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Too Many Naders

IRV seems nice enough, but ...


Posted Sunday, October 1, 2000

        In The Nation, Robert Richie and Stephen Hill offer a procedural fix for the dilemma of the Nader supporters, which is how to signal that support without electing George Bush. Richie and Hill's answer? Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).

        IRV is a balloting system in which, on a single election day, voters indicate their first choice, and their second choice, third choice, etc. If no candidate gets a majority, there is a runoff. Voters whose first choices don't make the runoff have their ballots counted for their second choices.

        Instant Runoff Voting would be unfair--economist Kenneth Arrow proved mathematically that all systems of voting are unfair to some extent. (What's the unfairness with IRV? I guess it's the possibility that a candidate who was everybody's close second choice wouldn't even make the runoff.) Still, IRV is a neat idea, one that's already being used in Ireland and Australia, according to Richie and Hill.

        I'm not sure, though, that Richie and Hill have completely thought through IRV's implications, which in their hands come out looking suspiciously pleasing to Nation readers. Specifically:

a) Richie and Hill say that with IRV, "Nader could more easily gain access to the presidential debates" (where he would "inform and mobilize a progressive constituency"). My guess is that the effect would be more the opposite: Nader would be less likely to get into Bush/Gore debates. Why? Because IRV will lead to an explosion of minor party candidacies. After all, you'll be able to run without being a spoiler! Why not start a party and take the plunge? Nader will run, but so will Jesse Jackson, Patricia Ireland, Geraldo Rivera, and every other nationally known publicity-hound, especially if public financing is available. Jeremy Rifkin, you've got a book to promote! Alec Baldwin, come on down! There would be not one, but 20 Naders. They couldn't all debate Bush and Gore at once, so they'd all be excluded.

        b) Richie and Hill argue that under IRV a Nader candidacy would put pressure on the Democrats to "justify" their "move to the right." Again, the opposite seems more likely. Gore wouldn't have to appease the Naderites because he'd know he was going to get their second-choice votes if he needed them. He could move to the right with impunity.

        c) Conservatives would take advantage of IRV too, of course. Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer, for example, might both form parties and enter every race. The resulting polarized, sensational left-right dialogue--filled with talk of school prayer and gay marriage rather than prescription drugs and prescription drugs--might or might not help the left. It also might or might not be an improvement on the blander dialogue we have now (which is, after all, an honest reflection of the center's popularity). The only institution IRV would clearly benefit is Crossfire.

        Internet Paranoia Department: The latest wild Internet rumor, or the latest to reach kausfiles' mailbox, holds that:

"The Republican party is feeling that Cheney is a liability on the ticket. There's a rumor that a few weeks prior to the election in a desperate attempt to win, Cheney will resign because of a trumped-up heart problem or potential 'threat to his health.' Then either John McCain or Colin Powell will be asked to come on the ticket and save the party."
This is absurd. Everyone knows Cheney's going to be replaced by Rudy from Survivor!

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Is Robert Wright a Marxist?

posted 03.20.00

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