[EM] Silver Linings in Alaska

Alex Small asmall at physics.ucsb.edu
Tue Aug 27 17:47:48 PDT 2002

Last I heard there is a strong chance that the IRV initiative will pass in
Alaska today.  I know that some people here feel very strongly that IRV is
a horrible method, others (like myself) consider it to be flawed but an
improvement on plurality, and a few consider it to be excellent.  Since
those differences have been hashed out and discussed ad nauseum it isn't
worth commenting any further.

However, a few points to consider if it passes:

1)  If IRV is worse than plurality then this will become apparent, and we
will have real examples to back up criticisms (hypothetical examples,
however powerful, will only go so far in policy debates).  Although
initially this will disillusion the public about alternative election
methods, it will also present an opportunity for those who favor other

I recall that somebody on this list was at the Libertarian Convention and
tried (without success) to amend the platform to say (paraphrased) "We
call for the implimentation of instant proportional representation and
instant runoff voting _or other single-winner election methods_.  If our
criticisms of IRV are born out by real examples we may have more success
in the future.

2)  Given the reluctance of the 2 parties to embrace ANY alternative
voting method (the GOP in Alaska being an exception), if IRV passes in AK
and people elsewhere demand a better election method, I doubt that the
Republicrats will jump on the IRV bandwagon.  They'll probably create
committees in various states to "study the problem."  Assuming that the
committee isn't rigged one way or another (a dubious assumption, I know),
this will be a chance for supporters of other methods to present testimony
in a public forum.

3)  _If_ IRV succeeds in electing a few members to the houses of the AK
legislature, demands for Proportional Representation will likely follow. 
The reason is quite simple:

When you have only two parties the single-member district system "seems"
to work.  There's gerrymandering, but in all likelihood the gerrymander
was done by the party that's more popular in the state anyway.  So, the
legislature likely reflects the partisan balance in the state, more or
less.  (Note that closely divided states are an obvious exception.)

With 3 or more parties, however, sampling individual districts is unlikely
to accurately reflect the partisan situation of the state as a whole,
regardless of the single-winner method used.  A party favored by 20% of
the electorate wins NO seats if the voters are evenly spread out. 
Nonetheless, methods that in one way or another allow voters to express
more information than support for a single candidate (i.e. more info than
plurality) provide enough data to detect the presence of that 20% faction.
 This will prompt calls for PR (I hope).

4) Even before IRV has (for good or for ill) weathered a few election
cycles in AK, people in various places may be emboldened to place PR on
the ballot in their states.  A victory for IRV in AK will signal that a
lot of voters want an alternative election method, and since PR is the
next most popular reform out there it may gets its day.

5)  Remember that most of the people who vote for IRV today have no
knowledge of monotonicity, IIAC, and all of the other matters that we
discuss.  They sincerely believe that IRV is an excellent method.  Those
voters are our political allies (even if the chief IRV proponents are our
technical adversaries).

6)  Machines that allow ranked ballots can be adapted to Condorcet with ease.

So, just a few silver linings.  Hey, it's better than complaining.

"Always look on the bright side of life...."


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