[EM] An IRVing response

Douglas Greene douggreene at earthlink.net
Fri Aug 3 07:23:56 PDT 2001

Message: 2
   Date: Fri, 03 Aug 2001 04:03:58 -0500
   From: Randy Kunkee 
Subject: Re: The Problem(s) with Instant Runoff Voting

Douglas Greene wrote:

> http://www.electionmethods.org/IRVproblems.htm

The page referenced above makes several vague, unsubstantiated arguments.
The claim that IRV votes cannot be summed is flat out wrong.

The phraseology is deceptive (it is your web page, you are welcome to do
that).  For example, take the sentence

     IRV therefore seems to allow supporters of minor parties to cast
     protest votes without ``wasting'' their votes.

In my view, there is no "seeming" about it, and the votes are not "protest"
votes.  I'd be voting for the candidate I most prefer, without having to
think strategicly.  I would agree that as I consider who gets my #2 rank,
and #3, etc. I am more considering who is the least worst candidate.

You go on to state:

     This advantage is illusory, however, because it applies only as
     long as those minor parties are sure to lose

The advantage is not illusory.  If an Al Gore is campaigning and knows that
getting the Nader votes in round 2 will win him the election, then he will
try to appeal to them.  Likewise, a George Bush would realize that he has to
moderate his position because he knows he's not really in the majority to
start with.  If we go along with your assertion that they are protest votes,
I say bring them on.  I'll bet there's millions of eligible voters out there
in our country that are aching to cast a protest vote, but they feel it
won't make a difference.  IRV would have it make a difference.  Citizens and
politicians both would take note of first round votes vs. second round votes
and adjust their strategies accordingly.

IRV is not perfect.  But I will argue that at its worst, it is no worse than
our current plurality system, and at its best, it is a great improvement.
In particular, I agree that IRV can have a certain kind of plurality-like
affect in regards to eliminating the bottom candidate, when Condorcet might
actually keep such a candidate in.  However, in a country that currently
accepts plurailty and a President who got less than 50% of the votes cast, I
doubt that's really a big problem.

Your consideration of what happens if a 3rd party actually gets strong
enough to win is an interesting and valuable inquiry:

     Suppose my true preference is for the Libertarian first and the
     Republican second. Suppose
     further that the Libertarians are the strongest ``minor'' party.
     At some round of the IRV
     counting process, all the candidates will be eliminated except the
     Republican, the Democrat,
     and the Libertarian. If the Libertarian then has the fewest
     first-choice votes, he or she will be
     eliminated and my vote will transfer to the Republican, just as I

So far so good.  You go on:

     But what if the
     Republican is eliminated before the Libertarian? Unless all the
     Republican votes transfer to
     the Libertarian, which is extremely unlikely, the Democrat might
     then beat the Libertarian.
     If so, I will have helped the Democrat win by not strategically
     ranking the Republican first.
     But that's the same situation I'm in now if I vote my true
     preference for the Libertarian!

No. The Republican lost.  That's all.  If the people who vote Republican
don't cast 2nd rank votes for Libertarian, then they don't want a
Libertarian.  By inference they either don't care, or might prefer a
Democrat to a Libertarian.  The Republican lost.    If those Libs. don't get
enough votes transfered in to win, the Democrat wins, and that is a correct
result.  I agree that you could consider that you must strategicly vote for
the Republicans, lest they not make it to the final round.  But I would
argue still that it not your fault they lost, but the fault of those who
ranked Republicans #1 to not put a #2 vote to the Libertarians, which they
have the power to do.

You assume, however, that Republica would not vote Libertarian as their 2nd
choice, and there are two problems I have with that.  I say first of all
that if they don't, it is their right and a conscious choice.  Secondly, you
are applying old thinking to an environment where a 3rd party is actually
competetive with the major parties.  If a 3rd party is really that
competetive, then everybody's going to know it, and it will make that #2
rank and #3 rank etc. all the more important to mark.  (As an aside, there
is no reason to believe that a conservative Republican would vote #2 for a
Libertarian, since the Libs. are fine with abortion if I recall correctly.
However, the arguments here should apply independent of specifics of todays
politics, and partly my rebuttals is that you are making assumptions based
on todays politics vs. the actual system.)

You refer to Australia as still having a 2 party system, and in the same
paragraph suggest that IRV will "wreak havoc" on our political landscape.

You go on later:

     In other words, IRV can have either of two completely opposite
     effects, depending on whether
     a third party is truly competitive or not. Before a third party is
     competitive, the effect of IRV is
     equivalent to a plurality system in which all supporters of minor
     parties are somehow
     convinced to abandon their principles and vote for the ``lesser of
     two evils.''

What are you talking about here?   Are you suggesting that voting for, eg.
Nader#1, Gore#2, is a lessor of two evils vote because I'm voting for Gore
over Bush in my #2 vote?  That's exactly what I want to be able to do.  No,
I suspect you are assuming you've made your case about the #1 rank somehow
not coming through, and the #2 rank doesn't either.  It's very simple: your
#1 lost and your #2 lost.  We'll live with it.

You go on:

     IRV has other serious problems too, which are explained in more
     detail elsewhere at the
     website. It is an erratic voting system because ranking a
     candidate higher can actually cause
     the candidate to lose, and ranking a candidate lower can cause the
     candidate to win. As if that
     weren't bad enough, it can also fail to elect a candidate who is
     preferred over each of the other
     candidates by a majority of the voters. It is also much more
     difficult to implement with
     security and integrity because the votes cannot be summed as in
     most other election methods.

You have given no evidence to argue that the higher ranked candidate will
lose unfairly, or that a lower ranked candidate will win unfairly.  It is no
more difficult than regular elections to turn in counts that can be summed,
and I have demonstrated that in other postings to this mailing list, and
will gladly and easily demonstrate it to any who ask.  Briefly, all you have
to do is turn in counts for each unique set of rankings.  Eg. there will be
a certain number of L-D-R, L-R-D, R-L-D votes, etc.  So the actual number of
counts turned in might go up a lot, but are certainly manageable.  Such
counts could be published and anybody who wants to could apply the
elimination process themselves to check the results.

I consider IRVs similarities to the current plurality system an advantage --
in the people understand it and will accept it.  It also does not have to be
the final solution, but will be an improvement over what we already have.

Randy Kunkee
The Instant Runoff Project

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