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The good news is that there’s a simple way to fix the election system that would allow independents and third-party candidates to exercise their right as Americans to run for office, and allow their supporters to exercise their right to vote for them, without fear that they would help elect another candidate whom they might detest.
It’s called instant runoff voting (IRV). IRV would preserve the time-honored principle that the majority rules. And it wouldn’t require the expense and hassle of an actual runoff election, such as Trenton holds when no candidate for mayor or for a city council seat receives a majority. On such occasions, voter interest and participation almost always fall sharply in the second round of balloting.
The bad news is that, although many foreign countries and a handful of American communities use IRV, it has stirred little interest in New Jersey outside of a few lonely advocates such as state Sen. Bill Baroni, R-Hamilton (who was pushing the solution long before he became one of Chris Christie’s campaign advisers). It also was backed by former Sen. Bill Schluter, R-Pennington, during his own independent candidacy for governor in 2001.
Voters of course are plurality voting’s real victim. It forces too many of us to settle for a lesser choice when fearing the majority will split its vote. But without independent voices, American elections often revert to tired slogans and negative attacks rather than debates about innovative ideas that the major parties won’t touch. With so much dissatisfaction with the major parties, it is more important than ever that independent voices be welcomed rather than demonized.
With IRV in place in New Jersey, voters would be able to rank their preferences first, second and third. Daggett supporters, for example, could rank him first, and then indicate their back-up runoff choices in case he lost by finishing last. Through the automatic runoff mechanism of IRV, a candidate with true majority support in the final choice between the top two candidates would win. There would be no spoilers and no one would have to compromise their vote.
There’s nothing complicated about IRV: If you and your friends have ever reached a consensus about where to go for dinner, you already understand the dynamic behind IRV sometimes you settle for a second choice. And as for the logistics, a one-time upgrade of voting equipment and good, straightforward ballot instructions for voters do the trick.
IRV keeps growing in popularity. Backed by such leaders as President Obama and Sen. John McCain, IRV will be used for coming elections in San Francisco, Oakland and Memphis. The British prime minister has pledged to hold a national referendum to adopt IRV in the United Kingdom. Even the Oscar for Best Picture this winter will go to a film selected by IRV.