Meaningless runoff averted by slim margin

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New York City Democrats narrowly avoided having to go back to the polls for a runoff in their mayoral primary. Early counts showed Freddy Ferrer just shy of the 40% required to win the primary outright. The second-place finisher, Anthony Weiner, got about 29%, with the remaining 31% split among four candidates. Weiner conceded defeat and endorsed Ferrer, but apparently NYC requires the runoff to go forward regardless. Tulsans will recall the December 2001 primary to replace Congressman Steve Largent: When John Sullivan finished first, well ahead of First Lady Cathy Keating, but shy of Oklahoma's 50% runoff threshold, Mrs. Keating graciously withdrew and the runoff was cancelled.

In the event, final returns gave Ferrer the necessary 40%. (NY1.com had the results, but a big chunk of that site is currently offline.) Still, the close shave with a pointless election has some New Yorkers talking about alternatives, like Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). And it's interesting that, while some criticize IRV for encouraging fringe candidates by eliminating the worry of "wasting" your vote on someone with no chance of winning, the voices advocating IRV say it will force candidates to make a broader appeal, rather than simply try to put together the biggest of the tiny slivers of the electorate.

Daily Gotham:

A candidate must appeal to his rivals' supporters for their second and third place votes in order to prevail in multiple rounds of counting. Divisiveness doesn't work if you're simply a plurality, nor does painting certain candidates (the wild ones, with the kooky lefty ideas) as "spoilers." Voters could finally vote their conscience and their true preference, and candidates would have to emphasize common ground and areas of agreement.

Doug Israel and Amy Ngai of the Citizens Union Foundation add their support and offer this explanation of the system:

Other jurisdictions have conducted runoffs while managing to avoid these shortcomings through a system called Instant Runoff Voting. In this system, the voters rank their preferences when they vote in the primaries. If no clear majority is achieved on first-choice votes, the candidate with the minimum amount of votes is eliminated, with his or her votes reallocated to the votersí second choice. If there is still no victor, election officials go through the count again with votersí third choices, and so on, until a candidate reaches the threshold for victory.

That entry links to a Mark Green op-ed from earlier this year. He argues that IRV saves money and empowers voters:

Instant runoffs encourage candidates to run high-minded races, because they need to simultaneously court voters for their second- and third-choice votes. So instead of seeking a plurality by only working their respective racial, religious or community niches, candidates have to seek votes outside their own particular constituency. That avoids the scenario of a winner who gets elected by a sliver of voters only because the majority was divided among more generally favored candidates.

Instant runoffs also can level the general election playing field when the challenger's party has an additional - and often divisive - runoff contest while the incumbent saves money, face and energy. On Election Day, IRV frees voters to vote their consciences without the worry of wasting their vote on a long-shot spoiler candidate like a Ralph Nader since their ballots will be recast for their next choices if their first loses.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 20, 2005 12:40 AM.

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