The 2002 Oregon Governor's race and the 2000 US Presidential race both saw a minor failure of democracy. Each of these races saw the election of a candidate -- in one case a Democrat, in the other a Republican -- whom most voters voted against. Indeed, the winner was probably not even the second choice of most voters.
This situation can arise whenever there are more than two candidates. One solution is to hold run-offs. Once the weakest candidates are eliminated, the voters can make a final choice. Traditional runoffs, unfortunately, require time and money.
There is an even better solution: instant runoff voting (IRV). With IRV, voters aren't limited to only listing their favorite candidate. Instead, each voter lists a first choice, a second choice, et cetera. In the first counting of the ballots, only the first choices are counted. If any candidate has a majority (more than 50% of the votes), that candidate wins, as usual. This is likely to happen in most races.
If no candidate has a majority, an instant runoff is held. The candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and those ballots are redistributed according to the second choices listed. It's just like a runoff, but there's no need to print and mail out new ballots. If there are more than three candidates, the instant runoffs continue until one candidate has a majority.
Because IRV requires a majority (rather than a mere plurality), it elects candidates that the electorate can get behind. IRV eliminates the "spoiler" problem, which benefits the major parties. IRV allows voters to safely vote for their favorite candidate (even if he or she is a longshot), which benefits third parties and independents. IRV encourages positive campaigning, because candidates want to be ranked highly on as many ballots as possible.
Sounds good? This year, we have a chance to make IRV happen right here in Oregon. House Bill 2638 would enable cities and counties to use IRV if they choose to do so. It doesn't cost the state anything and it doesn't force anyone to use IRV -- it just gives localities the option.
Oregon has a long tradition of political experiments, and HB 2638 would allow us to try out IRV in a few places before adopting it statewide. This is probably overcautious, as IRV is already well-tested. It's used to elect the mayors of San Francisco and London, the president of Ireland, representatives in Australia, and the president of the American Political Science Association.
Please contact your state legislators and encourage them to support HB 2638. Let's bring IRV to Oregon!