Jewell professor evaluates U.S. voting system in Constitution Day celebration

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Friday, Sept. 14, William Jewell College celebrated Constitution Day by reevaluating the voting system in the United States. David McCune, associate professor of mathematics, discussed Maine’s recent change to a preference ballot using instant runoff voting (IRV) in his talk titled, “Should America Change the Way it Counts Votes?”.

In many U.S. states there is no requirement that someone win an election by receiving a majority of the voting populations’ votes. Instead, they just have to garner the most. Under a plurality voting system with single choice ballots, this means that a candidate who receives only 38 percent of votes could win an election.

That is exactly what happened in Maine when current Gov. LePage, a highly controversial figure in the state, won the election for governor. Dissatisfied with the voting system that made LePage governor, Maine voters decided to change their voting system and switched to IRV using preference ballots.

McCune examined the advantages to switching from a single-choice voting system, the traditional ballot nationwide, to IRV nationwide. On an IRV ballot, voters have more of a chance to show their opinions than on a single-choice ballot. On a preference ballot, voters mark the bubble next to their ranking of a candidate from first to last. The votes are then counted and presented in preference order. Once the candidate with the least first-place votes is eliminated, the candidates’ votes are distributed to the remaining competitors. This continues until one candidate has the majority of votes and is declared the winner.

Under a single-choice voting system, majority unfavored candidates can win while consensus candidates (those who would be people’s second or third choice, as opposed to the polarizing unfavored candidate) lose.

In contrast, IRV does not select highly polarizing candidates as winners, and consensus candidates are more likely to win an election than under a single-choice balloting system.

“If the question is [if] I think Maine made the right decision in moving from plurality to IRV, my answer is yes,” McCune said while discussing the advantages of an IRV system.

In addition to the discussion on Sept. 14 led by McCune, a U.S. Constitution Trivia contest will be held on Monday, Sept. 17 from 6-8 p.m. to continue to observe Constitution Day.

Photo courtesy of Legal Beagle

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