Friday, November 03, 2006

Blagojevich-Topinka-Whitney and Bean-Scheurer-McSweeney races show the need for ranked ballots

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.


Kankakee Voice said...

Let's hear it for IRV!! That is eactly what we need, local, state and national level.

And sorry, just have to add here, Go Greens! I think Whitney will do much better than 5% in the Gov's race. I think people are going to be surprised by how many votes Whitney ends up with. It's just so hard to vote for someone while one is holding their nose while voting.

Other than that, GO DEMOCRATS! Let's take over congress, and the state - except where Green's are running. We are better off with Green's than Democrats. Better of with Democrats than Republicans. That's how my votes will go.

oswald said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DougL said...

I think IRV would be a great idea. What specific next steps would need to be taken to get this implemented?

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Next step: lobby your home rule municipality to start using IRV. You should also lobby your state rep and state senator for a state bill. And you can join for some activity.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Next step: lobby your home rule municipality to start using IRV. You should also lobby your state rep and state senator for a state bill. And you can join for some activity.

Anonymous said...

The Prairie Greens of East Central Illinois will work hard to implement Instant Runoff Voting in Champaign County. A couple weeks before the election I talked to Mike Frerichs (now Senator Elect)who talked to me about you & the Midwest Democracy Center. I interviewed Mike last September (part of the IEA endorsement process) and he said that he supports IRV!

Jeff Wegerson said...

bored now has been making the argument, which I find strong, that a more complicated ballot leads to less voter participation especially for the less sophisticated, and/or low-information voters.

The other issue with IRV is that the ballots would need to be collected state-wide for tabulation. That may actually be a plus, but then it may not. In these times of voter suspicion about electronic ballots and paper tails, sending all the votes to Springfield for counting on a centralized computer is going to be scary for many.

But the inability of third parties to compete and move politics left or right in increments is very much needed and prevented by the "two party structure" that exists now.

So my question. Do you have any ideas on the potential legality (constitutionality?) of a system of modified IRV where the losing candidates in an IRV fashion would direct their votes to other candidates until there was a majority? So in that case it would be up to Whitney to transfer his vote total to Rod or Judy to determine the majority winner.

I ask this for second reason, as there is a group out there pushing a series of state compacts that would give the winner of the national popular vote their electoral votes and if enough states with enought electoral votes were to do this, then the electoral college could be effectively side-stepped and a system that would elect the president by popular vote created.

The same procedure of a modified IRV selection via the losing candidates could be added to those comapcts to effective elect the president by a modified IRV process that would give standing to third parties and end spoilerism.

I've posited this idea at SoapBlox but no one responds. Neither the Greens nor the Democrats. I first connected to you via your work in electoral reform, so I would value your opinion.

Jeff Wegerson SoapBlox/Chicago

Carl Nyberg said...

I think it would be reasonable to push for voters getting a first and second choice for President and U.S. Senate (the only statewide elections) in 2008.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

I don't think we're quite ready for statewide IRV in 2008, but maybe I'm just being an incrementalist. Jeff, I don't think it's legal (or particularly democratic) to have the candidate direct the votes of his/her supporters to a different candidate. So I don't think that idea will fly. Mike Frerichs (Senator-Elect, I should say) is a great guy.