Instant runoff election is true to democracy

Jim Sinex // Published May 28, 2008 in Arizona Daily Star

Tucson's elected city government is not based on majority rule. City elections, along with those in much of the rest of the state, are based on a plurality system. That means that the candidate with the most votes wins.

That's a simple majority system if there are only two candidates. Add one more candidate and a 50 percent plus one majority needed to win becomes a 33 percent plus one plurality necessary for victory. That's how Evan Mecham was elected governor in 1986 with 38 percent of the vote.

Plurality has its purpose if you need quick results on election night, but it is no way to run a democracy.

With the current trend toward nonparty voters and minor parties, we can look forward to being governed by representatives that the majority votes against. That is, unless we decide to change our elections to a truly majority-driven system.

If we do, a problem will arise in that a multi-candidate race may require a runoff election to determine a true majority candidate. The inconvenience and cost of a runoff election is more then some can bear to consider. So the ideal of a majority-driven democracy suffers.

We can solve all this with a simple change to the Tucson City Charter — instituting instant-runoff or ranked-choice voting.
This change would require a ranked ballot for any election with three or more candidates. The proposal would allow voters to choose the candidate that best represents their values without fear of spoiling an election. It also guarantees majority rule.

Simply put, in an election between candidates "A," "B" and "C," a voter could rank candidate "C" first on a ranked-choice ballot. The voter can do so even though "C" hasn't a fool's chance of winning, but better represents the voter's values. When the votes are tallied, candidate "C" might be eliminated mathematically and then the voter's second choice would actually get that vote.

Under Arizona's initiative, recall and referendum laws, we can put this idea on the November 2009 ballot for the City of Tucson with roughly 10,000 signatures. FairElect-Tucson, an organization dedicated to promoting representative government through fair, representative elections, has such a proposal registered with the City Clerk's Office.

The process of bringing such a striking idea to your ballot takes a good deal of effort. The results will be worth that effort.

Instant-runoff voting is currently in place in a number of municipalities in the United States, including large cities like Minneapolis and San Francisco.

Instant-runoff voting is coming to ballots across the nation. How about Tucson?

Write to Jim Sinex at [email protected]