Captain's Quarters Blog

« He Died Of Exhaustion | Main | Missouri Conceded? »

September 29, 2004
If They Can't Figure Out A Butterfly Ballot ...

San Franciso will try a new form of voting that reformers have touted for years as a replacement for traditional, majority-based elections that America has used almost exclusively up to now. The New York Times reports that Frisco residents will use instant-runoff voting for its County Board of Supervisors, allowing voters to rank their choices in order to eliminate the need for a second run-off election:

The cooperation is in response to a new election system, instant-runoff voting. The system, which voters approved in 2002 and is having its first run, is viewed by critics of winner-take-all elections as the start of a long-overdue overhaul of the way Americans choose elected officials.

Under this system, voters can choose three candidates for each office, ranking them in order of preference. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes, the lowest-placing finishers are eliminated, and the second and, if necessary, third choices on those ballots are counted until someone garners a majority.

The system removes the need for a separate runoff election, saving money and, if the recent past is a guide, increasing the number of voters who have a say in choosing the winner. Under the old system, turnout usually dropped significantly in runoffs.

How does this work? Let's take a hypothetical look at how this could work in this year's presidential election in a generic state. The ballot could contain four names: George Bush, John Kerry, Ralph Nader, and Michael Bednarik (Libertarian). If none of these candidates get one vote over 50%, then only the top two survive and the eliminated ballots are retallied for their second choices -- the so-called "instant runoff", although the recount isn't likely to be instant.

Let's say the initial results look like this:

Bush - 48%
Kerry - 46%
Nader - 5%
Bednarik - 1%

After congratulating Bednarik for even showing up on this list, we have to eliminate both Bednarik and Nader and tally their voters' second choices. If 80% of Nader's voters select Kerry as their second choice and half of Bednarik's voters choose Bush as the runner-up, then the vote totals end up thus:

Kerry - 50.5%
Bush - 49.5%

So despite George Bush having a two-point advantage among first-choice voters, he winds up losing the state based on second-choice polling. Can you imagine the different stages at which recounts and lawsuits appear in this system? It would only be used when vote results are so close that no clear majority arises. Then you have a recount of only those voters whose candidates are eliminated. In some systems, everyone above a certain percentage level survives the first round, and so the voters may have to go through three rounds instead of two.

In 2000, people got their panties in a twist over butterfly ballots and the supposedly insurmountable obstacle they represented to Florida voters, even though almost every election in which I voted in California used the same kind of ballot. If the great unwashed can't figure out that a punch-card ballot has to be punched through to count, how are they supposed to understand that they have to vote for three candidates in a ranked order for each office? It's only a matter of time before we hear about confused voters claiming that they were "disenfranchised" because they forgot to mark in a third choice, or marked four people instead of three, or more new complaints about their own incompetence.

And that is what people call reform?

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 29, 2004 8:35 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry is

Design & Skinning by:
m2 web studios

blog advertising


Proud Ex-Pat Member of the Bear Flag League!