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Thursday, July 01, 2004

Voter Turnout Reaches New Lows
Ok, we all know things are bad, but could you imagine that they would get this bad? This Tuesday, in Bay Minette Alabama, just two out of 926 registered voters in one particular district showed up for a runoff election for County Commissioner. There were literally more poll workers than voters. (see details here in the Mobile Register.)

That was a particularly bad precinct, but countywide the turnout was just 5%.

Although it may be the case that the candidates aren't too exciting, and folks don't always pay that much attention to local elections, part of the problem here is that it was a runoff election. Runoffs are good because they pare the field down to 2 candidates and this then ensures that the winner gets a majority of votes. Otherwise, when you have 3 or more candidates, someone can win with just a plurality.

But, the trouble with runoffs is that the main excitement is often with the regular election, and voter interest trails off for the runoff. They also cost a lot of money.

One solution, noted in the article, would be to go to a system called "instant runoffs." Voters simply rank their choices of all candidates on the ballot. Then, if their votes can be redistributed to the top two who would make a runoff. This saves people the extra step of having to return to the polls for a runoff, often for just one race. It also saves money in avoiding a whole other election. San Francisco adopted this system recently and will use it for the first time this fall.

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