Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Pope catfish, raw vegetables and instant-runnoff voting 

pope catfish

In most places in the U.S., whoever gets the most votes in any given election wins. Period. This requires candidates only to be the least worst which encourages negative campaigning. It also results in elected candidates who less than half of voters want in office. In Minnesota's 1998 gubernatorial election: Jesse Ventura won with 37% of the vote. And in 2002, Tim Pawlenty won with 44%. Minnesota hasn't had a governor who was the choice of more than half for years.

Although the electoral college throws in an added layer of complexity, the recent presidential election resulted in the first time since 1988 that the White House has represented a majority of American voters. In 1998, George H.W. Bush won with 53% of the vote, but since then, Clinton won with 43% in 1992 and 49% in 1996 and Bush won with 48% in 2000. The spoiler in 1992 was Ross Perot who threw the election to the Democrat, the spoiler in 2000 was Ralph Nader who threw the election to the Republican. Both Democratic and Republican candidates have recently been literally minority party candidates even though they always win barring extraordinary exceptions such as when Jesse Ventura - an Independence Party governor and Bernie Sanders, the single member of the U.S. House of Representatives who isn't a Republican or Democrat.

Voting for minor party candidates can be a good - Instant-runoff voting is one solution: voters rank candidates in order of preference and the votes are counted like this,

The candidates are Mrs. Pink, Mr. Black, Mr. Green, and Mrs. Brown. First, voter's #1 choices are tallied - if any candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, they win, but in our illustration, the votes for #1 choice are,

Because nobody received a majority, the candidate with the least number of #1 ranked votes, Mrs. Brown, is eliminated and the #2 choices on those ballots are distributed to the remaining candidates. In our example, the #2 choice of voters ranking Mrs. Brown was their #1 choice are Mrs. Pink, 10%, Mr. Black, 3% and Mr. Green, 2%. The ranking now is,

Still no majority. So the last place candidate is eliminated again and the #2 choices on those ballots redistributed. In this case, the 26% of voters who ranked Mr. Green #1 consists of 24% of voters who ranked Mr. Black as their #2 choice, 1% to Mrs. Brown, and 1% to Mrs. Pink. The tally now is,

Mr. Black wins with 53% of the vote.

I like the idea - it results in elected officials who always have majority electoral support, encourages voters to vote for and not against candidates, and makes "spoiler" candidates inconsequential towards candidates who have broad support as people's #1 choice.

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