Monday, May 18, 2009

In Search Of A Third Way On Elections

It is a distinct minority, but there are those who believe the best way to deal with disfigured elections for Wisconsin Supreme Court justices is to get rid of them. The elections, that is, not the justices.

Despite the fact such a move is politically and practically implausible, as I've blogged before, the debate still simmers. In fact, it was a matter of considerable discussion at the State Bar of Wisconsin annual convention in Milwaukee a little over a week ago, where I debated Wisconsin State Journal publisher Bill Johnston in a session on the topic moderated by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

A legislator here and there with encouragement from a media commentator or two are floating the idea of going even farther and doing away with the state's nonpartisan spring elections altogether.

There's no denying that Wisconsin's spring elections leave a great deal to be desired. For one thing, voter turnout has been abysmal. But why is the kneejerk reaction to unsatisfying elections seemingly always a call to get rid of them? Why is the menu of options limited to poor elections or no elections? Isn't there a third way?

Of course there is. We could focus on making the spring elections more innovative and compelling and worthy of the average voter's attention. We could experiment with voting by mail or multi-day voting or weekend voting.

Or even better yet, we could move to ranked choice voting. It's working in other parts of the country. The best known variant of ranked choice voting – Instant Runoff Voting – would save taxpayers money by eliminating the need for the February primary, the lowest of the low-turnout spring elections. IRV gives voters greater ability to express their preferences and is a truer reflection of the will of the people. And it all but does away with the annoying phenomena of "spoiler" candidates and "wasted" votes.

What's not to like? More importantly, what do we have to lose? Other than our elections, I mean.


JB said...

Good call... Needing to reach out to more voters to assemble a majority in one round also promotes more positive campaigning.... A quality particularly important in judicial races.

Clyde Winter said...

You're absolutely right about both the need for the Impartial Justice Bill, and about your "third way" suggestion, Mike.

Instant Runoff Voting is such a reasonable, and cost and time saving, and democracy-building reform, that NO ONE could be against it. No one, that is, with the exception of the two major parties. Otherwise, we'd have it, and we'd have gotten it, and liked it, long ago.

It's up to the people, not the politicians, to win this reform.

Anonymous said...

Would we have to wait a month after the election to find out the result? See

Paul Malischke

Anonymous said...

Here is another skeptic on IRV - using a recent result from Burlington Vermont as an example.

Paul Malischke