Colorado’s 2010 gubernatorial race reveals a major flaw in our plurality-based elections: vote splitting. It’s well-known that Dan Maes and Tom Tancredo will split the Republican vote. This makes it much easier for Democrat John Hickenlooper to win compared to if one candidate withdrew. In an August 11 Rasmussen poll, the combined Maes/Tancredo votes exceeded Hickenlooper votes by 6 percentage points. Maes and Tancredo are similar enough candidates that if either withdraws, the other may gain enough votes to win.
Election rules should not create such conflict, or the related “spoiler effect” where voting for your favorite candidate helps your least favorite candidate win. Elections need not bind voters this way.
For example, a few U.S. cities use instant runoff voting, where to vote is to rank candidates according to your preference. Say the only candidates are Maes, Tancredo, and Hickenlooper, and you rank them in that order. If Dan Maes gets the least total first-choice votes, then he’s eliminated, and your vote is transferred to your next choice, Tancredo. In the runoff only Tancredo and Hickenlooper remain, and whoever has the most votes wins.
Critics of instant runoff voting point to possibly unfair results for popular second-choice candidates, or counter-intuitive results of Burlington Vermont’s recent mayoral election. But even with these potential drawbacks, instant runoff voting is preferable to today’s plurality voting. It remedies vote splitting, spoiler effects, and “wasted vote” concerns. More nuanced voting systems may improve upon instant runoff voting, but added complexity could limit their appeal.
- Book: Not Invited to the Party: How the Demopublicans Have Rigged the System and Left Independents Out in the Cold, by James T. Bennett.
- The Cato Institute had an event on this last year. Watch or listen to it. Here’s a summary from the Cato site:
Free markets have few barriers to entry. Individuals and firms can offer new products or services to consumers, thereby fostering competition and choice. American elections, in contrast, are dominated by two parties. Not Invited to the Party synthesizes political science, economics, and history to demonstrate how the two-party system is the artificial creation of a network of laws, restrictions, and subsidies that favor the Democrats and Republicans and cripple potential challengers, depriving voters of truly vigorous political debate. Consequently, Americans are deprived of choices on election day and arguably, deprived of effective and accurate representation in Congress and the presidency.