MPIRG proposes referendum for instant runoff voting in U elections

Josh Verges

An on-campus lobbying group is working to get a referendum for instant runoff voting on this year’s all-campus University elections ballot.

The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group will hold a presidential preference poll March 30 at four stations around campus to demonstrate how instant runoff voting works.

In an instant runoff election, voters rank candidates by preference. If no candidate has more than half the vote, officials eliminate the least supported candidate and count those ballots’ second choices. They repeat the process until the winner has a majority.

Tony Solgard, Fair Vote Minnesota president, said the organization has pushed recently for instant runoff voting in local elections. A bill for statewide instant runoff elections failed last year.

The Minnesota House of Representatives defeated another bill last week that would have allowed Roseville, Minn., to use instant runoff voting for this year’s City Council election, which features five candidates.

The state Independence Party used instant runoff voting at its caucuses earlier this month to determine the winner of its presidential preference vote.

Third parties tend to favor the method because it lets supporters rank their favorite candidate first without worrying their vote will be “wasted,” said Dave Hutcheson, state Independence Party spokesman.

MPIRG member Shaun Laden said the group has collected 1,800 of the 2,800 signatures necessary – 10 percent of the undergraduate population – to get instant runoff voting on a referendum.

If it succeeds in this year’s election, students would use instant runoff voting in 2005.

Laden said instant runoff voting would legitimize the authority of elected officials because a majority of voters would have elected them.

“Most students see (Minnesota Student Association) as ineffective,” Laden said. “Instant runoff voting would give the winners more of a mandate.”

Laden said MSA President Eric Dyer has trouble presenting his agenda as the will of the students because he won with only 31 percent of last year’s vote.

Hutcheson also pointed to growing opposition during former Gov. Jesse Ventura’s term to show what can happen when an official is elected by a minority of voters.

Ventura defeated Sen. Norm Coleman and Hubert Humphrey in 1998 with 37 percent of the vote.

Though he likes the principles of instant runoff voting, Hutcheson said the party’s caucus experiment was far from perfect.

“The U.S. mail is way less reliable than we had hoped,” he said.

The party announced its caucus results March 8 but received more ballots in the mail four days later, Hutcheson said.

He said the count took “tremendously more time” than traditional ballot counts, but that a computerized instant runoff vote would work well in larger elections.

Solgard said federal money under the Help America Vote Act should help make the state’s election equipment compatible with counting instant runoff voting ballots.

Harry Boyte, co-director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said instant runoff voting could lead to higher voter turnouts.

“It would create genuine energy and enthusiasm” from third party supporters, he said.

The method would also decrease negative campaigning, he said.

“It would encourage (candidates) to be more detailed on what they stand for,” instead of pointing out the flaws in their opposition, Boyte said.

The Election Methods Education and Research Group co-founder Russ Paielli said instant runoff voting does not represent all of a voter’s preferences and still encourages strategic voting.

“The voter is often compelled to artificially or insincerely rank a candidate in first position when he is not the voter’s actual favorite,” Paielli wrote in an e-mail.

Hutcheson said he observed “hot arguments” at one party’s convention in Australia over which candidate the party should recommend for its members’ second choices.

“Whatever game you invent people will figure out how to play it,” he said.