The Green Zine, winter 2004
Instant runoff voting's time has come. Actually, in Oregon, instant
runoff voting's time has come and gone and come and gone again (see sidebar), but the opportunity exists for it to stick around in Oregon for a while.
Instant runoff (IRV) is a voting system that produces a winner
with a true majority of votes and a democratic mandate to rule. Under
IRV, voters rank their candidates
first, second, third and so on, instead of choosing only one. Just as
in the current system, whoever gets over 50 percent of votes wins, but
if no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the votes, the instant
runoff begins. The last-place candidate is eliminated and votes for
that candidate count toward the second choices selected by each voter.
Recounting the ballots this way continues until one candidate receives
a majority of the votes. Regular runoff elections achieve the same
result, but IRV saves a staggering amount of money and the winner is
In addition to saving time and money, IRV has many other
advantages over the election system currently in place. For Greens and
other progressives, IRV could help reduce the polarization that
prevents concerned citizens allying themselves with one another. Under
our current system, candidates vilify their opponents in the hope of
getting a plurality of votes, but under IRV candidates have an
incentive to conduct civil campaigns that appeal to supporters of
rivals rather than alienate them. Candidates must recognize that even
if they are not a particular voter's first choice, they still retain
the possibility of becoming a voter's second or third choice, and in
this way IRV can replace the politics of polarization with the politics
of true majority rule.
Efforts are underway to establish the same grassroots movement
in Oregon that propelled San Francisco voters to adopt IRV for November
2004 city elections. Instant runoff voting may have another shot at
passing if the Multnomah County charter Review Committee puts IRV on
the November 2004 ballot, giving voters the chance to vote on it at the
same time they vote for president. Democratic candidates Kucinich and
Dean both support instant runoff voting and their endorsements in this
heated election year could help push the measure through. The best
chance for a more representative government lies with assuring
elections are as democratic as possible, and IRV would be a huge step
towards that goal.
Fillard Rhyne, a Green Party member, is beginning the newest
Fair Vote Multnomah campaign by building a volunteer base. Ccontact him
1908: Ballot Measure 15 passes, amending Oregon Constitution to
read, in part: "Provision may be made by law for the voter's direct or
indirect expression of his first, second or additional choices among
the candidates for any office. For an office which is filled by the
election of one person it may be required by law that the person
elected shall be the final choice of a majority of the electors voting
for candidates for that office.”
1998: The Multnomah County Charter Review Committee approves
Measure 26-85. It would have allowed the county board of commissioners
to use IRV at their discretion. Despite "no" endorsements from both The
Oregonian and Willamette Week, the measure gets 40% of the vote.
1999: Diane Rosenbaum introduces House Bill 3162 - to enact IRV
for state-level elections such as governor and state representative -
and House Bill 3163 - to establish a Commission on Voting and Citizen
Participation. Neither bill received a hearing,
2000: Lloyd Marbet and others started working on the text for an IRV ballot measure initiative for 2002.
2001: Eugene's Measure 20-51 mandating the use of IRV for mayor and city council elections lost in a 34-to-66% vote.
2002: San Francisco becomes the first major American city to authorize (by public vote) use of IRV to elect its officials.
2000-02: Fair Vote Oregon, an organization with chief
petitioners from the Republican, Democratic, and Pacific Green parties,
lobbies the state legislature to enact I RV and collects over 6000
signatures in favor of conducting elections by IRV.
S.M.Berg is a feminist, bicyclist
and freelance writer in Portland.
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