Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Senate race shows need for runoff system

By: Nick Hannula , Duluth News Tribune

As I write this, the 2008 election for U.S. Senate in Minnesota is, as of yet, undecided. Incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman and challenger Al Franken each won about 42 percent of the vote. Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley scored 15 percent. Coleman and Franken are separated by hundreds of votes, with Coleman holding a slim advantage. Per Minnesota law, ballots are being recounted to decide the race’s winner.

Whichever candidate prevails will have barely won a narrow victory to the dissatisfaction of the majority of Minnesota voters; 58 percent will have not voted for the winner.

This race and other recent elections underscore a need in Minnesota to reform election law.

Coleman also failed to meet the 50 percent threshold in his 2002 election. The last three gubernatorial elections — in 1998, 2002 and 2006 — were won with 37 percent, 44 percent and 46 percent of the vote, respectively. And this year, two Minnesota congressional seats were won without a majority of the vote.

The fact that most voters did not choose former Gov. Jesse Ventura, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Coleman, Rep.-elect Erik Paulsen and Rep. Michele Bachmann in their respective races is problematic. Voters’ choices are not accurately being portrayed through the election results.

Third-party candidates have skewed results from whichever candidate is actually preferred by the voters.

The Independence Party and other third parties hold a strong place in Minnesota, and, as such, should not be disenfranchised in our system. Rather, they should exist within a system that allows a candidate, no matter the party, to win with a majority of the vote.

To solve the problem of the non-majority electoral victory, Minnesota should adopt either a two-round runoff system or an instant runoff system.

A two-round runoff system would mean that, if no candidate attains an absolute majority on Election Day, the top two candidates would proceed to a second round soon afterward. The winner at the second round wins the office. Similar systems are in place in states and localities nationwide, including Louisiana and Georgia.

The other choice is instant runoff voting, or IRV. In IRV, voters mark their choices for any given office in order of preference. If their first choice is not among the top two vote-getters, their vote is redistributed to their second choice. For example, in this year’s Senate race, a voter could have marked Barkley as their first choice and Franken as their second choice. As Barkley ended up in third place, his votes would have moved to Franken and Coleman, depending on how individual voters marked their ballots. The end result would have been a majority victory for either Franken or Coleman. This would result in a faster victory for one candidate or the other, but tends to be more confusing than the two-round system.

Whichever choice is made, electoral reform is needed in Minnesota. We cannot have our elected officials take office without the election results being anything but the best representation of the voters’ choice.

Nick Hannula grew up in Duluth, graduating from Denfeld High School in 2006. He’s a senior at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., double-majoring in political science and economics. He interned this summer in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar

forwarded to me by Michael Schaefer

1 comment:

Diane J. Peterson said...

Dear Duluth News Tribune:

I agree with writer Hannula that we need to switch to a ranked preference form of voting. That form of voting is a better system for democracy than the user-unfriendly system we have now. Americans are familiar with ranking choices through many kinds of preference testing we participate in, so ranked preference voting is not such a difficult stretch for us.

However, it seems the Republican and Democratic Parties are opposed to improving our democracy through reforming our system so voters can rank their choices of candidates according to how much we like them for the job. I listened to Mike Hatch and a spokeswoman for the Republicans denigrate ranked preference voting (also known as instant runoff voting) on the recent news show Almanac.

Interestingly, the Independence Party spokesperson praised it. That's because the Independence Party knows that ranked preference voting gives candidates a fair shot at getting elected. Sadly for democracy, the two old Minnesota Parties are opposed to making elections fair, or responsive to voters' desire.

I guess they would be embarrassed to find how low large percentages of us voters would rank their flimsy candidates. Better not to know, plus keep upstart Parties weak by retaining the old system which disempowers those opponents. Even though ranked preference voting would save the state money--no work force to pay or ballots to print for primary elections--the status quo Parties would rather this fact not be brought up to expose their hypocrisy about making government more efficient.

Diane J. Peterson

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