Friday, December 3, 2010

Court of Fools: Episode 3

Episode 3: Felix Montes-Rodriguez v. People of the State of CO

Colorado Supreme Court
Year: 2010
Majority: Michael L. Bender
Joined by: Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr.
                Mary Mullarkey
                Alex J. Martinez
Dissent: Nathan B. Coats
Joined by: Nancy E. Rice
                Allison Eid

This case came about when Felix Montes-Rodriguez applied for a vehicle loan using his name and address, but a social security number belonging to someone else. He was originally convicted under Colorado's criminal impersonation statute and the case was appealed, eventually reaching the state's supreme court.

The conviction was overturned because the court held that Montes-Rodriguez did not "assume a false or fictitious identity or capacity". The court goes on to say, "we hold that one assumes a false or fictitious capacity in violation of the statute when he or she assumes a false legal qualification, power, fitness, or role," and that "the prosecution failed to present evidence that a social security number gives one the legal qualification, fitness, or power to receive a loan." Essentially their argument is that the SSN was required by the bank and not the law in order to receive the loan. This is utterly ridiculous. Not every qualification, power, fitness or role is issued by or required by the government. The bank might also require that you show proof of continuous employment. If you submit a resume belonging to someone else, is that not assuming a false role? Apparently not in Colorado since the government doesn't require employment verification for a loan.

This is an extremely bad decision in that it limits the ways in which identity theft and impersonation can be prosecuted. Now as long as someone uses their own name and address, they can steal whatever other information they need to get what they want.

~ Another Guy

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Case for a National Sales Tax: Part 4


While I do not particularly like the name, Fairtax does indeed have some elements that improve the "fairness" of the tax system. One of the best benefits is that everybody pays, at least anybody that buys stuff. Illegal immigrants, average working stiffs and the super rich all have to pay the sales tax. It doesn't matter how much money you have to blow on expert accountants, everyone will have the same understanding of the tax code. There won't be constant hunting for tax-advantaged investments or savings accounts, because making and saving money isn't taxed anymore, just spending that money.

Tax-advantages are probably one of the most "unfair" parts of the current tax system. Lobbyists petition congress to create special exemptions or alterations for specific industries or causes. Thus you get situations where some businesses must pay more in taxes because they don't have the lobbying assets that other businesses do. A national sales tax removes some of that influence. Obviously congress will still be influenced to spend money in the interest of special groups, but those bills are harder to pass than simply modifying a few sentences in thousands of pages of tax law. This may actually be one of the biggest hurdles to implementing such a plan, congress is never very willing to give up control of anything, let alone the collection of money that they love to spend.

This would also force more transparency from congress. Any adjustments to the tax rate would affect everyone, not just certain segments of the population. As can be seen in the current tax discussion, there is often a desire to raise taxes on the rich as they are a small minority and not always viewed in the best light. Everyone else is more likely to go along with it because their taxes remain unchanged. With a sales tax, everyone will feel it and everyone will know exactly how much everyone else pays. No more tables or brackets, if taxes go up 1%, everyone knows that they will now pay 1% more. Even those under the poverty threshold will still be cognizant of the situation because even though all of their taxes are refunded, they still have to pay them upfront. Hopefully this would lead to more scrutiny of government spending, as everyone would see a direct benefit if spending was lowered enough to reduce the tax rate that everyone would see at the register. Of course, at this point government spending is entirely divorced from tax revenue, so congress would probably just lower the tax rate and increase the rate of the money printer.

This concludes my posts on a national sales tax. There are obviously some things that would still need to be ironed out, but I hope I have at least made the point that this is something worth seriously looking into.

~ Another Guy

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Case for a National Sales Tax: Part 3

Potential Economic Benefits

One of the biggest potential impacts that this system could have on American businesses is to make them more competitive in the global market. Removing payroll taxes alone would lower the overall cost of U.S. labor without shrinking workers' wages. And labor costs are routinely mentioned as one of the top reasons for manufacturing moving overseas. However, a system such as FairTax would remove not only payroll taxes, but all other corporate taxes as well. This means that a firm that manufactures widgets in the U.S. would be charged no direct taxes. Domestically, the widgets themselves would only be exposed to taxes at the time of retail sale. If the widgets were exported, there would be no U.S. taxes involved at all (barring some import/export tax) and the economic advantages of moving production overseas begin to look much less attractive. More domestic production would lead to an improved (or ideally eliminated) trade deficit, increased employment opportunities, etc.

It is also worth noting that removal of corporate taxes would most likely cut down on the games played by companies such as the "Double Irish Arrangement" and "Dutch Sandwich". Such structures allow many international firms to avoid much of the U.S.'s 35% corporate income tax. For example, Google manages to only pay 2.4%. Such maneuvers are by no means rare and ensure that firms who only operate domestically or do not have the resources to put into tax avoidance are the only ones paying the full rate. Removal of loopholes associated with complex tax policies would certainly improve financial transparency.

Next up: "Fairness" Benefits

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Case for a National Sales Tax: Part 2

The Benefits of a Simplified System

As a commenter pointed out on the last post, it doesn't matter how short a piece of legislation is, the average American (and probably more than a few members of congress) will never read it. That is just fine, we operate in a society filled with laws without ever reading much in the way of detailed legislation. However, according to a survey by the National Retail Foundation, almost 75% of US taxpayers intended to file last year's taxes using an accountant, tax preparation service or software. This would seem to indicate that the process of filing a tax return is either so complicated or cumbersome that a huge number of Americans are willing to pay someone else to make it easier. Don't get me wrong, I understand that many American's are lazy and some would probably pay someone else to go to the bathroom for them if they could. But, the fact that the current tax code is so complicated that a taxpayer preparing his own taxes might easily be missing out on deserved credits and deductions is absurd.

A national sales tax would remove the need to hunt for deductions or credits that change from year to year. In fact, individual taxpayers wouldn't even need to file a return each year. All you would have to do is let the government know that you exist so that you can be mailed your monthly "prebate". Removing the burden of tax returns from citizens also has another benefit: it is hard to dodge taxes. Even an illegal alien working "off the books" would need to purchase things and would so contribute taxes. Obviously there will always be tax cheats no matter what the system and many states deal with businesses circumventing sales taxes, but many simple mistakes that lead to incorrect returns each year can be avoided entirely.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of simplicity is something that seems to be a hot topic at the moment, smaller government. The IRS could be vastly shrunk as the number of tax filings would decrease dramatically. Furthermore, if the federal government paid the existing state agencies that collect local taxes to handle the federal sales tax, even further efficiencies could be achieved. A streamlined system would help to remove at least a thin layer of bureaucracy from an already bloated government. Spending less money on overhead means that less of the tax money collected goes into collecting taxes.

Next up: potential economic benefits

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Case for a National Sales Tax: Part 1

Given the current economic situation, a lot of attention is being paid to tax policy. One of the biggest debates at the moment is over tax breaks and who should get them. I would like to make the case for a complete overhaul of the U.S. tax system with the implementation of a national sales tax. I certainly did not originate this idea and am not certain about some of the finer details. Overall, however, I think that the ideas behind a sales tax are sound. In order to discuss the general principles of such a tax system, I will use one of the more prominent proposals, FairTax, as the base example. Before I get into the specifics, I want to begin by saying that I have issues with the way that FairTax is promoted. The name itself is loaded. While I intend to argue that a national sales tax is indeed more "fair" than the current system, the name "FairTax" has a slimy feel to it. It is also often spoken of in terms of a tax-inclusive rate in order to make it seem lower than the traditional tax-exclusive rate that many are used to with current state sales tax rates.* In any case, it is worth setting aside the political haze that clouds every idea Congress tosses around in order to actually evaluate proposal.

FairTax is a proposal to eliminate all federal taxes such as individual income, corporate income, capital gains, alternative minimum, payroll (social security, unemployment, medicare, etc.), estate and gift taxes. They would all be replaced with a nationwide tax on the retail sale of all new goods and services. There would be no tax on purchase amounts up to the government defined poverty line. That is to say that someone earning at or less than the poverty line would not be subject to the sales tax at all. This would be implemented by every household (even those making more than the set poverty level) receiving a monthly "prebate" check. Rather than filing a tax return at the end of the year, each household would be reimbursed for the total tax that would be collected on a year's worth of purchases at the poverty level. This amount would be divided by 12 and disbursed each month. So in effect, each household would only be taxed on what they spent above the poverty threshold.

That's basically it. The proposal has some details on what constitutes a new good, etc. But for the most part it is very simple and straightforward. In fact, to the right is a picture of outgoing Representative John Linder R-GA holding the 133 page FairTax Act alongside the current tax law. In my next posts I will discuss the benefits of the a national sales tax over the current tax system.

* Tax-inclusive means that the rate is calculated based upon total spent, so if you spent $0.77 on an item and paid $0.23 in tax, you would calculate the tax rate by: 0.23 / (0.77 + 0.23) for a rate of 23%. Nobody calculates rates like that in the real world. If you see an item in the store, you calculate the sales tax based upon the price of the item only, not including the tax. In the above example, if you paid $0.23 in tax on an item that cost $0.77 almost everyone would calculate the tax rate as 0.23/0.77 for a rate of about 30%. Playing games like this is not going to win any friends.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Reaction: Calls for Compromise

After any election that changes the balance of power there is the inevitable call from both sides to compromise and work together to "get things done". There are a number of problems with this mentality that this election should have highlighted to the powers that be:

1. "Getting things done" means different things to different groups. To liberals, it means using government to fix perceived problems. To conservatives (especially in this election cycle) it means reigning in government which they perceive as the problem. There is something to be said for not getting things done if what is being done is unpalatable. The idea that these two philosophies can be easily reconciled is laughable.

2. Compromise doesn't just mean meeting in the middle. If someone were to say to you, "I would like to punch you in the gut ten times," you would tell them to get lost (or something more colorful). If the person came back and said, " OK, how about I only punch you in the gut five times," your answer wouldn't change. You find getting punched unacceptable. It doesn't matter how many times, or where you would get hit, you won't budge. This is how many people (especially in the current polarized situation) feel about politics. A conservative doesn't want the government involved in health care at all, so a liberal offering to remove the "public option" to sweeten the deal is not compromise.

3. Compromise is about fine tuning details to appeal to multiple groups, not adjusting ideology. At the end of the day, liberals and conservatives are going to agree on very little in terms of broad sweeping policies. The Democrats unilaterally enacted the health care overhaul despite polling showing that the people didn't want it. The people have spoken and removed the Democrats from power as a fairly clear signal that they did not approve of what had been done. If the Democrats had unilaterally pushed something through that Americans accepted in principle, but had some quirks to be worked out, there would not have been 60 House seats changing hands. Voters don't mind a little haggling over details, but they don't want to compromise on their principles.

4. Compromise is just another way of saying "maintain the establishment". Much like children, politicians don't like change. As power switches between parties, very little changes. The two "compromise" with each other and merge toward the middle. During the next election, voters decide that they don't like what is happening, so they vote to put the other party in power. Yet again the parties merely meet in the middle and nothing really changes. They fail to understand that voters don't like the middle. If they did, power wouldn't change hands so frequently. You can't please everyone and when you try you end up with an approval rating of less than 25%. The Tea Party is a prime example of the dissatisfaction with the status quo. Why have a vote if you're just going to do something that nobody likes? What's the point of having a majority if the majority doesn't rule?

5. What constitutes compromise is decided by the party in power. Congress still has not passed a budget. This is perhaps one of the few things where meaningful compromise is achievable. For example, both parties agree that the DOT needs money to operate. How much money is certainly up for debate as there is disagreement as to just what that money is needed for, but the at the end of the day the government has to be funded and a consensus reached (or pushed through unilaterally). Instead, Congress has wasted time on stimulus spending, health care reform and other projects favored by the liberals. The liberals were in power, they got to set the bar for what would be compromised on. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, it is just important to realize that "compromise" is not some warm fuzzy activity where everyone is on the same page and coming from the same place.

6. True compromise is nearly impossible in a two party system. The two parties represent (in theory) polar opposites. There is rarely going to be an issue on which polar opposites can agree. If there were different degrees of conservative and liberal there could be compromises reached that might appeal to segments of each group. However, the desire to maintain "party unity" in order to maintain power generally keeps members of Congress on their respective sides of the aisle except when they come together on something that benefits the establishment without regard for what their party supposedly stands for.

Election Reaction: Polarization of Congress

Among the many impacts of the 2010 Midterms appears to be a further polarization of Congress. Many of the Democratic losses last night came from moderate Democrats. In addition, due to the influence of the Tea Party, many Republican victories went to Tea Party backed candidates or establishment candidates who moved further to the right in order to appeal to their more conservative base. This leaves fewer moderates between the conservative and liberal sides, raising questions as to how this will affect the coming term and even the lame duck session.

One of the biggest issues is how the Tea Party will interact with the establishment, particularly the GOP. There has been a lot of talk about shaking things up and changing Washington coming from newly elected conservatives. However, Tea Party candidates are still a small minority in Congress and will need to rely on conservative establishment members if they hope to have a real impact in the immediate future. It will be a fine line between upholding the conservative principles that got them elected, and working within the existing system to implement the policies that they promote. The key will be how the Republican party reacts to the new members. Many believe that the party's best hope is to realign themselves more to the right, embrace the movement and get back to their conservative roots. Others feel that the only way to pass legislation is with the help of the establishment and that compromise and moderation will be forced upon the new class. It would seem that the latter option is very dangerous. If voters feel that the change the conservative candidates peddled was merely rhetoric and that they are corrupted by the system, 2012 could spell trouble for the GOP. Either another round of more conservative Tea Party candidates will beat out established candidates in primaries, or conservatives will become disillusioned and just stay home. In any case, the Republicans have a choice to make.

Election Reaction: Tea Party Costs Republicans?

In the wake of last night's election, there is big debate over whether Tea Party wins in primaries cost Republicans victories in the general election. There seems to have been mixed results as Rubio and Paul won out while Angle and O'Donnell failed to defeat their Democratic opponents. Many argue that had Mike Castle beaten O'Donnell in the Delaware primary, the Republicans would now control that Senate seat. The same is argued for a primary victory by Sue Lowden in Nevada. Either of these situations could very well have happened, but there is no way to know for sure. In any case, the problematic part of this debate is that it ignores the very reason that these Tea Party candidates won the primaries in the first place: the Republicans were no longer seen as conservatives by their party base.

To a conservative voter the question of whether or not the Tea Party candidates cost the Republican party is irrelevant. This election was about voting for a conservative, not a Republican. This fixation on the party is exactly why the Tea Party came about in the first place. Too many Republicans forgot what the party used to stand for: lower taxes and smaller government. The bailout bill was too much for some to take and they realized that their Republican representatives no longer shared their views. So they mobilized and put forth truly conservative candidates in the primaries and managed to oust establishment candidates.

From the beginning there were grumblings from the GOP that such conservatives were unable to win in the general election or that they were too far to the right for the average voter. But that wasn't the point. Conservative voters were sick of sending moderates to Washington who abandoned their principles in the name of "party unity" or "bipartisan compromise". In particular, Mike Castle was very unpalatable to conservatives and was considered one of, if not the most liberal Republican in the House. In the mind of voters, it was better to take a chance on someone who actually shared their views rather than be guaranteed to have someone who only pretended to.

In the end, Angle and O'Donnell failed to win and Democrats retained a majority in the Senate. However, the important message has been sent, particularly in Nevada where the election was rather close. Conservative voters want a conservative, not a Republican. If the Republican is a conservative, great. But if it comes down to principles or the party, principles might finally start to win out.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Court of Fools: Episode 2

Episode 2: Everson v. Board of Education

Year: 1947
Majority: Hugo Black
Vinson Court in 1953*
Joined by: Fred M. Vinson
                 Stanley F. Reed
                 William O. Douglas
                 Frank Murphy
Dissent: Robert H. Jackson
Joined by: Felix Frankfurter
Additional Dissent: Wiley B. Rutledge
Joined by: Felix Frankfurter
                 Robert H. Jackson
                 Harold H. Burton

This is an interesting case in that all of the Justices seemed to agree on a poor interpretation of the Constitution. Not only was their interpretation poor in that it goes beyond what the document actually contains, but the impacts of the interpretation were muddied enough that they couldn't even agree on how to apply it.

The case centered around a New Jersey school district that used tax money to reimburse parents for the cost of sending their children to school via public transportation. This reimbursement went to parents of children who attended both public schools and private religious schools. A taxpayer in the district sued arguing that this violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." The Court ruled 5-4 that the New Jersey program did not violate the Constitution, which is the right call. However, the opinions issued in the case set an unfortunate precedent regarding the establishment clause.

In 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist associate in Connecticut in which he sought to assure them that even though the First Amendment only mentioned Congress, they should not fear religious repression in their state. In that letter he first wrote about the now famous "wall of separation between Church & State". In 1947, Black functionally wrote that line into the Constitution in the majority opinion. Interestingly enough, all of the dissenters also agreed with his assessment of the establishment clause.

Yet, the Constitution did not create this wall, America was a religious nation from the beginning and in fact Jefferson himself mentions our "Creator" and "Nature's God". The idea was to eliminate the religious turmoil and oppression that had caused many of the original colonists to leave Europe. It is a fine line between establishing a national religion and merely supporting the religious foundations that have been with this country since its birth. It would seem that the idea of a "wall" would be a way of removing the need to walk that line and minimize the chances that the government would cross into establishment territory by cordoning off religion entirely. That "wall" was erected by all nine members of the Court.

The disagreement was over how that wall should be applied with regards to the New Jersey program. The majority felt that the program was not an establishment of religion and merely support for citizens who were engaged in their own religious practices. However, the dissenters pointed out that a "wall" between Church and State should surely prohibit New Jersey from using government money to aid students in getting "the very thing which they are sent to the particular school to secure, namely, religious training and teaching." It is amazing that the majority would make up a new component to the Constitution and then ignore it in the very same opinion. While all of the Justices were mistaken in their zeal to erect the "wall", at least the dissenters had the right idea about what a wall actually is.

~ Another Guy

*This picture was taken after two of the Justices had been replaced. I apologize to Justices Tom Clark and Sherman Minton but they will just have to stand in for Rutledge and Murphy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


It is interesting to see some Republicans fighting for their seats in congress based upon the notion that they are actually for smaller government. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (more commonly known as the Bailout) passed with 91 Republican representatives and 34 Republican senators voting for it. Not to mention being signed into law by a Republican president.

~ Another Guy

Monday, October 25, 2010

Court of Fools: Episode 1

In this new series, I will be highlighting examples of ridiculousness from our court system.

Episode 1: Wickard v. Filburn

Robert H. Jackson authored the majority opinion
Year: 1942 
Majority: Robert H. Jackson 
Joined By: Harlan F. Stone
                 Owen J. Roberts
                 Hugo Black
                 Stanley F. Reed
                 Felix Frankfurter
                 William O. Douglass
                 Frank Murphy
                 James F. Byrnes 
Concurrence: None 
Dissent: None

During the Great Depression, the government imposed a limit on the number of acres that a farmer could use to grow wheat in order to prop up the market price. A farmer by the name of Roscoe Filburn was growing more than the allowed acreage. He argued that since he was only using the wheat for consumption on his farm as chicken feed, it never entered the market and could not be regulated as interstate commerce.

The Supreme Court disagreed and argued that if he did not grow that wheat himself, he would have to purchase it on the open market. As such, his non-action in the market had an effect on interstate commerce and was subject to regulation. The Court held that the action itself was not the determining factor in what constituted interstate commerce, but whether the activity "exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce".

The next time that you decide to plant a vegetable garden in the back yard, remember that the government has legal precedent to pass a law prohibiting it. If grow your own vegetables anyway and don't buy them at the supermarket, the government just might fine you and make you burn your garden. Thanks fools!

Note: While all of the justices signed on to this opinion, as the author of record, Jackson gets the jester's cap in this installment. It is also worth noting that all but two of the Justices in this case were nominated by F.D.R.

~Another Guy

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What is Social Security?

When most Americans refer to "Social Security", they generally mean the monthly payments that retirees receive from the government. That particular program is called the Federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) and was enacted in 1935 and has been amended many times since. There is a lot of debate around OASDI ranging from concerns about its long term solvency to ideological differences over its very existence. However, it would seem that all too often its creation as an insurance program seems to be forgotten.

During the 1930s, the average life expectancy did not reach the full retirement age of 65. Hence the program was meant as an insurance policy in case someone outlived their ability to work and had no steady source of income. Setting aside the controversy of such an insurance program in the first place, it is hard to reconcile today's system with the original intent of the program. OASDI is no longer viewed as an insurance plan, but rather as a form of guaranteed retirement income. Since current life expectancies in the U.S. are more than ten years above current full retirement age, it seems like less a plan for "what if" and more for "when".

This presents a problem for a program designed to work as an insurance policy. For example, homeowner's insurance only works because not everyone's house burns down. Premiums are kept low because many people pay in, but only a few ever need the benefits. If it was a pretty good chance that everyone's house was going to burn down, the insurers would have to raise premiums to cover the payouts. But if almost everyone is going to receive a payout at some point, then almost everyone would have to pay a premium equal to that payout. At some point, homeowners are going to begin wondering why they have insurance at all and don't just save the money that they would have paid towards premiums to cover the eventual loss of their home.

And to some degree, that is where we stand today. People are asking questions about whether they would receive a higher rate of return with a private program or with a government one. Many are concerned about whether taxes will go up or benefits will go down or if there will even be any benefits at all when they retire. It is clear that something needs to be done. Yet, before any real debate can begin, it would probably be useful to determine just exactly what the program is supposed to be, an insurance policy, or a retirement plan.

~ Another Guy

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Change In Voting System?

As the 2010 midterm elections approach, it is worth taking a look at just how the new members of Congress will be elected. The specific rules of nominating and voting for Congressional candidates in the United States varies from state to state. For the most part, there are two major parts to every election cycle: a primary and a general election.

The primary is used to determine which candidates will appear on the ballot in the general election and the process differs slightly depending on the state. For most states, there is a primary vote held for each major political party, the winner of each will be placed on the general election ballot. Independent and minor party candidates usually have to obtain a certain number of signatures in order to appear on the final ballot. Despite differences in the way in which the primary election is held, the number of signatures required, and other logistical considerations, the overall pattern is virtually the same (except for Louisiana and Washington state which hold a very different kind of primary*).

The general election is virtually the same throughout the U.S. and is operated with the Plurality Voting System, also known as First Past the Post. In this system, the candidate who receives a plurality (more than any other candidate but not necessarily a majority) of the votes is declared the winner.

There are a number of critiques of this system that appear from time to time depending on the political landscape. One of the biggest potential issues is that of vote splitting. This occurs when politically similar voters split their votes among multiple similar candidates and increases the chances of a single, dissimilar candidate winning the election. One of the more recent and well known examples of vote splitting occurred in the 2000 Presidential election. Ralph Nader was considered by many pundits to have been a spoiler candidate and received votes that would otherwise have gone to Al Gore. There is speculation that had Gore received those votes instead of Nader, George Bush may not have won the extremely close election.

Another criticism laid against Plurality Voting Systems is that they encourage strategic voting. Strategic voting is voting for a candidate other than one's preferred choice in order to prevent the victory of a candidate who holds opposing views. While this can take many forms, one of the most common is in response to concerns over a split vote. In the 2000 election example above, a Nader supporter might cast a vote for Gore because while he might find a Nader victory ideal, he views a Bush win as unacceptable. He is willing to compromise on a lesser candidate (Gore in this example) rather than risk a Bush victory. This can also be seen as stifling competition from independent and third party candidates whose supporters might not be willing to risk having an ideological enemy win even if it means not voting for the candidate who most accurately represents them.

These concerns seem very apparent in this election season with the emergence of the Tea Party movement. A prime example is New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District. Former Philadelphia Eagle Jon Runyan (R) is challenging incumbent John Adler (D) in what appears to be a very tight race. Another candidate, Peter DeStefano is running as a Tea Party candidate and could become a spoiler if he draws enough otherwise Republican votes to allow Adler to keep his seat. This causes voters who might identify with DeStefano to make a rather unpleasant choice: do they vote for the person they really want in office, or do they vote for Runyan just to unseat the Democrat?

One possible solution to this situation is a somewhat radical change to the voting system, removing the current primary and general elections and replace them with Instant Runoff Voting. A runoff vote is basically what the general election is in Louisiana and Washington, a vote where only the two front runners remain. An Instant Runoff is where all of the candidates are listed on one ballot and voters rank them in order of preference on election day. Once the ballots have been collected, everyone's top choices are tabulated and the candidate receiving the fewest votes is eliminated. Everyone's top choices are then tabulated again, except if the top preference on a ballot is eliminated, the next highest preference is used instead. Once again, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated. The process continues until only two candidates are left and the won with the highest vote total is declared the winner.

The numbers represent the preference of the voter with 1 being the most preferred.
There are a number of benefits to an Instant Runoff. There is no longer a need to worry about a spoiler candidate. In the above example from NJ, a Tea Party supporter would have no concern over voting for his preferred candidate. He would simply rank DeStefano as his first choice and Runyan as is second. If DeStefano didn't have enough votes to win, then he would functionally be able to shift his support to Runyan. There would also no longer be an incentive to vote strategically. Voters would be free to rank their choices according to whom they really want without fear of handing victory to an unacceptable candidate. There is also a logistical benefit in that states who currently run primaries elections would no longer bear that expense. If a political party wants to limit who can carry the party's official endorsement, they can run the primary or determine how they would like to determine that endorsement. Each state would merely have to set criteria for candidates to be placed on the general election ballot, whether through signature collection or another means.

Overall it would most likely be an improvement over the current process and allow voters to cast their votes for their preferred candidate without worrying about the impact of the system. It would probably also help to reduce candidate “drift”, where a politician moves to the edges for a primary to win support of the base, and then slides back to the center for the general election. Only one election day would mean that the candidate must choose whom he wants to appeal to most without being able to change stances for the next round. In any case, there is little chance of implementation as it might change the current party structure. That would certainly upset the establishment. Although that might make an even more compelling argument to consider it.

~ Another Guy

*These two states have a Non-partisan Blanket Primary in which all prospective candidates are placed on one primary ballot and only the top two vote getters are placed on the general election ballot.