebert garners the fewest votes. She's out. Now Jane's ballot goes Goldwater-Bird-Morris-Bush. If in subsequent rounds Goldwater is eliminated, Jane's vote would be cast for Larry Bird. It's fairly obvious that the mainstream candidates would still be, well, mainstream, and usually win. But if enough, say, progressives started to vote for the more progressive candidate first, especially in those important but oft forgotten local and state elections, a real progressive could be elected, since the fear of "wasting" one's vote would be gone.

In IRV, the runoff happens, well, instantly. This saves money from actually having a separate runoff election, which is common at state and local levels of government.

I don't (take that apostrophe, Erik!) know how I feel about this, but thought it might be worth chewing over.