Sunday, June 08, 2008

Nader, Barr and Lonergan

When the media refers to Ralph Nader, almost always there are references to him being a spoiler and voters who vote for Nader as wasting their vote and/or really voting for McCain.

Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr is now the Libertarian nominee for President. Almost all of the media coverage of Barr dwells on whether or not a vote for Barr is wasted or really a vote for Obama.

Former Republican Mike Lonergan is running a third party campaign for Pierce County Executive. No one is talking about him being a spoiler. No one is talking about a vote for Lonergan throwing the election to one of the Democrats. Why?

Nader and Barr are running for President. The Presidential election is a plurality election where voters are only allowed to list their first choice and the candidate with the most first choices wins a state's electoral votes whether they have majority support or not.

Lonergan is running in the first major partisan Ranked Choice Voting election in the US. In this election, voters will be allowed to list their first choice, second choice and third choice. If one candidate receives a majority of the first choices, then that candidate wins. However, if no candidate receives a majority of first choices, then the candidate who has the fewest first choices is eliminated, that candidate's votes are reallocated to the second choices of the voters. If one candidate then has a majority of the votes, that candidate wins. If no one has a majority, then the process above is repeated. Thus, as long as the voters who list Lonergan as their first choice also list the Republican, Shawn Bunney, as their second choice, then Lonergan will not be a spoiler.

This is much healthier for democracy. Lonergan supporters can vote their conscience with their first choice, and still list Bunney or a different candidate as their second choice. This vote will not help elect their least favorite candidate, but merely properly reveal the voter's true preferences.

It also gives Bunney an incentive to ask for the second choices of Lonergan supporters. Bunney can be hurt by a possible undervote of Lonergan supporters. Bunney needs to encourage Lonergan supporters to cast that important second choice. He is likely to need those second choices to win.

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At 9:49 PM, Anonymous Bob Richard said...

Echoing the usual reason given for why IRV reduces negative campaiging,
this article notes that, "Bunney needs to encourage Lonergan supporters
to cast that important second choice. He is likely to need those second
choices to win."

Recent local campaigns where I live illustrate a second dynamic that can
also come in to play. In a plurality election, supporters of two
relatively similar candidates who both stand to lose because of vote
splitting have a huge incentive to go into attack mode against the
common enemy who appears ready to defeat them. This is generally done
through independent expenditure committees rather than by the candidates

For an example, see the comments I posted in response to these articles:

(Note: you have to click on "read comments"; they're not displayed on
the same page.)

At 9:54 PM, Anonymous Kelly Haughton said...

Interestingly, the Pierce County Executive race has two Democrats (Calvin Goings and Pat McCarthy) on the ballot. Neither will be able to win without the second choices from the other, but each needs to finish ahead of the other to receive those second choices.

This makes for careful behaviour by both candidates despite the fact that they don't like each other.


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