Monday, June 8, 2009

Avoiding the Instant Runoff Virus in the Virginia Gubenatorial Primary

I read David Swanson's blog on the VA Gubenatorial primary over at DailyKos. He mentioned that it's essentially a three way race, and asked how to deal with that.

This dilemma could also be solved, in a way, with Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). Back when Deeds was trailing, Rob Richie was arguing that both McAuliffe and Moran supporters would choose Deeds as their second choice and thus give him the victory if IRV were used. But so might supporters of Deeds favor Moran as their second choice. In primaries conducted on paper and counted locally (as in a recent Charlottesville City Council Democratic primary at a single polling place that used IRV) the integrity of an election can be protected while considering second choices and ensuring majority support for a winner. But in a state-wide race, votes could only be counted at a central location if IRV were used. If you can't ensure the results by having them counted publicly where they are cast, what good is improving the method of calculation?

There is a better way that takes into consideration the weaknesses of winner-take-all. We should figure out who the best winner would be and back that candidate. Claims about viability do not in this case even enter into it. The race is a three-way tie.

I did not know that the Charlottesville firehouse primary votes were counted in the single location where cast. But David Swanson hits on a big problem with IRV - you will need central counting for anything other than an IRV race that excompasses only a single precinct polling place. He recognizes that counting votes were cast is crucial to election integrity, and that central counting is problematic.

IRV seems to be a "we can't get people really interested in the political process, so let's throw in the towel". Swanson isn't buying into that strategy. He seems to recognize that the way to elect the best candidate in the primary is to motivate people to get out and vote for the best candidate. It's about what it will take to inspire more people to get out and vote, not about figuring out who is the more viable candidate or running ENRON accounting tricks with IRV.

One other consideration, beyond who's best to win the primary, is who's most likely to win the general election if nominated. But I've heard passionate declarations that only Deeds and only Moran and only McAuliffe can win the general election. It comes down to whether you buy the conventional wisdom that the best way for Democrats to win is to steal Republican votes, or you accept the alternative view that Democrats have a better chance if they inspire more people to vote and allow the Republicans to keep their voters. Given that huge numbers of Virginians registered to vote last year precisely in order to vote for Obama for president, the inspiring-more-people approach has greater potential than usual. Can first-time voters in 2008 be persuaded to vote in a general election in 2009? What about in a primary?
Obama or DNC Chair Tom Kaine haven't done anything to build the Democratic Party so that they can take advantage of the "inspiring-more-people" approach for the 2009 primary election. The "Obama For America" groups have morphed into "Organizing For America" that is part of the DNC. So far they appear to only be trying to organize people to support specific Obama policies and not party buiding. That is a mistake, and I feel that will come back to bite them in the ass in the 2009 and 2010 elections.

But even Swanson recognizes that IRV is not the answer to what ails lower voter interest in the political process. It will take plenty of good old-fashioned hard work to get people out there to vote.

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