Illinois needs instant runoff election for primaries

Illinois needs instant runoff election for primaries

By Amy Connolly

Illinois needs instant runoff

election for primaries

By Amy Connolly

Yet again, Illinois has a Democratic candidate for governor who cannot even claim the support of more than 40 percent of his party. This time, the Republican nominee could not muster a majority of votes from his party. And none of the candidates competing for the Republican U.S. Senate ticket could convince more than half of their party members to vote for them. Our current voting system allows the vast majority of party members to split their vote between two or more candidates, allowing someone with a small percentage of the vote to win. And a voter who likes one of the less popular candidates feels compelled to vote for one of the likely winners instead. Isn’t there a better way to decide who should represent each party in the November elections?

There is: instant runoff voting. Voters indicate their first choice and whom they would vote for in a runoff election if their first choice did not survive. If no one earns a majority of first-choice votes, the election goes to an instant runoff.

For example, in last week’s Democratic primary, no one earned a majority of votes, so the last-place candidate, Roland Burris, would have been eliminated in the instant runoff. The runoff between Vallas and Blagojevich to see who had the most support would come down to the second-choices of Burris supporters. Any first-choice vote for Blagojevich or Vallas would still be counted for the same candidate in the runoff. A Burris voter would have his or her second choices count in the runoff. This way, the party chooses the nominee with the broadest amount of support, and sends the strongest possible candidate on to the November elections. How would Blagojavich have fared in an instant runoff? We will never know, since voters were not asked for their runoff choices last Tuesday. Is Blagojevich the true choice of the Democrats?

Illinois State Senator Barack Obama recently introduced a bill (SB 1789) which would implement instant runoff voting for primary elections. This bill deserves study and support.

Instant runoff voting recently received national attention when San Francisco adopted the method to elect their city officials on March 5th. San Francisco previously held separate runoff elections to determine the winner, but the extra cost of holding a separate election and the drop in voter turnout convinced voters to adopt instant runoff elections. Chicago aldermanic elections also call for a separate runoff election when no one earns a majority, and so the city could also save money by discerning the candidate with the broadest support in a single instant runoff election.

Instant runoff voting has been used in Ireland and Australia for nearly a century, and where it is used, voter turnout is higher, and there is a broader range of choices on the ballot. It’s time for Irish voting in Illinois.

Amy Connolly is a board member at the Midwest Democracy Center, a non-profit Chicago-based advocacy organization which strives to make our elections more democratic and our government more representative.

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