True will of the people
August 27, 2007
In contests with more than two candidates, voting can be done in a single election that ensures that the successful candidate is supported by a majority of the voters. This procedure is called rank-order voting or instant runoff voting. It is currently used by Ireland to elect its president, by Australia to elect its house of representatives, by San Francisco to elect its mayor, by Cambridge, Mass., to elect its city council, and by Basalt to elect its mayor.
For the voter, this system is simple and easy. Voters rank the candidates in order of their preference: first choice, second choice, third choice, etc. The voter can rank as many or as few candidates as he or she wishes.
For the vote-counters, this system is more complex. A computer with the proper programming can determine the winner in a matter of seconds. If done by hand by humans, a list of choices for each voter is prepared. Each list names the candidates from top to bottom in order of preference. If one candidate is the top name on more than 50 percent of the lists, the election is over. That person has won.
If no person is on top of more than 50 percent of the lists, the candidate who is on top of the fewest lists is disqualified. A recount is then done of the top name on every list. If one candidate is on top of more than 50 percent of the lists, he or she is declared the winner. If not, the procedure is repeated. The person who is on top of the fewest lists is disqualified and his or her name is removed from all the lists. A recount follows. This is repeated until one of the candidates is on top of more than 50 percent of the lists.
If there are two positions to be filled by the election, the above counting procedure is used, except the top two names on each list are considered with each count and the election is decided when two candidates are on the top two positions on more than 50 percent of the lists.
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Instant runoff voting increases voter turnout because voters can indicate support for a “dark horse” without throwing away their vote. Their second- or third-place vote will still help determine who is elected.
Also, the cost of elections is reduced since no runoff election is required when no candidate received 50 percent of the vote in a regular election. The city does not have to pay for two elections and the candidates do not have to fund two campaigns. Voters do not have to endure two election campaigns.
What I particularly like about this voting system is its effect on negative campaigning. Trashing an opponent is not likely to help a candidate’s ranking for voters who prefer the candidate who is being trashed. Negative campaigning will generally help a third party, not the candidate who is on the attack.
I hope that the Aspen City Council will give Aspen citizens an opportunity to vote on this desirable change. Rank-order voting produces an outcome that represents the true will of the people.