Saturday, April 07, 2007

Massachusetts finds Top 2 wanting

Massachusetts uses a Top-2 election system to fill vacancies in Congress. In Massachusetts, Congressional districts are generally one-party districts, so the winner of the election has a job for life, similar to Jim McDermott in the state of Washington.

Since this is a lifetime job, there will be many people signing up to run for this position. In the case of a Democratic district, there will be many Democrats signing up to run.

Ryan O'Donnell writes in the Boston Globe,

"In the current case, too, because of the sheer quantity of candidates, someone could win the Democratic primary with a low percentage of the vote. With a large field, it's conceivable that as many as 70 percent of primary voters could cast ballots for someone other than the winner. If turnout is low, the number of people who cast a meaningful vote is even lower. That just isn't good for democracy.

There are a couple of ways to prevent mass fragmentation of the vote. The first would be to limit the number of candidates, but that is as anti democratic as a non majority winner. The second would be to hold a runoff between the top two voter getters, but that would cost a pretty penny and see even worse turnout in the second round.

The best way is to fill the vacancy, and all future vacancies, using a method that is increasingly popular all over the country. Instant-runoff voting, adopted in cities from Burlington, Vt., to Minneapolis to San Francisco, allows voters to rank their candidates in order of choice. If one candidate gets a majority of first choices, the race is over. If not, the lowest vote-getter is knocked off, and ballots cast for that candidate are added to the totals of the candidate ranked next on each ballot. The process repeats until a majority winner emerges. Just like a traditional runoff."

Of course, we are working on putting in place a similar system in Pierce County.



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