There are three high-profile three-way races in Illinois. Both of them show what an antiquated election system we still use and the need to modernize our elections to allow for ranked ballots.
In one of the most hotly-contested congressional races in the country, incumbent Melissa Bean (D) is challenged by David McSweeney (R) and Bill Scheurer (M). Scheurer is running on a progressive platform and is thus a threat to the Bean campaign much more than the McSweeney campaign. Bean looks like the likely victor and is running on a Rahm Emanuel Democratic record (embrace most of the Bush economic agenda) with the implied calculation that her affluent northwest suburban district likes economic policies that benefit higher incomes. For voters who don't like the Bush tax cuts or corporate-backed free trade policies or the Iraqi occupation, it's a tough pill to swallow: vote for the guy with the platform you agree with and risk electing the guy you really don't agree with or vote for the woman who is with you about half the time and send the message that it's OK to embrace most of the Bush economic agenda.
Most progressives are sucking it up in order to elect a Democratic majority, but imagine the consternation if McSweeney wins and the margin of victory is half of the Scheurer vote.
This is all because we don't have a runoff election to ensure the winner earns a majority of the vote. And because we don't have a runoff, the majority of voters can split the vote (in this case between Bean and Scheurer) allowing a candidate to get elected that the majority of voters rejected (in this hypothetical, McSweeney. That's dumb. But it happens a lot.
The solution is to have a runoff election, like most municipalities do. A better solution is to hold an instant runoff election.
On Tuesday, Oakland, Minneapolis and Pierce County (WA) will all vote to implement instant runoff voting. I think they will all win. They would join San Francisco, Burlington VT, Ireland and Australia by using instant runoff voting.
Here are the campaign websites (with a particular link to the neat flash demonstrations of IRV on each site if they have one -- they are worth checking out).
Minneapolis Fun flash demonstration on how IRV works called Elect-A-Date
Pierce County, WA Their flash demonstration
Ranked ballots with instant runoff voting is a little more resonant, perhaps, in the gubernatorial race where both the Blagojevich and Topinka campaigns believe the Green Party's Rich Whitney's campaign is pulling away their voters. Rich Miller is making the point that all eyes for the last four days of the campaign should be on the 10-15% of the electorate that are now (pollsters say) planning to vote for Whitney to see which way they will break as it becomes clear that Whitney won't win.
The trouble is, lots of voters would like to vote for a 6% income tax in exchange for more money for schools and a lower property tax as well as send a message for cleaner government, but do have a preference between Topinka and Blagojevich.
Our stupid voting system doesn't allow that to happen. So the major parties actively discourage third party candidates from getting on the ballot which is a major draw of resources for everyone (as an election lawyer, I might benefit from that, but it is a waste).
If Whitney gets more than 5% of the vote, and he almost certainly will, this problem will get a lot worse, because then the Green Party will become an established party in Illinois and thus get access to the ballot by filing for a Green Party primary election. That will likely create lots of three-way races in 2008.
The demand for a modern voting system like instant runoff voting is growing in Illinois. And while I'm a proud Democratic Party member, I also believe we're better off with a multi-party system and three or four candidates on the ballot instead of one or two.
I'm curious what others think about our election system now given three candidates on the ballot and whether we ought to hold a runoff or instant runoff in the future.