Voter salvation or too good to be true: instant-runoff voting


By Angie Schaffer

Remember the messy Bush-Gore election of 2000? With presidential elections approaching, the issue has been resurrected as nervous citizens wonder how to guard against it all happening again.

One potential solution is instant-runoff voting, which requires that each voter rank all candidates in terms of preference. For example, the voter’s first choice for president gets a 1, the second choice gets a 2 and the third choice receives a 3.

Initially, the voter is still voting for the candidate ranked number one. Things become more complicated after the votes are tallied. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent of votes, the candidate receiving the lowest number of votes is dropped from the race, and all votes given to that candidate are re-sorted based on second-choice picks.

This process is repeated until a winner is determined.

For those in the inner circle who have heard of instant-runoff voting, there is a backbone of support.

“Instant runoff voting is a winner-take-all system that ensures that a winning candidate will receive a majority of votes rather than a simple plurality,” says “In plurality voting — as used in most U.S. elections — candidates can win with less than a majority when there are more than two candidates running for the office. In contrast, IRV elects a majority candidate while still allowing voters to support a candidate who is not a front-runner.”

Does this sound like an improvement over the all-or-nothing method we are used to? Although there are no dangling chad debates here, the instant-runoff voting method is not all perks.

“It looks good, but it really doesn’t solve the problem,” says James Johnson, a professor in UNO’s political science department. He explains that although a large majority of the public may be divided on a first-choice candidate, there may be overall agreement on a second choice. However, this second-choice candidate could already be eliminated from the running.

Other concerns include the cost to change voting equipment (not all equipment could accommodate instant-runoff voting) and what effect a change would have on traditions such as the electoral college.

Despite these issues, the instant-runoff method is already planned for use in Utah’s Republican convention’s candidate nomination vote in May. It has also been planned for ballots in San Francisco and Alaska in 2002.

Internationally, the method is also used in Ireland, U.K. and Australia.

Ironically, the American Political Science Association uses this method to elect its president.

For those interested in the system, suggests “asking … voting officials … [to] make sure [new] equipment is capable of handling all types of voting schemes.”

Further information on instant runoff voting can be found at and at


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