Do We Need Runoff Elections?


In the last two Governor’s elections, the winner received fewer than 50% of the votes. Some people have a problem with this. I don’t. Some want to solve this with either a run-off, or an IRV (Instant Runoff Voting). First, with a run-off, we would have another election where the top two vote-getters would be the only names on the ballot. This sounds like a bit of an issue because we’d need some time in between the first election and the run-off, if there is going to be one. If there is time in between, candidates will want to continue campaigning. Should they save money for that possibility? How many people will actually come out and vote in that run-off? It sounds like more of a problem than having the Governor elected with fewer than 50% of the votes.

As for the IRV, maybe it sounds simple enough, just rank the candidates based on your preference. Well, for one, we have a number of voters who can’t figure out that connecting a single line for a party means they are casting a vote for all members of that party in partisan races. Introducing an IRV has the potential to be more than those people can handle.

How’s this for a clear explanation, taken from Wikipedia:

IRV has the effect of avoiding split votes and the need for electors to vote “strategically” for candidates who are not their first choice. For example; suppose there are two similar party candidates A & B, and a third opposing candidate C, with raw popularity of 35%, 25% and 40% respectively. In a plurality voting system candidate C may win with 40% of the votes, even though most electors prefer A and B, over less popular candidate C. Alternatively, voters are pressured to choose the likely stronger candidate of either A or B, despite personal preference for the other, in order to help ensure defeat of C. It is often the resulting situation that candidate A or B would never get to ballot, whereas voters would be presented a two candidate choice. With IRV, the elector can allocate their preferences B, A, C and then A will win despite the split vote in first choices.

Perfectly clear, right? Why do I get the feeling that with all that going on, people will clamor to simply let them connect a line and be done with it. Who cares if the winner only has 40%?

There’s also the gamesmanship. Just use the past election, and tell me you don’t think this is reasonable to assume. Most Raimondo supporters would vote Raimondo as their #1 and Healey as their #2. Most Fung supporters would vote Fung as their #1 and Healey as their #2. Most Healey supporters would vote Healey as their #1 and give no other votes. With this system, Healey might be our new Governor. Is that what people really wanted? I’m doing my best to avoid a strawman argument here, but when you have the option to do bullet voting, these unintendend consequences become a real possibility. What will people think when they realize that only 22% had the new Governor as their #1 choice? Is that the kind of system that we want?

I don’t feel the system needs any changes. There is no “mandate” for the winner if they get 50.1%. We have elections where the person who gets the most votes wins. I don’t see a problem with that. Once someone wins, then it’s up to them to create their own mandates from the people by governing well. I say don’t fix a problem that doesn’t exist. Keep our elections like they are today.

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