Instant runoffs could curb negative ads

// Published October 15, 2009 in Crain's New York Business
State Sen. Liz Krueger says instant runoff voting would do more than save the expense of repeating elections when no candidate gets 40% of the vote. It would reduce negative campaigning and thus boost turnout, she says. Voters would rank candidates, and if no candidate wins a majority of No. 1 votes, the last-place finisher would be dropped and a new count made combining No. 1 and No. 2 votes, and so on until someone surpasses 50%.

“Candidates don't want to be seen as nasty [to rivals], because if they can't get your vote for No. 1, they want your vote for No. 2,” says Krueger, D-Manhattan. She overcame attack ads by Republican Andrew Eristoff, including one accusing her of supporting public urination, to win her seat in 2002. Krueger believes the ads backfired because her district's voters are the most educated in the state, but she was nonetheless scarred.

“I hate negative campaigning,” says Krueger. “It's an insult to voters and democracy and decreases participation, and there is a whole bunch of decent people who won't run for office because they say, ‘I can't put my family through that.' ”

Krueger has a bill pending that would allow localities to implement instant runoff voting, which is common in Europe. “We have to ask the question, How come voter turnout is so appallingly low in this country? Maybe it's something we're doing.”

The bill would not have affected the increasingly nasty mayoral race, but an instant runoff could have elevated David Yassky over John Liu in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary. Yassky would likely have received more No. 2 votes than Liu from supporters of Melinda Katz and David Weprin, who finished third and fourth. Turnout plunged in the Sept. 29 runoff, and Yassky lost by 12 points.