[EM] Science Magazine, CVD IRV letter

DEMOREP1 at aol.com DEMOREP1 at aol.com
Mon Jan 14 21:55:40 PST 2002

D- The CVD folks sent the below to Science Magazine which apparently had a 
story about voting in May 2001.  No mention of head to head (Condorcet) in 
the below.

As usual -- simple Approval is defective since it does not have 1, 2, etc. 

As usual -- IRV is defective (especially for single winner offices) since it 
only uses part of a place votes table (and because it does not show any 
YES/approval type vote for any choice).

I have NOT seen the original Science magazine material.

Who will stop the CVD IRV juggernaut (at least for single winner offices) ???

October 12, 2001

Steven Brams and Dudley Herschbach are right about the defects in the 
plurality voting system used in most U.S. elections (Editorial, "The 
science of elections," 25 May, p. 1449). But, on both theoretical and 
practical grounds, they are wrong to tout approval voting (AV) over 
instant runoff voting (IRV). 

Used for decades in Australia and Ireland and considered in 13 U.S. 
state legislatures this year, IRV allows voters to rank candidates in 
order of preference. A voter's best strategy is to sincerely rank the 
candidates. If no candidate gets a majority of first preferences, 
candidates at the bottom are sequentially dropped. Each ballot cast for 
those eliminated candidates is added to the totals of the next choice 
indicated on that ballot until a candidate achieves a majority. IRV 
duplicates a series of traditional runoffs, but without the need for 
additional elections that cost taxpayers and candidates more money and 
often lead to falloffs in voter participation (1). 

In contrast, AV is a binary system, where the voter can only indicate 
"yes" or "no" for each candidate. The problem is that voters rarely have 
binary views about a range of candidates. Assume a voter sees Z as most 
favored, Y as less favored, and X as unacceptable. By voting for 
"acceptable" candidates Y and Z, the voter could cause Z to lose. But by 
voting only for Z, the voter makes it easier for X (the unacceptable 
candidate) to win (2). The voter will be torn between voting defensively 
against X or strategically for Z because voting for a second choice 
counts directly against your first choice. 

Approval voting has another important real-world flaw. Political 
behavior has much to do with what is rewarded by the election system, 
and AV would exacerbate one of the worst aspects of U.S. campaigns: 
avoidance of substantive policy debate. Because a candidate could lose 
despite being the first choice of an absolute majority of the electorate 
(3), smart candidates would avoid controversial issues that alienate any 
significant number of voters. Smiling more and using policy-empty themes 
like "I care" will not clarify the important choices leaders must make. 
Those rewarded by AV could be characterized as "inoffensive" more than 

IRV strikes a better balance. It rewards candidates who stand out on 
policy enough to gain first-choice support, yet encourages 
coalition-building and fewer personal attacks as candidates seek to be 
the second choice of other candidates' supporters. 

These arguments help explain why IRV is used and proposed far more often 
than AV, and why next year Alaska and San Francisco will hold ballot 
measures to implement IRV for their major elections (see for details). 
IRV is the right system for the United States' high-stakes elections 
with a single winner. 

References and Notes 

1. Ireland's 1990 presidential race provides an example of how IRV 
works. In the first round, Brian Lenihan won 44% of first choices, Mary 
Robinson won 38%, and Austin Currie won 17%. After Currie's elimination, 
Robinson had clear majority support. She won 53% to 47% in the second 
round of counting. Without IRV, Currie would have been a "spoiler" and 
handed the presidency to Lenihan. 

2. Imagine an AV election with 100 voters. After 98 ballots are counted, 
the results give 55 approval votes to candidate Z, 60 votes to candidate 
Y, and 61 votes to candidate X. The two remaining ballots were cast by 
those voters who really liked Z and intensely dislike X. If knowing 
these results in advance, they would want to block candidate X by 
casting votes for both candidates Y and Z. Now suppose the results 
instead gave 60 approval votes to candidate Z, 61 to Y, and 55 to X. The 
final two voters in this case would want to elect candidate Z by not 
voting for Y. But only in imaginary elections can we know the results in 
advance. Without that advance information, supporters of candidate Z are 
in a quandary-as, in fact, are supporters of other candidates. IRV's 
alleged mathematical deficiencies, on the other hand, have almost no 
strategic impact because they depend on voters making complex 
calculations with advance knowledge of election results" 

3. Here is how AV can allow a candidate with strong majority support to 
lose in an election with 100 voters. Under plurality voting, Candidate A 
is the favorite choice of 65 voters, candidate B is preferred by 25, and 
candidate C is the top choice of only 10. Candidate A is the unambiguous 
winner, and C is a distant third. Under AV, however, many voters might 
pick C as a weak, but tolerable alternative. The final count might give 
70 approval votes to A, 35 votes to B, and 75 votes to C. Candidate C 
would win.

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