So you’re a Town of Telluride citizen, and you’ve been bombarded with information from the ballot questions that want your tax money. Well, what about the “other” town ballot question – should the town start using Instant Runoff Voting to elect our Mayor? Doesn’t seem very important, does it? Well, it is very important, and it has huge potential to make this country a better democracy.
So, what’s the problem with the way we vote now?
The way we vote now in Telluride (and most places in the U.S.) is called “plurality” voting: the candidate with the most votes is elected. This is fine when there are only two candidates in a race. When three or more candidates compete for an office, the winning candidate often receives less than 50 percent of the vote. This means that a majority of voters actually preferred someone else other than the person who was elected. This violates the commonsense principle that a candidate elected ought to be preferred by a majority of the voters, right?
So for example, in 2000, George Bush ran against Al Gore, and Ralph Nader won enough votes that neither candidate had a majority (over 50 percent). And there was a lot of discussion that a vote for Ralph Nader was a “wasted” vote, since it likely allowed the less popular (George Bush) candidate to get elected. So, if Ralph Nader’s votes had been distributed between Bush and Gore, who would the people have preferred?
The same was also true in 1992, Bill Clinton was elected with only 43 percent of the vote (not a majority of over 50 percent), with George Bush receiving 37 percent and Ross Perot 19 percent. If Ross Perot hadn’t been there, who would the people who have voted for him voted for?
Even this year, there are 16 candidates on the ballot! We know that 15 of those are not going to win, so most of us automatically rule out voting for anyone but the few most popular. And even thought it isn’t a very democratic system, some of us end up voting for who we think will win, NOT for who we really want and identify with…
Locally, in our last mayoral election in November 2007, yet again a similar situation occurred: Stu Fraser won with 46 percent of the vote, Terry Tice had 44 percent and Chance Leoff had 10 percent. So the buzz around town was: how would the election have turned out if we knew who would the people who voted for Chance have voted for?
Here’s the cool part: with IRV in place, the will of the people triumphs, and we get to know who is really desired by the people. How?
With IRV, people rank their candidates in order of preference. If a candidate receives a majority (over 50 percent) of first choices, he or she is elected and the process is over. But if no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the fewest first choices (the lowest number of votes) is eliminated. Then, voters who ranked that candidate first now have their ballots counted for their second choice. The process continues until a candidate earns a majority of votes.
By ranking candidates, voters are able to express their true preferences without worrying if their vote is wasted: people vote for who they want not just for who they think will win. For this reason, IRV often leads to a higher voter turnout because voters feel that their vote matters.
So who supports IRV? First off, it is a non-partisan issue: both John McCain and Barack Obama support IRV.
Second, it has already been approved in Colorado for mayoral elections by voters in Basalt and Aspen. It has also been approved across the country by communities in fifteen states: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont, and Washington. Forms of it are also being used in Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia – for the last 80 years!
Third, the Colorado State Legislature passed legislation this year “concerning the use of ranked voting methods, and…authorizing cities [in Colorado]…to use ranked voting.” So, we are simply following direction of the state to give this a try.
If the citizens of Telluride adopt this initiative, it would only be for a trial basis of three election cycles for mayor (when there are three or more candidates).
And in the BIG picture, if we start to use it here and we like it, maybe voters will begin to use it statewide and then maybe for President? Who knows? So, let’s start getting familiar with it and offer Telluride a better form of democracy.
Please vote yes for instant runoff voting (Question No. 202) in the Town of Telluride.
Want to know more? Go to YouTube and search for “Instant Runoff Voting” or check out www.FairVote.org and www.InstantRunoff.com.