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Ranked-choice voting more fair election process.

Byline: Stefan Aumack For The Register-Guard

Our democracy and our nation are not functioning well. According to a 2016 nationwide poll, a meager one in five people was satisfied with the way the federal government is working. In our last national election, barely half of eligible voters cast ballots. Our two-party system divides us more than ever, and with the help of complicit media, the political machine spews venom left and right as never before. None of this bodes well for our country.

But we are America - the land of opportunity - and we should be looking for solutions, not simply bemoaning our problems.

Instant-runoff voting, sometimes called ranked-choice voting, could significantly improve our nation's political health. In a system of instant-runoff elections, a candidate must be chosen by a majority (more than 50 percent) of the voters. Voters go to the polls only once, but are able to rank their preferences for as many or as few candidates as they choose.

If a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the "first choice" votes, that candidate wins in the first ballot count. If no candidate reaches this threshold, the last-place candidate is removed from consideration - but the second-place votes of those who supported that candidate are then distributed to the remaining contenders in a second count. This counting continues until one candidate surpasses 50 percent. There are no expensive run-off elections, and every vote is counted.

The benefits of this system are many. Voters would be free to vote their consciences without sacrificing their votes. Currently, any small-party candidate is considered a "spoiler" and, on both the right and left, does not receive the number of votes that actually reflects his or her support.

Voters are forced to choose between the two major party candidates, often feeling they must choose the lesser of two evils. The simple effect of being able to vote your conscience would break the Democrats' and Republicans' two-party monopoly - and a true multiparty system, representing more diverse views, would draw more people into the political process.

Under our current system, one party will win a national election and will retain power for four or eight years, but ultimately the other party, running on some message of "change," will regain power. This is zero-sum politics - for one party to win, one must lose. We have moved away from serious debates of policy and principles, as both Democrats and Republicans have discovered that character assassination and playing to peoples' emotions wins votes. Facebook posts and tweets replace serious dialogue.

Having more than two legitimate parties competing for votes would force all parties to outline their policy differences. When a third party gained significant traction, the leading contenders would need to either shift stances or clearly explain their differences to gain voters' second-choice votes. Real policy debates would be a welcome change to the largely made-for-TV drama that our elections now provide.

Significantly, negative campaign ads decrease in instant run-off elections, because all candidates must vie for the second- place votes of competing candidates.

Our current political climate is a natural result of a two-party system. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton raced head-to-head as the most unpopular candidates in history. Many voters on both sides disliked their own candidate - but loathed the other.

In our two-party system, a candidate need only win more votes than his or her opponent, not a majority. The least popular candidate can win - as when Candidate A gets 34 percent of the vote while Candidate B and C get 33 percent apiece even though the losers jointly appealed to the majority of voters.

Imagine a scenario in which 70 percent of the population had voted for the president, either as their first- or second- choice candidate. With instant-runoff voting, even this last election could have had such an outcome.

Diehard Trump and Clinton supporters would have voted for their candidate first, but imagine a John Kasich running as a third candidate. Clinton and Trump may have received more first-place votes (but less than 50 percent), but it is likely that nearly all Trump supporters would have picked Kasich over Clinton, and nearly all Clinton supporters would have picked Kasich over Trump. If a president went to Washington with 70 percent of the vote, one would hope that more would get done with less polarized fighting.

Instant-runoff voting is not just a theory. Most of Australia uses this system, and major political parties in Great Britain, several major U.S. cities, and even the Academy Awards use IRV. In 2018 the state of Maine will become the first state to adopt the IRV system. Clearly the current two-party system is not bringing out the best in our country. Maybe it's time we considered a change.

Stefan Aumack is a lifelong teacher and high school principal.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 3, 2017
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