Two Hawaii bills call for changes to state special elections

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February 14, 2011

Honolulu, Hawaii: Bills in both chambers of the state legislature are calling for the adoption of "instant runoff voting" in Hawaii special elections.[1] Instant runoff voting involves ranking candidates by order of preference. In the even that no candidate receives a majority of the vote, ballots originally counted for the candidate in last place are distributed according to their secondary preference. If more than three candidates are involved, these redistributions continue until one candidate holds a majority.[2]

The introduction of such a system would technically eliminate circumstances where a candidate wins without a majority of popular support. Since parties do not nominate candidates in Hawaiian special elections, internal competition can result in victories for minority candidates. For example, in 2010 Charles Djou (R) won a special election with 39.4% of the vote because Democratic contenders Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case split the Democratic vote. Djou was subsequently defeated in the general election. Under a instant runoff system, the trailing Democrat's ballots would be redistributed according to their secondary preference (likely the remaining Democrat).

Proponents claim this can save money and create fairer special elections.[2] Opponents, however, claim the process is costly to implement, confuses voters, and still elects candidate who have not received a majority of votes at the ballot box.[3]

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