Some Ann Arbor residents believe the effective one-party control of local politics does not represent the range of voices in the community. Frequently uncontested City Council elections and off-year summer primaries that prematurely weed out other candidates have turned off potential voters. In response, the Ann Arbor Fair Vote Coalition has offered a solution: instant runoff voting. Using IRV would allow residents a better opportunity to vote in line with their conscience and would lead to more meaningful competition in local elections.
The IRV method allows voters to rank preferred candidates in numerical order. Voters can list as many or as few candidates as they want as their first choice, second choice and so on.
With the IRV method, if one candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, that candidate is elected. If no one receives a majority, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. The remaining candidates will receive the second-choice votes from those eliminated ballots. In effect, the IRV process works like a series of runoff elections. Ultimately one person wins and the winner is more likely to be the preference of the majority.
Third parties have long remained outside mainstream politics, largely because their candidates risk being “spoilers,” taking votes from a voter’s second-choice candidate. The role of Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential elections – taking away votes from Al Gore when most Nader supporters would have chosen a goldfish over George W. Bush – exemplifies the problem. IRV would avoid this situation because voters could support a third-party candidate without “spoiling the election,” and those disillusioned with leading candidates could support others without feeling their vote will not count.
Given the Democrats’ dominance in Ann Arbor, making it through summer primaries is often assurance enough of victory. If candidates are able to affiliate with parties that reflect their beliefs and goals instead of jumping on the Democratic bandwagon, elections may attract more qualified candidates willing to set themselves apart from the centrist status quo.
A system like the IRV is a reasonable way to allow voters to better express themselves at the polls. The system has been instituted elsewhere on both local and national levels, and Ann Arbor even used it for mayoral races in the mid-1970s. A switch to IRV could make elections more relevant and interesting by increasing competition and helping residents feel their vote matters. Although a change may do little to help students largely disenfranchised by gerrymandered wards, IRV should at the very least ensure future candidates never have to run against apathy.