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Oglesby: Instant runoffs and other political notions

POSTED: December 23, 2008 1:00 a.m.

Agreeing that runoff elections are expensive and need to be solved, I can't agree with some of the solutions The Times editorially suggested a couple of weeks ago and seemed (at least to me) to prefer. Good for them for highlighting the problem.

However, one of the suggestions is a starting step toward a system I have long advocated. That is priority balloting for what can be described as an instant runoff.

Voter turnout usually is far less in runoffs, where a much smaller number determines the final choice. When only 15-20 percent votes, the decision is effectively made by 8-10 percent.

The instant-runoff proposal would have voters in races with three or more candidates list both a first and second choice. Should no candidate have a majority, election workers would return to the ballots cast for the third-and-lower-place candidates and recount their votes using their second choices in the undecided races.

This would produce a true majority of the greatest turnout and be far more representative. It would apply to all races to be decided solely within the state.

My long-held philosophy behind this is that every race should be determined by a majority. The presidency is wisely decided not by a majority of nationwide popular vote but by a majority of the Electoral College. All other races from city hall to Congress should be by the majority vote of those governed. The only U.S. Constitutional amendment I'd have supported since I've been voting has been one that would ensure that a majority decides each electoral vote.

The number of electoral votes each state has is its number of U.S. representatives plus its two senators. My proposal was that in each district, the congressman must have a majority. The "instant runoff" could decide that quickly in a crowded field.

Where one party won a majority of a state's congressional seats, that party would get the two electoral votes the senators represent. In states where the congressional seats were tied, one electoral vote would go to each party.

This way our leaders would chosen by majorities.

Returning to the promised presidential election analysis continued from last time, we were exploring one of several factors. This was a calculated effort to destroy the effectiveness of the Bush presidency. I'd originally intended to use this leadoff example later, but since it involves a local citizen, the principle might be better understood.

U.S. Marshal Dick Mecum will be fired later this year or early next (depending upon how long it takes for the background checks of his successor) solely because he is a Republican. Mecum won't cry foul, and Republican leaders won't call for hearings, special prosecutors, etc. He'll go quietly somewhere else, helping his successor's transition.

He understands that U.S. attorneys and U.S. marshals constitutionally serve at the will of the president who can hire and fire them for whatever reason he wants. Mecum got his job when Bush was elected, and Clinton's appointee went quietly.

Contrast this with the furor raised by congressional Democrats when the administration fired nine U.S. attorneys. They well knew such appointments and firings are constitutionally the sole prerogative of the president. They routinely replace Republicans when they get the White House.

The Democratic Congress called hearings to criticize the administration, called for a special prosecutor, called for top-tier resignations, This time could have been spent constructively working on the myriad of problems our country faces. Instead, we saw a circus designed to weaken the presidency for political advantage.

We'll pick up again in two weeks. Meanwhile, I wish you and yours a great and safe holiday season.

Ted Oglesby is retired opinion page editor. Reach him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503. His column appears biweekly.



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