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Austrian Election: The importance of runoff elections or preference voting !!!

December 4, 2016

In a pretty big sigh of relief for many, Austria’s nationalist Freedom party was defeated. The winner is Austria’s Green party.

Note that these things do not mean the same thing in Austria as they do in the US. The Austrian Green party includes some conservatives in addition to the traditional “green” themes, and the Austrian Freedom party have in current times emphasized the anti-immigrant issue and draw their strength from German nationalists. Both parties are stand in contrast to the two “mainstream” parties in Austria, which just as elsewhere in the western world, have become very unpopular.

Now for the really important thing here. The Freedom party’s candidate actually won the most votes the first round general election, in which all the parties competed together. It was only by virtue of Austria’s runoff election system (similar to France’s), that the Green candidate won — after the choices were narrowed to the top 2 places from the first round general election.

In this way, a runoff election system, just like an preference voting system (aka RCV), avoids the spoiler effect. It allows the public, knowing there will be a runoff election, to not have to face the false constraint of “lesser evil” logic in the general election. This way, Austrians have a pretty good idea of where their voters stand, and very importantly in this case, they avoided the nationalist candidate. Their electoral system was able to process a common real-world case where a party with a plurality is strongly opposed by the majority.

We desperately need something similar in the US. And in fact the purpose of my blog is to promote this very thing. Proportional Representation, and Ranked Choice Voting are the systems I favor.

By themselves, preference voting or runoff voting systems are not a cure for political problems of today (using the Austria example, the nationalist candidate still got 47% in the runoff), but they are a necessary condition for the tool of democracy to even try to tackle difficult issues. The two-party trap the US has due to its winner-take-all-by-state system is an unhelpful handicap.

The miserable quality of our presidential election in the US just now is a motivating factor that can open to discussion of all this.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austrian_presidential_election,_2016

Update/Clarification: Today’s runoff election was a repeat of the original runoff election in May (the first-round general election was in April). The repeat was due to the results of the May election being challenged for voting irregularities. The result was the same. This aspect of the story is not relevant to the point I’m making above, which is that the US could’ve benefited from a runoff election system or a preference voting system, as well as proportional representation.

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