Last week, when considering its endorsements for the recall election, CityBeat endured the usual, gut-wrenching "spoiler" debate. As we noted in our editorial, the candidate most in line with our sensibilities was the Green Party's Peter Camejo, but he didn't stand a chance. We knew that we surely didn't want Arnold Schwarzenegger-even before accusations that he can't keep his groping hands to himself became a major issue.
So, should we endorse Cruz Bustamante in hopes that Schwarzenegger is defeated? Gov. Cruz Bustamante? Eeeew.
Talk about pain and suffering.
The conservatives went through it, too. Many supporters of Tom McClintock just couldn't take Schwarzenegger seriously. And who can blame them? For those conservatives who could live with McClintock's hard-right views on social issues, he was a far superior Republican candidate. But a vote for McClintock was a vote for Bustamante.
With the slow emergence of minor-party candidates-beginning, really, with Ross Perot (apologies to John Anderson)-this kind of thing happens in almost every election now. Those of us who supported Ralph Nader in 2000 are still hearing the noise about how we elected George W. Bush. (Which is nonsense, by the way-we didn't want Al Gore to be president, either)
But this is reality, right? We should learn to live with it?
No, we shouldn't, because guess what-there's an alternative. It's called "instant runoff voting."
It works like this: You rank the candidates on the ballot in order of preference, first choosing the person you really want. In this election, under instant runoff voting, we would have endorsed a first choice of Camejo and a second choice of Bustamante, for example. If no one gets a majority of the votes, a runoff occurs. If Camejo received the lowest number of votes among the top four candidates, he would have been eliminated, and an "instant runoff" would have been held, with the ballots of people voting for Camejo being reallocated to the second-choice candidates. More rounds of instant runoffs would be held, with one candidate being eliminated each time, until someone wins a majority of the votes.
The result is that the candidate who appeals to the broadest portion of the electorate, even though that candidate might not have been the first choice of many voters, wins. And we'd get an accurate sense of the support for minor candidates. Strong showings would help them build momentum for the next election and ensure that they're allowed in the debates the next time around. This process would slowly erode the power of the two major parties. The Democrats and the Republicans would begin to lose their stranglehold on the government.
Which is why many of them don't like the idea.
But support for instant runoff voting seems to be growing. Democratic state Sen. John Vasconcellos has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment, SCA 14, that includes instant runoff voting among its many electoral-reform provisions. San Diego state Sen. Dede Alpert is a co-sponsor, and we applaud her for it.
We're glad the idea is out there, but we wouldn't mind seeing the instant-runoff provision separated out from the rest of the amendment's contents. We fear that it'll get bogged down in a debate over other-perhaps more controversial-provisions: a public-campaign-financing element, a none-of-the-above vote alternative, a lengthening of term limits in the Senate and Assembly, an overhaul of the redistricting process, a lowering of the approval threshold for the state budget, an open-primary element and a change of date for primary elections.
That's a lot of reform for one little constitutional amendment. Its provisions should be split up.
Eliminating the "spoiler" effect and cutting into the power of the major parties are our favorite outcomes of instant runoff voting, but there's more to like about it. Perhaps the next best result is a cheaper election process. In elections where runoffs normally occur-where a candidate must achieve a majority-those runoffs would happen automatically, and we wouldn't have to hold another costly election.
Sen. Alpert's apparently already onboard, so let our other San Diego-area representatives know you support the idea: Juan Vargas (619-409-7979), Shirley Horton (619-462-7878), Jay La Suer (619-465-7723), Christine Kehoe (619-294-7600), Denise Ducheny (619-409-7690) and Bill Morrow (760-434-7930).
If you're not sure, you can check out www.fairvote.org and www.calirv.org.