[EM] Instant Runoff

MIKE OSSIPOFF nkklrp at hotmail.com
Fri Nov 24 15:56:42 PST 2000


A copy of your article was forwarded to our mailing list, and I'd
like to  make a few very brief comments.

First, you're right: Instant Runoff (IRV) has drawbacks and unintended
consequences. I'll get to those in a minute.

But first, you said, and the IRV advocates always claim, that
Instant Runoff has the advantage of electing someone who has a majority.
Yes, it elects someone who has a majority, after it moves votes around
according to its own peculiar & arbitrary rules, so as to give someone
a majority. Obviously the legitimacy of that "majority" depends on
how the majority was gotten, on how right are the rules that gave
him/her that majority. And how do we know that IRV's rules are right?
Why, because they elect someone with a majority :-) You see the
circularity there.

Drawbacks and unintended consequences:

First, IRV advocates are mistaken when they repeatedly claim that
IRV allows us to rank sincerely, without fear of a spoiler problem
or lesser-of-2-evils problem. Often the lesser-evil compromise that
you need will be eliminated while your traveling vote is still on
your favorite. If you'd insincerely ranked that lesser-evil in 1st
place, over your favorite, then you could have thereby avoided the
election of your last choice. It will happen often. The IRV advocates
have been told this often, and have been shown many examples, and so
their continued repetition of that false claim has to be considered more
than an honest mis-statement.

In IRV, voting someone higher can make him/her lose. In fact,
moving a candidate from last place to 1st place can make him/her lose,
where he/she would have won if you'd left him/her in last place.
Other voting systems don't do that. The voter has a right to know that
the count rule won't act oppositely to how he/she votes. IRV is like
a car whose steering wheel has come off.

So IRV isn't any good. Are there any reform voting systems that are
good? Most definitely. In fact, rank balloting can be a good idea,
if the rankings are counted in an adequate way. IRV just isn't an
adequate way. There are some excellent rank counts. You can find
information about them at:




It can be difficult to get a good rank-count adopted, becauses there
are innumerable ways to count rank ballots, and people like the
IRVies will be pushing meritless count rules. Here's a simpler
proposal. It's called the Approval method:

Each voter may mark on her/his ballot as many candidates as she/he wants
to. This gives one whole vote to each candidate whom she/he marks.
The winner is the candidate who gets the most votes.

Approval is nothing other than Plurality done right. It doesn't involve
convincing people about a whole completely new voting system & count

What would it take to implement Approval? Where the ballot now says
"Vote for 1", it would instead say "Vote for 1 or more". That's it.
Cost of changing to Approval? Zero.

Unlike IRV, Approval does much to get rid of the lesser-of-2-evils
problem and the spoiler problem: With Approval, no one would ever
have any incentive to vote someone else over her/his favorite. That
certainly can't be said for Instant Runoff.

Only a very few of the very best rank counts result in a method as
good as Approval. In fact, only a very few are as good as Approval.

Mike Ossipoff

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