State has options when it comes to elections

// Published February 5, 2008 in Missoulian
There's more than one way to hold an election. In fact, there's more than one way of determining which candidates get to be considered for election.

Montana is getting a lesson in some of these methods as the Montana Republican Party prepares to participate in Super Tuesday for the first time. Today is known as Super Tuesday because it's the day political parties in 24 states vote for a presidential candidate to support in their national conventions later this year. That support will pretty much determine our choices for the November election.

But not every state party will select their candidates the same way. Some will hold primaries and others will hold caucuses, and some of these will be open and others closed. Some will give all their delegate votes to whichever candidate gets the most primary or caucus votes, and others will divvy up their delegate votes according to the percentage of votes each candidate earns.

And in some states, the parties hold conventions in which only party leaders get to decide.

Montana's Republican Party is organizing a closed caucus, meaning that only about 2,000 Republicans in the state will be eligible to vote. These Republicans became eligible to vote in the caucus by signing up for precinct positions in their party at the local level, or by holding an incumbent office as a member of the party.

It's a winner-take-all caucus, so whichever Republican candidate gets the most caucus votes will get all 25 of Montana's delegate votes.

The state's Democratic Party, in contrast, won't hold its primary until June. That's left some party faithful wondering if they aren't coming in too late to make a difference.

On the other hand, untold numbers of absentee voters in dozens of states have already sent in their choices to their respective parties - and some of those choices have since dropped from the race.

Of course, presidential candidates aren't the only ones looking toward the November elections.

With that day in mind, a number of national groups, including the Maryland-based organization FairVote, are suggesting that state and local governments take a page from a handful of cities and counties and give other voting methods a try.

Instant runoff voting, for instance, allows voters to rank their choices in order of preference. If their first choice gets a majority, that person wins. If not, the ranking order of each candidate is compared, runoff-style, with the rankings of other candidates until a winner emerges.

This method has only been in use in the United States for a few years, and it's only been used by a few cities - Burlington, Vt., and San Francisco are two - to select local or district candidates. However, it's gathered a lot of national interest because it's been shown to increase voter turnout while eliminating the need - and therefore, the expense - of a second election.

In districts that have candidates running for more than one position, some are looking at cumulative voting methods. Cumulative voting allows voters to give as many votes as there are positions to whichever candidates they choose.

For instance, if there are three seats open in a single district, a voter could give all three votes to a single candidate, or give just two to a candidate and the remaining vote to another, or give each vote to a different candidate. While this method isn't in widespread use in the United States, it's familiar to most as some major corporations' preferred way of choosing boards of directors.

Every type of election, it seems, has its benefits and drawbacks. It's useful to keep them in mind as we try out new ways of selecting our public officeholders. ng in caucuses, primaries worth researching.