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Group Pushes Election 'Instant Runoff' Idea


Regardless of who becomes president, the winner will not have captured a majority of the votes cast. So a public interest group is launching a campaign for an "instant runoff" next time voters go to the polls.

Here's how it would work: Voters would not only vote for their favorite candidate, but also for their second and third choices. If no one gets 50%, the candidate receiving the fewest ballots would be eliminated. In the next round, the votes of that candidate's supporters would go to their highest-ranked choice still in the race.

If a majority winner still hasn't emerged, as could occur if there are numerous candidates, the pattern is repeated until only two candidates are left and there is a clear winner.

"It's essentially like doing a two-round runoff," said Steven Hill, western regional director of the Center for Voting and Democracy, which has pushed the idea for four years. "Except we're saying we don't have to bring you back to the polls. Tell us who you want."

The idea is being pushed by the Public Interest Research Group, an organization founded by Ralph Nader. It has set up a Web site to explain the idea,

This system would help people who worried they were throwing away a vote for someone such as Nader at the expense of Al Gore. In this plan, if a Nader supporter chose Gore as second choice, the vice president would have received their vote during the "runoff."

The president of the center is John Anderson, who received nearly 7% of the vote when he ran for president as an Independent in 1980 and is a supporter of the proposal.

The idea has been tested in other countries. Australia uses the system for parliamentary elections, and the Republic of Ireland uses it for presidential contests.

The idea passed the New Mexico state Senate last year but died in the lower house. In Alaska, a campaign has turned in petitions to get the measure on the ballot and is waiting to hear if it succeeded.

One supporter in Alaska? The GOP, Hill said, which has been losing votes to three other parties.

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