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Instant runoff system would benefit American system

By Gregory Koch
On January 24, 2013

Under the current voting system, many people tend to vote for the "lesser evil" of the Democrat and Republican rather than vote third party and risk the "greater evil" being elected. Although I disagree with that idea, there is an easier solution than changing the mindset - we can change the voting system instead.
Instant runoff voting, a form of ranked choice voting, is a significant improvement to the current "first-past-the-post" system, where whichever candidate gets the most votes wins, regardless of how many votes he receives.
This system is already used by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. Under instant runoff voting, voters rank all the candidates on the ballot in order of preference, and if nobody receives more than half of the first place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated from the ballot and their first place votes are distributed to the voters' second choices. This will continue for however many rounds it takes for someone to get more than half of the votes, but this process happens instantaneously once the votes have been recorded, so it takes no more time to determine the winner than it does under the current system.
As an example, suppose there are five candidates running in a fictitious race - the two major party candidates, the Libertarian, a candidate from the Anti-Prohibition Party (a New York party with libertarian views) and the American Nazi Party candidate. Almost everyone would have the Nazi Party as their last choice, while a few neo-Nazis would have him as their first. The Nazi would have the fewest first place votes. If none of the other four received a majority, then he would be eliminated and the voters who had him as their first choice would instead have their votes cast for their second choice. Suppose the Anti-Prohibition candidate is now in last, and nobody has a majority. Most of that candidate's supporters would probably vote for the Libertarian as a second choice, so most of their votes would be redistributed there. If nobody had a majority yet, the process would repeat until somebody did.
My choice of parties in that example was deliberate. Under the present system, the Libertarian and Anti-Prohibition candidates would split the libertarian vote, hurting both their totals. This is what happened when they both ran candidates for Governor of New York in 2010. Under instant-runoff, voters would be able to select one party as a first choice and the other as a second choice. This way, the candidates will not take votes away from each other and swing the election to someone else. Instead, once one of them is eliminated, the other will get most of their votes.
Another main benefit of this system is that people would not have to decide whether or not to vote for the "lesser evil." Most supporters of the Libertarian and Constitution Parties would rather have a Republican than a Democrat, while supporters of left-wing parties like the Green Party would pick the Democrat over the Republican if they had to. However, they would all rather see their own party's candidate win.
Under the present system, they have to make a choice: vote for the "lesser evil" of the two major parties or vote for their own party and risk the "greater evil" winning. Under instant runoff voting, they could do both. They could put their own party's candidate as their first choice, and further down the list, rank the "lesser evil" above the "greater evil" so that if it became necessary, they would vote for that candidate.
In addition to San Francisco, Oakland, and some smaller cities, instant runoff is used by several private organizations. For instance, the Academy Award for Best Picture is selected under this system. After expanding the award to ten nominees in 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided that ranked choice would be the best way to express the members' judgment. Similarly, in an election with many third-party candidates in addition to the Democrat and Republican, ranked choice voting is the best system to accurately reflect the collective opinion of the electorate.
It is time for America to implement instant runoff voting in local, state, and even national elections. This would create a fairer election system.  


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