Democrats for IRV

One and a half years after the five not-so-Supremes selected George Jr. to be President, there are still echoes of the bitterness expressed by some Democrats over Ralph Nader’s Green Party Presidential campaign. And as Green Party and other independent candidates move toward this year’s November elections, we can expect those echoes to become louder and stronger. This will especially be the case in those situations where independents and Greens are running for the U.S. House or Senate, risking Democrats’ hopes of maintaining control of the Senate and winning back control of the House.

Forget the fact that virtually the entire U.S. House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, continue to give the Bush oil-and-war-men a green light to pursue their so-called “war on terrorism,” a war that is having major negative impacts around the world. Here at home it is bad for the economy, and it is being used to further undercut basic civil and Constitutional rights.

The Democrats can’t even get it together to move to repeal the Bush tax cuts, 50% of which will be going to 1% of the population in future years. A real party of working people, that one!

Don’t get me wrong: I am not in support of the Republicans controlling all three branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial. As a defensive strategy, it is valid to favor Democratic control of Congress so that there is somewhat of a brake on the most extreme plans of the Republicans. There is something to be said for going 30 miles per hour toward the cliff rather than 50 or 60 miles per hour.

But this defensive strategy ALONE, this approach of constantly supporting Democrats no matter how bad they are, will never, ever get us out of the dangerous series of crises we are facing in this country and world today. Under Bill Clinton and “environmentalist” Al Gore, nothing, virtually nothing, was done about the crisis of global warming, not even making it a major talking issue. What happened to the “peace dividend” after the end of the Cold War? It was Clinton who wheeled and dealed to get NAFTA passed after it looked dead and gone under Bush Sr.

We can all add to this list.

Which is why, as someone actively involved in the progressive third party movement for over 25 years, it is difficult to take the attacks on us when we decide to run as candidates truly about progressive politics and do so as independents. We are aware of the risks. But we know that the bigger long-term risk is if we continue with a strategically bankrupt approach toward our undemocratic, two-party, corporate-dominated, winner-take-all electoral system. We believe, based on some very concrete, empirical evidence, that it is essential that the progressive movement build an independent electoral arm to complement all of the other non-electoral tactics we use. This has to be a central strategic objective if we are to come to a halt before we get to the cliff and reverse course.

But I’ve got an idea that might deal with this problem, might even lead to some joint work on the part of progressive Democrats, on the one hand, and Greens and independents, on the other, and perhaps even some Republicans.

We need a new national organization, Democrats for Instant Runoff Voting.


Such an organization would be a way for Democrats who are critical of independent candidacies to channel those worries in a positive direction. Instant runoff voting, a fast-growing, grassroots movement, is a concrete way to deal with this problem. Under IRV, voters number their preferences, 1, 2, 3, etc., instead of voting for just one person. If no candidate wins 50% plus one #1 votes, then the #2, and possibly, other votes come into play. In this way, people can vote for the candidate they like the best without worrying that their votes will help elect the candidate they like the least (go to for more information).

The city of San Francisco passed a referendum a few months ago to establish IRV as their system for electing people to office. In August there will be a statewide referendum in Alaska to do the same. 48 out of 50 Vermont towns supported IRV at town meetings in March. The Nation, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and many other mainstream news sources are reporting on and/or supporting this development. If there was ever a time for this growing movement to become a big deal, this is it.

Come on, progressive Democrats. Don’t gripe and complain. If you’re truly scared of us progressive independents, don’t attack us, join with us to build a strong pro-IRV movement in states and localities all over the country. Let’s deepen democracy!