Correction: An earlier version of this editorial misspelled the name of D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5). This version has been updated.
THE TIGHT race for D.C. Council in Ward 8 certainly proved the adage that every vote counts. But the lesson goes beyond that cliche: The results once again underscore the benefits of trying a new way to conduct local elections. Instead of tolerating a system that allows candidates to squeak into public office with a meager plurality of the vote, D.C. officials should, at least on a trial basis, follow the lead of other jurisdictions that have established instant-runoff voting. Such a system would allow winners to emerge with a clearer mandate and would also make every vote cast more meaningful.
LaRuby May won a special election to fill the vacancy created by the death last year of Ward 8 council member Marion Barry (D); she was sworn in to her position Thursday. Finishing the count of provisional and absentee votes in the election that had been a cliffhanger since April 28, the D.C. Board of elections said that Ms. May received 1,955 votes while Trayon White received 1,876 votes. Brandon Todd also was sworn in Thursday; he was elected more handily to replace Muriel Bowser, now Washington’s mayor, as council member for Ward 4.
We endorsed Ms. May and continue to think she is the best choice to represent Ward 8 and has the potential to be a valuable voice on the council. But few would suggest that she has an authoritative mandate. With the field so crowded, her 79-vote plurality represented less than 30 percent of the total vote. Instant-runoff voting would allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Winners generally would have to combine strong first-choice support with the ability to earn second- and third-choice backing. This method ensures that candidates get elected with a kind of majority support, and it tends to promote more positive campaigning, since candidates hope to become the second choice of voters who support their rivals. The added complexity might discourage some voters; on the other hand, the increased chance of influencing the final outcome could boost turnout.
Legislation that would establish instant-runoff voting for the election of mayor, members of the D.C. Council and the city’s attorney general was introduced by council member David Grosso (I-At Large), but it has languished in the committee chaired by council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5 ). That the council hasn’t found the time to hold a hearing on this measure is a sad commentary on the lack of interest in making elections in the District fairer and more competitive.