By Laura Beth McCaul
While the Democrats’ congressional takeover and Donald Rumsfeld's resignation are making headlines, election day set off another trend that may not be on the tip of voters' tongues, but could change the way democracy works in the United States.
Instant runoff voting (IRV), or ranked choice voting – which has been in place in San Francisco for two years -- was on the ballot in four jurisdictions and all won with significant approval. Minneapolis, Oakland, Davis and Washington’s Pierce County all approved measures that will eliminate separate primary elections and allow voters to rank the candidates from their first to last choice.
Steven Hill, director of the Political Reform Program at the New America Foundation, said IRV "speaks to a lot of people who feel like the current system is not working and they want a political system that is going to open it up and give more choices. Instant runoff voting really fulfills a need that makes them feel like their vote counts."
Advocates for IRV say it gives voters more choices while reducing voter fatigue, since ballots only have to be cast once. It also lessens the burden on taxpayers because they will only pay for one election instead of two.
Krist Novoselic, former Nirvana bassist and current crusader for ranked choice voting, said it could also bring more voters to the polls: "People are really cynical about democracy and there's a lack of participation. I believe that if you give voters more choices, just like anything in life, if you have more options you're more willing to participate.”
Voters have more choices because they can vote for multiple candidates in one election instead of deciding between the Republican or Democratic nominee. Rob Richie, executive director of The Center for Voting and Democracy, said people who have used ranked voting say they overwhelmingly support it. While the average voter support for IRV was 62 percent, Richie said opposition comes from concern over testing a new system.
He said that those against IRV "will often exaggerate the complexities of the change and how much money it's going to cost." He went on to explain that the more IRV is used, the easier it will be to implement it in other locations.
"I think there's a bit of a tipping point that we hit with this vote," said Richie. "We just need to keep making it work in places where it's used."