Time is running out for Michigan citizens to speak up on how some $28-48
million dollars of federal money is to be spent on new voting machines
mandated for as many as 92% of Michigan's voting precincts by Nov. 2004 as a
result of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
Passed in response to the Florida debacle in the 2000 presidential
elections, HAVA provides substantial monies to most states for new voting
equipment in an attempt to standardize voting procedures across the nation.
As a result of HAVA, voting machines in at least 26% of Michigan's precincts
MUST be replaced before the next presidential election.
According to the Sec. of State's office, the bipartisan HAVA State Plan
Advisory Committee will wrap up a series of public hearings on HAVA on June
2, 2003. Written testimony will be accepted indefinitely -- but the
Committee's final report will be published by the end of June. Those wishing
to comment must act very quickly! Testimony should be sent to: Jeanette
Sawyer, Bureau of Elections, 208 North Capitol, Lansing MI 48933
Michigan Focus On Reforming Elections (M-FORE) is a non-partisan citizen
organization formed in December 2002, and includes many of the state's
leading election reform experts. Based on their counsel and rapidly growing
interest around the nation, M-FORE chose "Instant Runoff Voting" (IRV) as
our first general goal.
Of course, the majority of Michigan citizens have never even heard of IRV.
So if the HAVA Committee recommends voting machines for Michigan which
cannot accommodate it, IRV will effectively be killed even before Michigan
has a chance to consider the merits of this popular voting method.
Instant Runoff Voting, invented in 1870 by an MIT professor, lets voters
rank all their choices (1, 2, 3 and so on). If no candidate gets 51% of the
first choice votes, the one with the lowest score is removed and all the
ballots are counted again. The process repeats until one candidate has the
support of a simple majority.
Thus, as a matter of simple mathematics, IRV guarantees that the greatest
possible percentage of voters are happy on election night! In fact, and not
too surprisingly, a growing body of empirical evidence strongly suggests
that IRV leads directly to increased voter participation.
Obviously, IRV also provides a more precise method of measuring the
electorate's true desires. We expect doctors, mechanics, etc. to choose the
most accurate tools available when fixing either our bodies or our cars --
why should we demand anything less for something as important as elections!
In areas which hold runoff elections and primaries, IRV can save millions of
dollars by "instantly" combining the runoff with the regular election.
IRV eliminates entirely the problem of "spoiled" elections, where
candidates which represent the majority split the vote and deliver the
election to a third which in fact represents a minority of voters.
In the 2000 presidential election, a simple majority of the country
preferred a liberal candidate over the conservative winner, President Bush.
With Instant Runoff Voting however, most experts agree that Mr. Gore would
have won (with the support of many Nader voters).
But those who approach election reform with partisan intent are not only
ethically suspect but also playing a dangerous game. In '92, most experts
agree that with IRV Bush Senior would have beaten Clinton, despite the
"spoiler" role played by HR Perot that year.
IRV bills are pending in some 20 state legislatures. Interest is growing
rapidly across the nation, and several Michigan cities are now considering
this more sophisticated voting method.
But if the 30 members of the HAVA Committee recommend machines which are
incapable of ranked ballots, they will have effectively decided the issue
for all of us -- behind closed doors -- before the vast majority of Michigan
voters has even heard of IRV.
Happily, all the major voting machine vendors provide IRV compatibility at
little or no extra cost -- if ordered when the machines are originally
purchased. Later upgrades for IRV are at least expensive and often not even
Thus, M-FORE begs the HAVA State Plan Advisory Committee to do the right
thing and recommend that any new voting machines are capable of handling
ranked ballots -- should Michigan voters demand IRV or any other version of
a ranked ballot in the future.
We're NOT asking the Committee to take a position for or against ranked
voting -- indeed, quite the opposite. It is not for the HAVA Committee to
decide whether or not ranked voting should be part of Michigan's future.
Instead, we are merely asking the Committee to keep the option open so
Michigan voters can decide for ourselves.
Certainly no one expects Washington to dole out these millions of dollars
for voting equipment again any time soon! Let's spend our HAVA dollars
wisely, by keeping open the option for possible future election reforms such
For more information about IRV: www.fairvote.org.
To contact M-FORE:
Tom Ness, M-FORE