Instant Runoff Voting Concurrence
Within the past few years, instant run-off voting (IRV), also known as Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), has been successfully used in several municipal elections across the nation. IRV enables one to vote for his/her true first choice, while indicating a second and third choice candidate. In the event that no candidate garners 50% plus one vote, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and voters who ranked that candidate first have their votes recast to their second choice candidate. This process is repeated until one candidate garners 50% plus one vote. IRV avoids sequential run-off elections and enables the voter to cast a "single transferable vote," ensuring that the winning candidate has a majority. Legislation to implement IRV was submitted in Maine last year.
Supporters claim that IRV guarantees that candidates win by a majority vote, not merely a plurality, and that it enables the voter to cast a vote for his/her favorite candidate without concern for whether the vote would be "thrown away" or work to bolster the showing of his/her least favorite candidate.
Concerns with IRV include the cost and voter education required to change our electoral system. IRV is not perfect -- no voting system is. And because Maine's constitution specifies that candidates be elected by a plurality of the vote, there is also a question of whether or not instituting IRV would require an amendment to our State Constitution.
Presently, LWVUS does not have a position on alternative voting methods such as IRV. However, eight state Leagues (MN, SC, CA, WA, MA, VT, AZ and FL) have conducted studies or otherwise adopted positions on alternative voting methods, including IRV. In order for LWVME to participate and advocate on this proposed change in Maine's voting system, LWVME's State Board has initiated the process of determining whether it can come to concurrence with one of those state League's position on IRV.
The State Board studied the pros and cons of various alternative voting methods. Following this educational process, the State Board reviewed the positions on alternative voting systems reached by other State Leagues and chose a position that most closely aligns with its own conclusions.
The Board distributed materials to the local Leagues to facilitate discussion among members on the local level. These materials include a study guide and a questionnaire:
LWV Maine Study Guide
LWV Maine Questionnaire
Following three years of study and discussion, the League of Women Voters of Maine reached concurrence with the League of Women Voters of Minnesota in favor of Instant Runoff Voting, sometimes known as Ranked Choice Voting. Based on that position, the League endorses the election of candidates in single seat elections by a majority vote, if achieved through Instant Runoff Voting.
Members of area Leagues met in Portland, Brunswick and Ellsworth in February and March of this year to discuss the position previously adopted by the League of Women Voters of Minnesota. Based on the recommendations of the three local Leagues, as well as input from members at large, the state League issued its final position on March 7, 2011. In addition to Maine and Minnesota, other state Leagues around the country that have endorsed IRV include Arizona, California, North Carolina, Vermont and Washington.
The final position reads as follows:
The League of Women Voters of Maine supports election systems for elected offices in single seat elections that require the winner to receive a majority of the votes, as long as the majority is achieved by Instant Runoff Voting/Ranked Choice Voting, rather than a second, separate runoff election.
In general, League members believe that the winner of single seat elections should be determined by a majority vote, and they support a system of Instant Runoff Voting (or Ranked Choice Voting) for determining the majority winner. However, League members did not reach consensus on the question of whether the majority winner should be determined by a traditional run-off election between the top two candidates in the first-round election. While there was strong support among members for majority-winner elections, that support diminished if the winner had to be determined by a traditional runoff election. Some of the factors that were important included: increased opportunity for strategic voting during the original election, expense to the state and municipalities in conducting the run-off election, extending the campaign season, driving up the cost of campaign financing, loss of civility during the runoff election, and the significant reduction in voter engagement and turnout in traditional runoff elections.
With this position, the League of Women Voters of Maine supports the right of local governments to choose IRV for their local elections regardless of what system is used at the state level.
For more information on Instant Runoff Voting, see:
LWV California Study Guide
LWV Minnesota Study Guide
LWV Washington Study Guide
Wikipedia on IRV
Legislative action in the 126th Legislature: LD 518 An Act To Establish Ranked-choice Voting in the State and LD 860 An Act To Require That the Governor, Senators and Members of the House of Representatives Be Elected by the Ranked-choice Voting Method. LWVME Supports. And here is the League's supplemental testimony.