[EM] Reply to Rob L., re: IRV

Rob Lanphier robla at eskimo.com
Tue Mar 12 23:30:42 PST 2002

Hi Mike,

Thanks for all of the replies.  Lots of food for thought.  What I'm not
replying to I either agree with or I'm still thinking about. More inline: 

On Wed, 13 Mar 2002, MIKE OSSIPOFF wrote:
> Rob Lanphier wrote:
> As a mental exercise, IRV may be a necessary stepping stone to methods
> like Condorcet (it certainly was for me; I was a proponent of IRV for a
> few months in 1995).
> I reply:
> But IRV wasn't what attracted you to Condorcet. It was Condorcet's
> desirable properties. If you'd heard of Condorcet, but not IRV,
> you wouldn't have liked Condorcet any less.

Prior to 1995, I was pretty ignorant of electoral methods other than
standard first-past-the-post.  I was pretty steamed about a very close
race in my congressional district, and was thinking about how such a close
election swung my representation so drastically.  I "invented" IRV, and
then figured that someone must have already thought of it.  I then
searched online and found CVD.

The interesting thing that CVD did was to provide the forum in which you
convinced me that IRV is the wrong answer.  They eventually discontinued
that, but this very mailing list was spun off of a CVD mailing list.

Perhaps I'm not jaded about the CVD because I've found the local chapter
to be a pretty receptive bunch, or perhaps I don't ask as much of them.

> Rob L. continues:
> Also, IRV elections are a great way of teaching the
> electorate how to vote using ranked ballots, and getting governments to
> switch equipment.
> I reply:
> The problem is that it might not be so easy to get people to switch
> from IRV to Condorcet, after they've just adopted IRV, promoted to
> them as a completely adequate genuine reform. IRV, with its
> obvious lesser-of-2-evils problem in Australia, has remained in use
> there for a long time. The existence of a problem doesn't guarantee
> that the method will be replaced anytime soon.
> They'll say "What? We've just reformed the voting system l0 years
> ago." And if they're then told that IRV isn't really as good as they
> were told, but that this new method _really is_ a good one, they're
> going to wonder if we're telling the truth this time, or deceiving
> them again, as they were deceived when they adopted IRV.

I'll agree that this is a big risk.

> Rob L. continues:
> I'm concerned about the number of Condorcet advocates who have so heartily
> embraced Approval over IRV because it's a "better compromise".
> I reply:
> I'll save most comments about IRV vs Approval for the other
> letter in which Rob discusses that, but for now I'd like to just
> say that Approval is _much_ simpler to propose than Condorcet or IRV.
> For one thing, a problem with rank methods is that there are so
> many ways to count the rankings. How likely that people will adopt
> one of the very few adequate rank-counts? Approval could be proposed
> and adopted, and used while we engage in the long task of educating
> the public about how to count rank ballots. Condorcetists have no
> reason to object to Approval at least filling in while the
> rank-count debate is still going on.

That's fair.  The thing that I worry about with Approval is that I think
it would be *much* harder to dislodge with Condorcet than IRV would be.
The leap from IRV to Condorcet is very simple; it's arguably a
simplification in many respects.  The leap from Approval to Condorcet is
probably just as difficult as FPTP to Condorcet.

> Yes it's good that CVD are pointing out that electoral reform is
> the solution, but regrettably they're also botching electoral reform.

They definitely are misguided on the solution they've chosen.  There are
probably people that can be converted among the ranks.  We need to engage
to find those people.

> Rob continues:
> Referring to IRV supporters vindictively as "IRVies" and characterizing
> all of them as simpletons incapable of change is *stupid* strategy. Let
> me repeat this:
> I reply:
> But are you saying that those characterizations aren't true of
> the leadership of CVD?

Maybe, maybe not.  Not my point.  My point is that inventing an epithet to
refer to CVD members, CVD leaders, or anyone else is a non-constructive
exercise.  It may seem to be a mere point of style rather than of
substance, but people who feel insulted tend to think of this as

> The reason why I don't consider it a strategic mistake to say what
> I say about CVD is because I've tried to work with them, and I
> can tell you that they're hopelessly arrogant promoters.

Limit the scope of your statement to specific people if you feel you must
point it out.  I'd probably disagree with you when it comes to some of our
mutual acquantences, but I also know that there are people in the Seattle
area that I know this *doesn't* apply to, and that you couldn't possibly
know well enough to judge so harshly.

> But, when it comes to stupid strategy, what can compare with not
> sending any information to the IRV opponents in SF, and not even
> sending a 1-topic letter to the editor until the night before the
> election? And did anyone do more than I did to fight IRV in SF?

I guess I didn't see it as such an urgent problem, per my mail. 

> As I said yesterday, you were never an IRVie, because, as I defined
> "IRVie" in my letter yesterday, not all IRVists are IRVies.

I appreciate you making that distinction, but that's a subtlety that
may be lost upon others who consider themselves IRV supporters.  I think
it's better to drop IRVie from our vocabulary, and speak about the
inferiority of the method, rather than of the people who support that
method (no matter how stubborn or stupid they may be).

I'll freely admit that I don't always take the high road here...I just
usually make my insults directed and personal.  :)
> Rob L. continues:
> The CV&D's biggest advantage is that they have won the hearts and minds of
> people who are actually willing to get off of their butts, go out on the
> street, and get people to sign a petition.
> I reply:
> But did they do that by some kind of virtue, or because of better
> resources? One way they built their "credibility" was by their
> "Advisory Committee", which was really nothing but a celebrity
> showcase of people who mostly weren't familiar with electoral systems.
> By having Advisory Committee members from various movements and
> groups, and some with famous name-recognition, well that's a shrewd
> but dishonest strategy to get "credibility" and support.

No, it's a very smart one -- and a very necessary one to their success.

If we formed our own organization, we'd need to do the same.  Perhaps not
so cynically as you describe it, but we'd need to do it.

> Sure, they're better organizers.
> Yes we should try to be better organizers. I like the fact that
> an organization, maybe a loose one, or maybe a more structured one,
> seems to be taking shape here now. Maybe it just takes someone who
> can take the initiative and start the organizing work,&  maybe Alex
> can get an effective Approval organization going.

That would be very cool.  I'd help how I can.

> Rob L. continues:
> They've got the further
> advantage that they've got the momentum of past success. We need to
> acknowledge that, and learn from them.
> I reply:
> Sure, but I doubt that any here would stoop to some of their tactics.
> But there may also be honest, ethical techniques that we could learn
> from them.
> It's true that, in spite of IRV's promotional gains, better voting
> systems like Condorcet & Approval are preferred and even used within
> groups who understand voting system merit better than CVD does.
> So even a complete political sweep by IRV wouldn't kill Condorcet
> or Approval. But it would take a long time to dislodge IRV, and that's
> why I suggest that we do what we can to stop IRV's progress around
> the country, and advise SF IRV opponents to demand public access to
> the ballot-record in IRV elections, so that IRV will publicly
> discredit itself. Maybe, in SF, IRV's behavior will bring down the
> national IRV promotion.

I agree.  I think that we need to take a calm, patient but firm approach
to matters. 

In thinking about things further, I think that you're probably right, we
should oppose IRV pretty firmly because it's the wrong answer.  I just
want to make sure of a few things:

1.  We don't alienate those who should be our allies
2.  We don't panic....argue against IRV solely on merits (or lack thereof)
3.  We can live with the compromise we propose (Approval)

It's this last point I'm not yet sure of, but I do plan to read further to
become convinced one way or another.

Rob Lanphier
robla at eskimo.com

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