While Democrats are hopeful, if not elated, at the growing likelihood that they will gain power in Congress, we cannot forget that the overwhelming majority of seats in the House are uncompetitive or uncontested. This is also true of our state legislatures and local governments.
Primary elections, on all levels, are notoriously uncontested, with predictable results. According to a report by American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate, only 15.4 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in primaries this year, a record low for midterm primaries. Disaffection and cynicism toward meaningless political participation are rampant. This has to change–and it can.
On November 7 voters in four local jurisdictions will consider a fundamental change in how we vote. Minneapolis, Davis and Oakland, California, and Pierce County, Washington, could choose to adopt an emerging electoral reform that offers many benefits. Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is like a traditional runoff election. But instead of distributing two or three ballots on different election dates, voters rank candidates in order of preference on a single ballot. As voter choices are tabulated, candidates are eliminated until a majority winner emerges–all in one election.
With IRV, participation has more meaning. Some voters can rank their heartfelt choice first while still supporting another candidate as a second preference. Phrases like “wasted vote” and “spoiler candidate” are gone from the lexicon of democracy. In San Francisco, where IRV has been used for two City Council elections, negative campaigning has been reduced. Some rival candidates not only endorsed each other, they co-hosted events. (Candidates were vying to be their opponent’s supporters’ second choice.) IRV also increased turnout and is very popular with voters.
IRV is reliable and has a long history in the United States. It has withstood the scrutiny of the courts. This system has been in use since long before computers were invented and works well when paper ballots need to be hand-counted. More choices for voters means more competition in the marketplace of ideas. And nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come. Instant Runoff Voting holds great promise for democracy. Who is going to miss primary elections anyway?