Instant Democracy

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I’ve gotten some feedback regarding my call to support Initiative 872 because I believe it will provoke the parties to withdraw from state-funded primary elections altogether.  Bob Koerner writes:

I saw your blog entry, where you say you're supporting I-872 because you think it will get the parties out of the primary election business, and I’d like to encourage you to reconsider.  The "Top Two" deal is really bad for voters, not for the parties.  All of the independent and minor party candidates will get eliminated in the Primary, and they'll never show up on the November ballot at all.  If the parties hold some kind of nominating convention to pick the candidates before the September Primary, to make sure they have their act together and don't split their voters, that will mean the two candidates who advance to the General Election will have been chosen by even fewer people than get involved now. I don't see how that's a better deal for voters—it seems like a better deal for Party Power-Brokers.

A much better choice is Instant Runoff Voting.  On that plan, everyone who wants to run can fill out a petition and get on the General Election ballot in November, just like they do now.  We get to pick our first choice, second choice, third choice, and so forth.  When they count the votes, if no candidate gets half of the votes, you eliminate the lowest vote-getter and redistribute his votes to those voters' second choice.  If no candidate has half of the votes now, you cut the next-lowest vote-getter and move their ballots to their second choice.  And so forth until one of the candidates has 50% of the votes cast.  It's like holding the Primary and General Elections all at once, we get to choose between all the options without "wasting a vote" if we pick someone kind of radical as our first choice, and we can eliminate the expense of the primaries altogether.

There are some moves underway to get a proposal out for IRV in Washington, but they're too late for this election.  I'm afraid if we pass I-872 this fall, we'll be stuck with the really terrible "Top Two" plan because everybody will be tired of talking about the Primaries.  If we shoot down I-872, it will send a clear message to the legislature that we don't like that ugly plan, and we need a better solution.  These decisions really are important—once it's settled, we'll have to deal with it for a very long time.  I see a vote against I-872 as a vote for taking the time to do it right.

A wise man observed that in our society there are three primary elements for influencing government: political parties, special interest groups, and the media.  Weakening any one of these elements necessarily strengthens the others.  I don’’t want any one of these elements dominating access to politicians, but I think the parties are currently the weakest of the three.  As someone who more-or-less identifies as a partisan, I want the parties to stand for something, and retaining control over the nomination of candidates is both appropriate and effective to this purpose.  When it comes to nominating candidates, I’’ll take "Party Power-Brokers" over voters any day; the voters may express their disapproval when they’’re supposed to, at the general election.  (Incidentally, "Party Power-Brokers" isn’t nearly as frightening to me as "Tim Eyman" or "Frank Blethen.")

I share Bob’’s support for Instant Runoff Voting; it’s clever, it permits greater expression of relative preference (I contend voting in a representative democracy is a species of Expressionism), and it rewards adepts in marginal decision-making.  I would vote for IRV, on its merits.  I would also support IRV because it would require more effort than many Americans would be willing to expend on something they regard as ephemeral as voting, with the result that apathetic voters would be even more discouraged from voting than they are now, which I consider a good thing. (For more in this vein, read Larry David).

Of course, there’s nothing about IRV that requires it to apply to primary elections, so Bob’’s line, "it’’s like holding the Primary and General Elections all at once," isn’’t very helpful.  Clearly, my support for IRV is restricted to the general election; I would prefer it if the parties nominated their candidates on their own dime.  IRV adoption, therefore, isn’’t necessarily linked to primary reform (although I’m sure its advocates are relying on discontent with the end of the blanket primary to mobilize support).

Unfortunately for supporters of IRV, I don’t think it has much chance of passing on its own, even if I-872 had never made it onto the ballot.  I am therefore shedding no tears over Bob’’s concern that I-872 will steal IRV’s thunder; it wasn’t very loud to start with.

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