Meaningful election reform has finally landed in the United States, and Minnesota voters need to start pressuring city and state officials to make sure it finds its way here. Last week, California voters approved an amendment to their state constitution requiring all ballots be counted – an idea U.S. voters had taken for granted until the 2000 presidential election and, specifically, the election mismanagement by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Even more important, San Francisco voters approved a resolution calling for implementation of an Instant Runoff Voting system in an effort to fix the city’s contentious system.
IRV, an old idea that has recently resurfaced in the United States after making its rounds in Europe and Australia, gives voters the option of ranking candidates instead of picking just one. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated. The second-choice votes of those who ranked him or her first are then distributed to the remaining candidates, and the process repeats until one candidate gets the majority of the votes.
This system provides voters with more choices than election practices currently in place without forcing voters to settle; citizens don’t have to rank their choices and can still vote for one candidate. In addition, this system substantially reduces the problems many voters have faced during the past three elections that resulted in many people voting for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for the candidate in whom they believed. By doing away with the need to vote strategically simply to prevent a worst-case scenario, the true intentions and beliefs of voters will be documented, allowing for a more accurate sampling of public opinion and giving public officials a better understanding of their constituents’ ideals.
It also carries the added benefit of fostering the growth of minor parties into major political forces, which would aid the ultimate goal of true representation of the population among government officials.
Political squabbling over election reform resulting in a history of marked inaction on the issue within the federal government gives little reason to believe this reform can take place on a national level. Like nearly every step of meaningful progress taken in U.S. history, the push for a switch to IRV will have to begin locally.
San Francisco voters took the long-overdue first step last week. Minnesotans should follow their lead and change the way local elections are conducted. Beginning there, this reform can prove its effectiveness and eventually make its way to the state and national levels. But it must first take root in individual communities.