In the April 5 election there will be at least three candidates for village president. This is good news for Oak Park voters; it's good to have more choices. Four years ago Joanne Trapani ran unopposed, so she was, in effect, appointed by the VMA. Also, since the candidate filing period doesn't close until January 25, there could be even more candidates.
Since the three declared candidates are current board members, they will all be strong candidates and we could have a very close election with no one winning a majority of the votes. This is a problem because democracy is based on majority rule, not minority rule?#34;which is what happens when a candidate wins with, say, only 40 percent of the votes and where 60 percent of the voters preferred some one else.
The usual way to deal with this (though not in Oak Park) is to have a runoff election, but the turnout for runoff elections is always much lower and there is the additional expense of another election. A better solution is to use Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). In IRV voters rank the candidates, first, second, third, and if no one has a majority, the voter's lower choices are used to determine which candidate is preferred by the most voters.
Here's how it works. If anyone receives a majority of the first choice votes, that candidate is elected. If not, the last place candidate is defeated, just as in a runoff election, and all ballots are counted again, but this time each ballot cast for the defeated candidate counts for the next choice candidate listed on the ballot. The process of eliminating the last place candidate and recounting the ballots continues until one candidate receives a majority of the vote.
Besides ensuring a majority winner, IRV has several other benefits. It eliminates the spoiler effect (think Gore/Bush/Nader). It minimizes "wasted" votes; votes that don't help elect a winner. To the fullest extent possible, your vote will contribute to electing a candidate that you like. This results in a larger turnout in IRV elections. IRV promotes positive, issue-based campaigns because candidates will seek second and third choice votes?#34;and less negative campaigning. It creates a clearer mandate for a winning candidate's agenda, giving better direction for policy-making. For more information about IRV visit www.fairvote.org.
IRV is not an experimental or crackpot idea. Ireland uses IRV to elects its president, Australia to elect its House of Representatives, London to elect its mayor, San Francisco to elect its major city offices such as mayor, and many major universities for their student government elections. It is endorsed by major political figures Howard Dean and John McCain and by scores of newspapers. Voters in Berkeley, CA, Ferndale, MI, and Burlington, VT overwhelmingly approved it in 2004 ballot measures.
I urge the Village Board to take action now regarding how we elect our village president:
1. Direct the Village Attorney to ask Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan for an official ruling on whether home rule jurisdictions can elect to use IRV without a change to the Illinois constitution (the law is not clear on this),
2. Ask one of the Citizen Advisory Commissions to research IRV and make a recommendation, and
3. Put a binding referendum on the April 5 ballot on whether to use IRV in future elections.