Recount is no reason for this reform

As I make the rounds of post-election panels, one question keeps coming up: What about Instant Run Off Voting (IRV)?  At which point I confess that there is something about IRV that seems un-American. Or maybe I am just not wise enough to understand it. Math, after all, was never my strong suit.

Somehow the proponents of IRV (which the citizens of Minneapolis will experience in 2009) seem to think that it would solve all of our election ills. And now they are using the Senate recount to say that it would have given us a clear winner.  Hardly.

FairVote Minnesota, a group pushing IRV, has the backing of a multi-partisan group of supporters, many of whom I respect greatly. In the end I believe elections are about winning and losing.  IRV is to elections what “not keeping score” is to youth sports: Unnecessary and, as Joe Soucheray would say, “Euphorian.”

Some DFLers seem to like the idea because they are convinced that if we had had IRV in recent elections where the DFLer lost and there was a formidable third party candidate, the DFLer would have won the instant run off.  Winning would have meant being the second choice of the majority of those “third party” voters. I haven’t found many Republicans who like the idea, except former Sen. Dave Durenberger, who also supports eliminating the Electoral College and adopting a national popular vote. (Now that idea makes sense.) 

A risky idea
DFLers think IRV would have blocked the election of Republican Erik Paulsen in the 3rd Congressional District and the reelection of Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann in the 6th District. But once again, you have to learn to win on the field you are given, not change the rules because you lost the game.

Betting on IRV is a risky. Imagine multi-party elections, perhaps eight to 10 parties, in every race.  Combine that with Minnesota’s much-too-liberal laws that establish someone as a “major party” candidate by garnering only 5 percent of the vote.  With the major-party status comes public financing for state campaigns, and pretty soon we look a lot like Europe.  Too many parties. And coalition government.  Uff-Da.

But IRV isn’t the only reform or new idea that people will be pushing thanks to the “within-the-margin-of-error” Senate race between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Sen. Norm Coleman. Consider last week’s report that former Attorney General Mike Hatch, a DFLer, is pushing an idea of multi-party primaries. Hatch’s proposal makes more sense than IRV, but it still seems like an idea without a problem.

All of these efforts are the latest in a series of attempts over the years to somehow make our system “better.” 

The last major effort came in 2007 when the Council for Electoral Leadership tried to move the state primary to June from September. There was also an effort to have Minnesota host a presidential primary in 2008. Backed by Republicans and DFLers, the proposal would have also moved caucuses from March to February (which happened regardless in 2008). 

Prior to that there was a decent push to pass an initiative and referendum plan in Minnesota, which would have allowed citizens (after obtaining enough signatures) to put damn near anything on the ballot. I was a paid adviser to Let Minnesota Vote when they were pushing I&R. But it was clear that business and both parties had no interest in I&R — despite it being a very populist idea. The idea of dozens of ballot questions (like what occurs in California) is enough to scare everyone off.

Reform and Minnesota are like cousins: They see each other when they have to, but other than holidays and funerals, they don’t have much to chat about.  So when they are forced to discuss how to fix family issues, the cousins propose reform, even though the family has been doing pretty well with its system for 200-plus years.

(One reform that Minnesota can export is our public financing of campaigns. I think we may have a willing recipient in Illinois.)

We’ll see how IRV works in the 2009 mayoral race in Minneapolis. With a $5 billion state budget deficit, IRV proponents shouldn’t waste lawmakers’ time during the 2009 session. After all, we trust the recount will be over sooner than the legislative session.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 12/17/2008 - 08:21 am.

    If the recount has taught me one thing, it’s that people do not know how to cast a proper ballot by filling in an oval next to a name.

    Wait until they get 1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice columns! Awesome!

    Plus, I feel like IRV gives people two votes in a way. If you pick the loser, you get to pick again. I find that weird.

  2. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 12/17/2008 - 08:23 am.

    And now I’m arguing with myself: it also seems troubling that we elect a lot of people without getting a majority of the vote. So maybe IRV is a way to fix that. Either way, this discussion –to me– has nothing to do with the recount. Is an election about being the winner or is it about getting majority support? IF it’s about getting a majority, is IRV the best way to do that?

  3. Submitted by David Brauer on 12/17/2008 - 08:53 am.

    Jason – I’m a strong believer in IRV and think Minneapolis is a great laboratory to find out if it works, or if the “fear, uncertainty, doubt” is unwarranted.

    Two points:

    1. Remember, the primary/general election system lets you pick a loser (if you candidate doesn’t survive), then pick again. IRV just does it in a single election. Not so scary now, right?

    Since primaries are low-turnout, IRV lets the most voters participate in the winnowing. General elections – the only election with IRV – have the highest turnout.

    2. I agree that IRV has nada to do with the recount. You can have recounts with IRV, and with any method, really, short of dictatorial fiat.

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/17/2008 - 01:20 pm.

    I’m trying to find an argument against IRV in your piece. When you say it shouldn’t be done because it is “European,” are you referring to the fact that every single country in Europe has consistently higher voter turnout than the USA?
    http://www.idea.int/vt/survey/voter_turnout_pop2.cfm

    The fact that you don’t understand IRV isn’t a very compelling argument against it (after all, my grandma doesn’t understand how a man named Hussein can be a Christian, but that doesn’t convince me that Obama is a terrorist), so why exactly did you write this essay? Why did MinnPost publish it?

  5. Submitted by Kelly O'Brien on 12/17/2008 - 05:39 pm.

    My first temptation was to assert that your third sentence summed it all up. But no, no, that’s not it. I’m sure whenever you go to the grocery store and you want Honey Nut Cheerios, but they are out of stock, you successfully move on to your second, or even third choice of other favorite cereals. What could be more American than that? See, you are smart enough to understand this.

    Minnesota has a long and proud history of third parties. Where do you think the “farmer” and “labor” come from in DFL? I can’t agree with you that having multiple parties on a ballot is a bad thing, and besides, it’s inevitable here.

    The beauty of IRV is that it ensures that whoever gets elected has the majority of the support of the voters. That is better democracy.

  6. Submitted by Larry LaVercombe on 12/17/2008 - 06:14 pm.

    Responding in order to a few of Mr. Olson’s comments:

    Mr. Olson says: “now (IRV supporters) are using the Senate recount to say that it would have given us a clear winner.” I don’t believe this is true, per se. IRV would have given us a clear winner IF a large majority (say 55% or more) of the Barkley voters would have voted for either Coleman or Franken. If that had happened, with IRV, the totals toward either Coleman or Franken would have been enough to reveal a clear winner. If the Barkley voters split close to 50/50, we would probably still have a recount, because as those votes were distributed to their rightful 2nd recipients, the tally would have still been so close as to trigger a recount.

    Mr. Olson says: “IRV is to elections what “not keeping score” is to youth sports.” This does not really deserve a response. Mr. Olson might be a little more respectful in writing off the wishes of the majority of the Minneapolis electorate.

    Mr. Olson says: “Some DFLers seem to like the idea because they are convinced that if we had had IRV in recent elections where the DFLer lost and there was a formidable third party candidate, the DFLer would have won the instant run off.” More true is that most IRV supporters support IRV because it is more fair, and because IRV will generate better results for a variety of reasons. Not because one party will be the beneficiary. Mr. Olson seems to be overly concerned about what DFLers think, and not concerned enough about what IRV is and what IRV does. Mr. Olson goes on to write about Erik Paulsen and Michelle Bachman, as if DFL opinion about them is the key issue. It is not. The key issue is about voter preference, and getting the representative with whom most of the electorate is satisfied.

    Mr. Olson says: “Betting on IRV is a risky. Imagine multi-party elections, perhaps eight to 10 parties, in every race….Uff-Da.” Imagine the sky is falling. Imagine the stupid people getting into office and wrecking things for everyone. Imagine a lot of things, if you’d like. But also imagine a far better way of choosing our representatives – such as one like IRV, where there will never be more than 50% of the people who are unhappy with the result of the election. With IRV you get to vote for your favorite candidate without fearing that you are wasting it on a candidate who is unlikely to win. By allowing ranked choice, you may not prevail with your first choice, but at least the worst person doesn’t get in because you voted for person you liked best.

  7. Submitted by John Hottinger on 12/18/2008 - 12:58 am.

    Lots of excellent arguments for IRV — since it is an excellent idea. I firmly believe Minnesotans are capable of ranking their favorite Vikings, favorite prime time TV shows, favorite on line newspapers and favorite political candidates. It would be refreshing to have a Governor with the support of 50% of the people. An old truism: the only group which hates reform more than political insiders who think they can win the game are political consultants who get paid to play the game and don’t want the rules to change. You go Minneapolis and St. Paul!

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