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OPINION: Connecticut is Ready for IRV

Marilyn Mackay // Published February 17, 2009 in Lyme Times

An Op-Ed piece in which Marilyn Mackay, of the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut, writes about how IRV would put Connecticut at the top of the charts when it comes to low-cost, democratic, fair, and equal opportunity elections.

This year will be a record year for belt-tightening for families and governments. What better time for our legislators to look at more efficient, democratic, and less costly ways to run Connecticut’s elections?

The system is called Instant Runoff Voting or IRV.

IRV, in a single election, combines primaries, general elections, and runoffs, thereby improving voter turnout and saving on the cost of several elections.

Vermont almost became the first state to use IRV in 2008 when its House and Senate passed a bill, but its governor vetoed it.

The process is being used in a number of U.S. cities—Burlington, Vt., San Francisco, Cambridge, Mass., and Springfield, Il., to name a few. Other countries in which the system is used are Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, New Guinea, and New Zealand.

How does IRV work?

Voters rank candidates in order of choice—first, second, third, etc. It takes a majority to win. If a majority of voters ranks a candidate first, that person is elected.

If not, the last-place candidate is defeated (removed), just as in a runoff election, and all ballots are counted again. But this time each ballot cast for the defeated candidate counts for the next ranked (second choice) candidate listed on the ballot.

The process of eliminating the last-place candidate and recounting the ballots continues until one candidate receives a majority of the vote. With modern voting equipment, all counts and recounts can take place rapidly and automatically.

Currently, in multiple-candidate races, like-minded constituencies split their votes among their own competing candidates, allowing someone with less overall support to prevail. IRV prevents the possibility of a third-party candidate “spoiling” the race by taking enough votes from one major candidate to elect the other, frequently with far less than a majority.

IRV also affects campaign debates. Because it requires second- and third-choice votes to win, candidates have incentive to focus on the issues and form coalitions, greatly decreasing negative campaigning and personal attacks.

Those interested in learning more about IRV can check out www.instantrunoff.com.

David Durenberger, a Republican and former U.S. senator from Minnesota, on Nov. 24, 2008, wrote an article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune.com titled “Avoid the agony of recounts, and more with instant runoff.” The full article can be read at www.startribune.com/templates/Print_This_Story?sid=35018964

Here are a few excerpts:

“We all were hoping that the bruising and expensive race for the U.S. Senate seat would end on Election Day. Instead, the $40 million-plus campaign continues to permeate our headlines and limit our forward momentum. The Coleman-Franken race is now in a contentious recount and is almost certainly headed to the courts from there. The recount and its aftermath will be a protracted and high-priced affair, and no matter the outcome, most voters will be left wondering if there is not a better way to express our preferences.

“Instant-runoff voting (IRV) would have produced an entirely different election…How would IRV have made a difference? It would have most likely produced a decisive winner on Election Day with the affirmative support of a majority of the voters…

“The democratic process is based on the principle of majority rule. In elections where only one candidate can win, IRV ensures that the winner is decided by the majority of voters.”

The combination of Connecticut’s new campaign financing laws and IRV would put our state at the top of the charts when it comes to low-cost, democratic, fair, and equal opportunity elections. It’s time for a change.

By Marilyn Mackay
Special to the Times

Marilyn Mackay is head of the membership committee for the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut. The League, open to men and women, is a non-partisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. The group works to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy.