Reason Foundation

Reason Foundation

Instant-Runoff Voting Would Be a Better Alternative Than Open Primary in California, Elsewhere

Adam Summers
June 7, 2010, 3:45pm

In an earlier post, I discussed California's Proposition 14 open primary measure on the ballot tomorrow and the negative effects it would have on voter choice, voter participation, and the freedom of association. In another recent column, I offer the instant-runoff voting (IRV) system as a better alternative to the open, or "top-two," primary.

Under an IRV system, also known as “alternative vote” or “preference voting,” voters rank each of the candidates on the ballot: “1” for the voter’s first choice, “2” for the second choice, and so on. If no candidate receives a majority of “first-place” votes, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated. That candidate’s votes are then redistributed according to voters’ preferences (whatever their “second-place” votes were) and the totals are recalculated. Candidates continue to be eliminated one at a time and their votes reallocated until one candidate achieves a majority of votes.

In contrast to the top-two approach, this would increase voter choice and participation because voters could choose from all parties with qualified candidates without worrying about the wasted vote or spoiler effects. In a tight race under the current system, for example, one might be more ideologically aligned with the Green Party but not vote for her candidate of choice out of fear that such votes could take away from her second-choice candidate from the Democratic Party and that this splitting of the vote would lead to her perceived worst-case outcome: a victory for the Republican candidate. Others may not vote their conscience simply because they do not think their preferred third-party candidate can win (which helps ensure that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy). In an IRV system, however, the voter may rest assured that even if his first choice does not win, his vote still counts and he may be able to help his second-choice candidate win.

See the complete article here.

Adam Summers is Senior Policy Analyst

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