I wonder if President Obama and Prime Minister Rudd talked about instant runoff voting today...

by Rob Richie // Published March 24, 2009
... Okay, it's probably unlikely that it came up during their meeting at the White House, but in 2002 then-state senator President Barack Obama was the lead sponsor of Illinois legislation to establish instant runoff voting for primary elections, while Australian Prime Minister Rudd was a beneficiary of instant runoff voting in his 2007 election.

Australian scholar Benjamin Reilly has gone so far as to say in a scholarly article about the  the spread of instant runoff voting (called "preferential voting" in Australia) is nearing imperialism.

Below is a letter I wrote about Australia's 2007 elections that appeared in the Washington Post. Post columnist E.J. Dionne also did an excellent column that included a discussion of the role of instant runoff voting in Rudd's victory.

Electoral Lessons From Australia By Rob Richie Published December 21st 2007 in The Washington Post

John Barron's commentary about Australian politics ["Election? Here's How You Do It, Mate," Outlook, Dec. 9] was misleading.

Although the leading contenders for prime minister indeed mirrored each other on many positions, Australians have far more choices and diverse candidates than Americans have.

The two major parties, Labor and the Liberal-National alliance, won 148 seats, but they lost two to independents and had real competition.

No district had fewer than four candidates, with an average of seven from across the spectrum. With instant runoff voting, every winner gained more than 50 percent of the final vote, but only 75 winners received an initial majority of voters' first-choice rankings. The rest had to win by earning the second-choice preferences of other candidates' backers.

The Green Party contested every seat and won 8 percent of the national vote in House races and 9 percent in Senate seats -- three times what Ralph Nader won in 2000. Labor earned most Green preferences and already has ratified the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Australia's major parties are close on many issues, but with instant runoff voting accommodating more choices in campaigns and with proportional representation in Senate elections, Australia creates a means to transform that center -- a combination of moderation and responsiveness that many Americans would be eager to see.