The Flathead Valley’s Leading Independent Journal of Observation, Analysis, & Opinion. © James R. Conner.


12 June 2012

2012 Montana primary underscores need for instant runoff voting

The 2012 Montana primary was not a poster child for the blessings of a plurality wins electoral system.

Seven of ten Democratic voters wanted someone other than Kim Gillan as their nominee for Congress. Two of three Republican voters wanted someone other than Rick Hill as their nominee for governor.

In Flathead County:

  • Almost eight of ten Republican voters wanted someone other than Cal Scott as their nominee for District 1 county commissioner.
  • Three of four Republicans wanted someone other than Gary Krueger (or, possibly, Jay Scott) as their nominee for District 3 county commissioner.
  • Only 49.6 percent of Republicans wanted Dee Brown as their nominee in Senate District 2.
  • Only 45.0 percent of Republicans wanted incumbent Bruct Tutvedt to again be their nominee for Senate District 3. The rest thought he was a donkey masquerading as an elephant.
  • And in Flathead and Lake Counties, only 45.6 percent of Republicans wanted Janna Taylor as their nominee for Senate District 6.

These results are neither an endorsement of majority rule nor a mandate for the winning candidates. They undermine the political legitimacy of the primary’s winners and of the government in which they may serve. The problem is more acute in the executive branch, and in administrative-legislative bastard hybrids like Montana’s county commissions.

That political legitimacy cannot be restored with a top-two primary system, the queer beast that Washington and California adopted. A two-two primary is simply a plurality system without separate party ballots. Every candidate for a particular office is on one ballot. It’s actually less democratic than a plurality wins partisan ballot system.

The solution is some kind of runoff system that produces a winner backed by a majority of the votes. I think instant runoff elections are the best solution, and I wish that Montana’s political parties and good government organizations would get behind it so that the kind of embarrassments described above never will happen again.