GOVERNOR'S COUNCILLOR

Peter Vickery

 

P.O. Box 300, Amherst, MA 01004-0300

Tel. (413) 549 9933      Fax (413) 256 1207

E-mail: peter@votevickery.com

www.VoteVickery.com

 

 

 

 

January 22, 2005

 

Platform Committee

c/o Massachusetts Democratic Party

10 Granite Street

Quincy MA 02169

 

Dear Committee Members:

 

...Turning to policy, I recommend an addition to Part IX (Political Participation and Reform), namely a commitment to Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).  Instant Runoff Voting is a voting system that was born here in Massachusetts and is now in use in a variety of places, including Louisiana, Utah, and New Mexico.  It is my firm belief that IRV is likely to not only increase voter participation, but also to significantly increase the likelihood of a Democratic victory in the gubernatorial election.

 

(a)  What is Instant Runoff Voting?

IRV is an American voting system that abides by the principle of one-person-one-vote and promotes majority rule.  IRV helps ensure that in an election with three or more candidates, the winner is the candidate who has the support of the majority of the voters.

 

IRV is like a traditional two-stage runoff election, but without the cost and lower turnout of a second round of voting.  IRV lets voters rank the candidates in order of preference -- 1 for their favorite, 2 for their second choice, and so on.  In other words, voters choose among the finalists at the outset. 

 

If somebody has a majority of first preferences at the first count, the election is over. But if no candidate has a majority, there is a second round of counting.  The least popular candidate is eliminated.  Then the vote counter (in practice, the software) transfers the ballots of that candidateÕs supporters to whichever of the finalists the voters ranked second.  Voters who ranked one of the finalists as their first choice continue to have their votes count for their favorite.

 

Under the current system, called Òplurality voting,Ó somebody can win a three-way race with just 36% of the votes (a plurality). For example:

 

Candidate A    30%

Candidate B    34%

Candidate C    36%

 

Under plurality voting, Candidate C is the victor even though most voters (64%) wanted somebody other than C to win.  That would not happen with IRV.  With IRV, the first round of counting would eliminate Candidate A.  LetÕs say that all of Candidate AÕs supporters ranked Candidate B as their second choice.  Candidate AÕs 30% would go to Candidate B, giving B a winning total of 64%. 

 

Until 1855, Massachusetts required a candidate to win a majority of the votes in order to become Governor. This was the embodiment of the majority-rule principle. If no candidate won a majority, the Legislature chose the Governor.  But in the mid-1800s several consecutive elections resulted in nobody winning a majority.  Because the Legislature voted on party lines and chose one of the least popular candidates, Massachusetts eventually dropped the majority requirement.  In those days, voting was much more difficult and run-off elections would have been impracticable.  Now, thanks to IRV, we can return to one of our core constitutional values.

 

(b)  How will IRV help the Democratic Party?

     To state the obvious, we lose gubernatorial elections because not enough people vote for the Democratic nominee.  It is not that there is a lack of Democratic voters in Massachusetts.  Bay Staters consistently return an all-Democratic congressional delegation and elect a Legislature that is overwhelmingly Democratic (even in 2004 when Democratic legislators faced more Republican challengers than at any time in recent history).  And it is not that the Republicans simply outspend us.  As a party, we are effective fundraisers and great campaigners, and we target our advertising dollars well.  That said, we keep losing gubernatorial elections.  Why?

 

     (i)  Ownership and Mandate

There is no single reason, but one of the key problems is how we pick our gubernatorial nominees.  In 2002, for example, our nominee won the primary with just 32% of the votes.  This kind of outcome tends to rob the nominee of legitimacy, and can sap the will of the activists.  When two-thirds of the primary voters opted for somebody else, it can be hard to motivate activists to do the kind of thankless work necessary to win the election, e.g. visibilities, door-to-door canvassing, and GOTV calls.  By producing a nominee who reflects the will of the majority, IRV can provide a both sense of ownership for rank-and-file Democrats and a mandate for the nominee.

 

Knowing that in the primary every vote counts and that the winner is the choice of the majority means that Democrats will feel greater ownership in the process and in the outcome.  With ownership comes greater motivation.  With a real mandate, the nominee can go into the general election with greater confidence.  And confidence breeds success.

 

(ii) Greater Participation

In addition to ownership and mandate is a more counter-intuitive factor, namely the end of the ÒspoilerÓ effect.  Because of the chance that voting Green could let in the Republican, many would-be Green voters refrain from voting altogether.  These abstainers are a resource that we should tap.  In a multi-candidate contest using IRV, the Green votersÕ second preferences could deliver victory to the Democrat.   

 

IRV would let Green voters give their first choice to the Green candidate, and their second preference to the Democratic nominee.  There are not enough Green voters out there to enable the Green candidate to beat the Democrat.  But there are enough Greens whose second preferences on an IRV ballot could help the Democrat beat the Republican.

 

     (iii) Positive Campaigning

Finally, IRV encourages positive, issue-focused campaigns.  Negative campaigning in the Democratic primary would be counterproductive.  With IRV, a candidate has to persuade her opponentsÕ supporters to cast their second preferences for her.  You do not woo supporters by slinging mud at their favorite candidate.  If we use IRV in the primaries, we will stop hitting fellow Democrats with slurs that the Republicans recycle and use against us in the general election.

 

3.  Conclusion

To summarize, the Platform should continue to present a relatively detailed survey of our policy intentions, and should now contain a commitment to Instant Runoff Voting.  Once again, thank you for your dedication to the task of revising the Platform and for everything else that you do for our party.

 

Yours faithfully,

 

 

 

 

Peter Vickery

GovernorÕs Councillor (8th District)