Conservatives Benefit From Instant Runoff Voting, Too
By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program / truth-out.org
Mar 23, 2013

According to a report yesterday in Bloomberg Businessweek, former 2012 Republican Presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were very close to forming a “Unity Ticket” back in February of 2012, in an effort to knock Mitt Romney out of nomination contention.

After Santorum claimed the Iowa caucus and three other primaries in early February, the talk of forming a “Unity Ticket” reached its peak.

John Brabender, Santorum’s chief strategist, told Bloomberg Businessweek that, “Everybody thought there was an opportunity. It would have sent shock waves through the establishment and the Romney campaign.”

But the talks over the ticket broke down when neither candidate could agree over which one of them would be at the top of the eventual ticket.

These talks of an alliance between Santorum and Gingrich to take down Romney remind us how narrow our choices are with a two-party system. If our political system provided for third, fourth or fifth parties, Santorum and Gingrich could have simply run on other party tickets, and Republican-leaning voters would have had more choices.

Every generation or so, it seems that an American presidential candidate will run on a third party ticket. They always lose, and they rarely even advance their own interests, as they split the votes from the side they’re on.

Charles Koch ran as a Libertarian, Ross Perot invented the Reform Party to run on, and Ralph Nader hooked up with the Greens. Before that John Anderson ran in 1980 as an independent. None ever got anywhere.

That’s because in the United States, we use what’s called “first-past-the-post, winner-take-all” voting systems.

But that wouldn’t have been the case if we had instant runoff voting (IRV) or proportional representation (PR).

The United States is one of only a handful of developed countries in the world that doesn’t have proportional representation, and of those few nations, two, Australia and New Zealand, have instant runoff voting.

We don’t have it, because we’re one of the world’s oldest democracies. After the Constitution was written, James Madison had a horrible realization.

Madison realized that we were the first real democracy of major significance since Rome, and that our democracy was, in reality, an experiment.

Madison also realized that with first-past-the-post-winner-take-all elections, you could have a democracy if there were only two parties, so 51% of the vote could win, but couldn’t have a real small-d democracy with more than two parties. With three parties, 34% of the vote could run the country. With four parties, it could be 26% of the vote.

That’s why, in Federalist Papers #10, Madison begged us not to from political parties, or what he called “factions”.

Madison wrote that, “…It may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction.”

It wasn’t until Madison was long dead that Englishman John Stuart Mill proposed, and invented, the idea of proportional representation, where whichever party got, for example, 9% of the vote, that party would get to put their people into 9% of the seats in Parliament. Or thirty percent. Or sixty percent. Whatever the voters wanted, they got.

Proportional representation is the reason why there are so many political parties in Israel, Germany, France, Japan and a host of other developed nations.

Under proportional representation, the voices of all of the people are heard, because it not only allows for but actually promotes multiple political parties

There are two ways we can accomplish this democratic ideal of more than just two political parties here in the United States.

The first is to have the states change the way they apportion votes to Congress and the Senate.

Proportional representation, otherwise known as “fair voting,” already has a long history in U.S. elections. Over 100 cities and counties across the country use some form of fair voting to fill their various elected offices.

FairVote is one of the leading organizations in the fight to bring proportional representation to the halls of Congress and the Senate.

The organization also advocates strongly for instant runoff or ranked voting.

In our current system of voting, also known as a “plurality voting system,” three political parties is a crowd. Our current two-party system discourages new candidates from entering the fray, and suppresses new ideas and dissenting opinions.

However, instant runoff voting creates the democratic ideal of majority rule and voter choice.

Instant runoff voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference (i.e first, second, third and so on).

If a candidate receives a majority of first choices, he or she is elected. But if nobody has a clear majority of votes on the first count, a series of runoffs begin, using voters’ preferences as indicated on their ballot.

The candidate who receives the fewest first place votes is eliminated.

All ballots are then recounted, and if you voted for the guy who got the least number of votes, your second choice gets counted instead.

The weakest candidates are continually eliminated and their voters' ballots are added to the totals of their next choices until one candidate wins a majority of votes.

An example of an election when instant runoff voting would have worked wonders for America was the 2000 election between Bush, Gore and Nader.

Back in 2000, I voted for Ralph Nader, and Louise voted for Al Gore.

Although the real reason Bush took Florida was because the US Supreme Court stopped a statewide recount, and because Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris had illegally knocked about 70,000 African-American voters off the rolls even before the polls opened, Ralph Nader did get around 70,000 votes in that election.

But what if IRV had been in place?

Under IRV, and if I lived in Florida (I actually lived in Vermont at the time) I could have voted for Ralph Nader as my first choice, and Al Gore as my second. Since Nader had the fewest votes and lost, my ballot would have rolled over to a vote for Al Gore.

Now just imagine all of the Ralph Nader votes that were cast across the country rolling over to votes for Al Gore.

Surely, Al Gore would have won the election, and the Supreme Court never could have stolen it for George Bush.

Right now, instant runoff voting is used in more than 300 communities across the country, including San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, California.

And, thanks to organizations like FairVote and the Green Party, instant runoff voting is becoming more and more popular across America.

But we need to take instant runoff voting and proportional representation national.

We need more voices and more choices in our elections.

It’s time to leave the 18th century system behind, and step into the 21st century!

This article was first published on Truthout.

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Conservatives Benefit From Instant Runoff Voting, Too