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.