How To Avoid Runoff Elections - And Response (4)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Regarding Bud Knowles' observations on the low turnout yesterday: There is an easy way to fix that problem and save the taxpayers money to boot. It is called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).

Under this system, instead of picking a single candidate to support in an election, each voter ranks the candidates in order of preference (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). If a candidate gets the majority of first-place votes, then he or she wins.

If no candidate gets a majority of first-place votes, then the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is dropped and the ballots that were originally counted for him or her are now credited to the candidates that were the second choice of those voters. If no one gets a majority this time, then the candidate with the next lowest number of first place votes is dropped ... and so on until someone receives a majority and wins.

The advantages of the IRV method are obvious: Regardless of the number of candidates in the race, the need to hold a separate runoff (with all the associated costs for the candidates and the citizens) is avoided. The outcome is decided in a single election, on a single day, by a single set of voters. There can be no "endorsement games" where a defeated candidate throws his/her support to another candidate - unless it is done in advance of the general election, such that all voters walk into the polling place with this knowledge.

Not only can runoffs be avoided, but it is possible to put all the candidates for a partisan office on the ballot at once and eliminate primary elections as well. If you are a Republican, you can rank all the Republicans (in whatever order you like) above all the Democrats in the knowledge that if your favorite Republican doesn't win, your vote will automatically go to your second favorite, and then your third.

Even better - with IRV, third-party and independent candidates no longer have to deal with the "wasted vote" argument. Their supporters can rank them #1 on their ballots with the assurance that if the independent doesn't win, their vote will automatically transfer to their favorite (or least objectionable) major party candidate. Thus the "Nader defeats Gore" scenario can be avoided.

IRV has been used successfully in a number of cities around the U.S. and the world (see a list at Existing optical scan voting machines such as those already in use in Hamilton County will still work - only the method of counting the ballots is different.

Yes, the process of actually filling out the IRV ballots is slightly more time-consuming ... but you only have to do it once, as opposed to making a second trip to the polls later on. All in all it is a win-win-win for the candidates, the voters, and the taxpayers who have to pick up the tab for holding the election.

Of course, even with IRV, the trick is getting the voters to show up in the first place. But that is a different (and much more difficult) problem to solve another day.

Joe Dumas
Signal Mountain

* * *

It appears that this IRV (Instant Runoff Voting) method is somewhat similar to grading on a "curve."

Grading on a curve eliminates a definitive, standards based indication of how well someone is performing. In its most basic form we could take 25 individuals with absolutely no knowledge of a subject and administer a test. Then we hand out grades based upon some formula we've determined for how many will generally receive an A, then a B, and so on. This isn't measuring teaching performance, learning ability, effective study habits, or interest in the subject matter. All it demonstrates is who can make a better W.A.G. at the answers, hardly who has a better command of the subject matter. This is outcome based education at its finest; who does best on a test, not who has the best understanding of the subject.

The only way to absolutely eliminate a runoff election is to have only one candidate.

Voters deserve to have a definitive measure of who will represent them in government. Runoff elections will be inevitable from time to time. They do not, after all, cost any more than having all the ballots in the county reprinted ... or reprinted several times. How many times did we have to do that last year because someone in Mr. Knowles' office didn't proofread before having printing done? Twice, according to archives, at a cost of almost 35 grand.

And Mr. Knowles is concerned about the cost of a runoff election? When the party responsible was merely "reassigned" instead of being fired? Reassignment might be acceptable on the first costly mistake. That individual didn't need to have a second opportunity to waste taxpayers' money.

Election costs could be further reduced by combining municipal elections with state and federal elections rather than separately as they currently are. This would additionally ensure greater voter turnout. But that will never happen. It's a reasonable cost saving measure both in terms of time and money, on the part of voters and government. Why don't we ever hear bureaucrats advocating these types of measures.

Voters deserve a definite majority in determining their representatives, not election on a curve.

Royce E. Burrage, Jr.

* * *

I often disagree with Royce Burrage's posts, but this time he has it about right. He makes a very telling point in his next-to-last paragraph about the repeated instances of having to reprint ballots after errors were discovered too late in the process. After those fiascos Bud Knowles should probably lie low, rather than complain about the cost of holding elections.

Runoff elections, rather than being perceived as an expensive inconvenience, should more wisely be viewed as a safeguard in guaranteeing that a candidate must have a majority in order to be elected. If participation is low that is the fault of an apathetic electorate, not the fault of the system. The system is not broken. Let us please not waste our time trying to fix it.

Instead of abolishing runoffs in these local nonpartisan elections, we should be looking at requiring runoffs in our primaries for state and federal office. Georgia has done this for many, many years. What is the difference? In Georgia, when the process is finished, you know you have a party nominee who has won a majority of the votes. In Tennessee all you know is that someone succeeded in splitting the rival factions and their power bases badly enough so that he/she could sneak through and win a plurality. One can win a Tennessee primary election with significantly less than 40 percent of the vote. It's legal, but it isn't right.

Charlotte Mullis (the number two person at the Election Commission) and most of the employees there actually do a fine and competent job, and from the perspective of one who has been a candidate, I can tell you they are efficient and pleasant to deal with.

Ray Minner

* * *

As usual, Dr. Dumas' efficient, common sense approach to accurate election results, coupled with saving taxpayers time and money shines through the smoke and mirrors of the despotic proponents of gerrymandering.

Of course proponents of the one party Republocrat system of government are going to disapprove of an accurate, accountable, common sense, fair and less expensive form of holding elections. After all, they're proponents of big government, and why should the people deserve a smaller, accountable representative government or accurate tabulations of their votes? This is totally unacceptable, Isn't it?

I've been a proponent of Instant Runoff Voting for several years now. Anybody can profess that the current system isn't broken even though it costs the taxpayers/constituents more time and money to come up with results that will be less accurate once the votes are manipulated. (oops, I meant tabulated) Diebold came to mind for some reason. You may want to do a search on "Diebold and Source Code Manipulation."

Apparently, 30,000 extra bucks at the expense of Hamilton County taxpayers means nothing to un-accountable, arrogant proponents of the good-ole-boy system. Personally, I'm fed up with the good-ole-boy system. A little accountability within our election system would be a breath of fresh air compared to the duopoly form of governance dominating the current direction of our governments at all levels.

A little common sense can go a long way (and help us save a lot of bucks on elections). Do your own research on "IRV".

IRV is the way for me.

Mo Kiah
Signal Mountain

* * *

The logic of Royce E. Burrage, Jr. as usual does not follow. Mr. Burrage's complaint seems to be that he has never heard of it before therefore it is no good. IRV voting is no more grading on a curve than any other grading or selection system. To use Mr. Barrage's logic we should not give grades because it looks like grading on a curve.

IRV is simple. It acknowledges that in the real world people like different things from different candidates. It allows them to rank multiple candidates in the order of who the voter thinks is best. It allows you the voter to tell us who is your first choice. Then if you can't have that choice, your next choice. This continues until a candidate gets over 50% of the vote plus one vote. Anyone you don't rank is considered a vote for none of the above.

It is simple system that can be done with a paper ballot and a highlighter. I know. I have done elections for organizations with this system.

It is amazing that system that is used by a an ally of ours (Australia) can't can't be used here because it is "different."

It is time for us to open up to new ideas. We might learn something as a people.

R. W. Young

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