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Let the most popular candidate win

Instant runoff voting is simple and effective.

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Ross Perot. Ralph Nader. Like theirs, my face is pinned up on the dart boards of angry partisans everywhere. I was bitterly accused of spoiling the 1980 election and helping Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter.

But the real culprit is America's practice of plurality voting, by which candidates win without an absolute majority. In this system, third-party hopefuls can rarely aspire to be more than "spoilers." Worse, the one-third of all voters who are not registered as Republican or Democrat feel pressured to vote against their worst nightmare rather than their best hope.

A simple reform would correct this problem. Instant runoff voting (IRV), which lets voters rank their choices, would allow America to achieve the basic goal of its electoral system – electing the candidate with the most support.

Plurality voting, used by all states in presidential elections, allows candidates to win all of a state's electoral votes without getting an absolute majority of the popular vote. In recent elections, this system has hurt Democrats and Republicans alike. In 1992, Ross Perot took 19 percent of the vote. That support, observers speculate, sapped George H.W. Bush's support, giving himjust 37 percent of the vote and helping Bill Clinton to win with 43 percent. In 2000, Al Gore lost Florida and the presidency by 537 votes to George W. Bush, even as Ralph Nader won 97,488 votes in Florida – more than 181 times Bush's victory margin.

Because the majority can split its vote with third-place contenders and lose, plurality voting forces too many Americans to vote for their second-choice candidate who has the better chance of winning, rather than the one we actually want.

General elections should be a marketplace of innovative ideas, and independent and third-party candidates can prevent them from becoming a showcase for an overly narrow ideological duopoly. Yet such candidates are pilloried for trying to break the red-blue grip and add a fresh voice to the debate.

It is unfortunate that independent candidates must face these attacks when about one-third of Americans are not registered with a major party. Throw in their distorted nomination process, and it becomes painfully obvious why so many people feel frustrated with electoral politics.


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