Star Tribune -- November 27, 2006
It's not simply a way to grab power by the two major parties.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty should keep an open mind on instant runoff voting and talk through its implications with political scientists before he judges its merits.
IRV allows voters to list candidates by preference: first, second, third and so on. If no candidate gets a majority of first-preference votes in the first counting, then votes for the lowest-placed finisher are reassigned to the voters' second choice and retallied. The process continues until one candidate gets a majority of the vote and is declared the winner.
Pawlenty said last week that he opposes IRV because it would cement the two major parties' hold on power. But that's not its intent -- nor its likely long-term result.
Requiring that the winning candidate get a majority of votes is a reasonable and common requirement in a democracy, worth imposing even if the short-term effect might be victories by only Democrats and Republicans because third-party candidates lacked appeal broad enough to be competitive. That's almost always the case now anyway. Jesse Ventura notwithstanding, victories by third-party candidates are rare as hen's teeth.
But IRV would encourage voters to take a chance on attractive third-party candidates. No longer would voters have to weigh, for example, whether a vote for Ralph Nader would actually be a vote for George W. Bush when they'd prefer Al Gore. Or, as in the just-past gubernatorial election, wonder whether a vote for Peter Hutchinson would inadvertently benefit Pawlenty or Mike Hatch. Third-party supporters could vote their conscience without worry, and that should put wind in third-party sails.
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