[EM] Re: [FairVoteOR] Is IRV just a costly version of Candidate Proxy?

jkl at miacid.net jkl at miacid.net
Sun Aug 8 11:05:52 PDT 2004

On Sat, 7 Aug 2004, Forest Simmons wrote:

> My Aussie acquaintances claim that in Australia when IRV (aka STV) is used
> in single winner elections "most" of the voters fill out their ballots by
> copying "candidate cards."
> What does "most" mean here?  90% ?  99% ?
You tell us.  You're the one with the contacts providing you with the

In any case, I think your fundamental approach to the problem is wrong.
It doesn't matter what the statistics of "most" elections are, what
matters is who has the right to exercise what kind of power in the
elections.  For example, if I can come up with a statistic that shows that
90% of elections are won by the candidate with the most money does that
make it OK to simply do away with the election and decide by counting the

Even if "most" people make their voting decisions by following the
instructions of some candidate or party, that doesn't change the fact that
I WANT THE RIGHT TO DO IT SOME OTHER WAY.  It's one thing for me, or any
other voter, to decide to take someone else's advice about how to vote.
It's entirely another to make a law that gives us the obligation to vote
that way.

This is important partly because even if a small percentage of people
don't follow the candidate cards they can be a valuable swing vote in a
close election (and all elections are close nowadays).

It's also important because if it is possible for people to choose not to
follow the candidate card, the threat of a large group of voters making
this choice acts as leverage on the decisions of who gets on the card.  If
voterd don't get a choice about who the second place vote goes to, the
candidate can make back room deals with those votes.  Heck -- if the
candidate places my second place vote by proxy do I even get to know ahead
of time who it will go to?

> So, is the added expressivity of IRV worth the cost of the more complex
> ballots when most voters just copy candidate cards, and the outcome of IRV
> and Candidate Proxy is the same anyway?

I believe the answer is "Yes".  Voting isn't just about the outcome, it's
about a process where it's clear to the voters that they have the power to
make decisions, not some party machine, and not some statistical model of
average voter behavior.

> However, keep in mind that one of the most frequent objections to IRV is
> the cost (including the effort) of (filling out) less simple ballots.
> This may seem quaint to those of us who study election systems and take
> ranked preference ballots for granted, but remember that we are dealing
> with Joe Q. Public.

Yah.  It's a good thing we on this list are all so smart, and too bad Joe
Q. Public is such an idiot :)

Seriously, I'm skeptical of arguments that go "well, us here know what's
going onbut the general public can't be expected to".  That notion is
fundamentally antidemocratic.  Look, the cost of a preference voting
scheme isn't that bad.  And the ballots don't have to be difficult to
understand.  The questions the voters have to answer are something like:

Who is your first choice for Supreme Dogcatcher (vote for one)?

Who is you second choice for Supreme Dogcatcher (vote for one)?

Who is your third choice for Supreme Dogcatcher (vote for one)?

Doesn't look that confusing to me.  There are some subtle questions about
the details of the formula for computing the winner, and we've got to be
careful so that for example, a ballot with first, second, and third
choises all for the same person gets treated fairly.  But there are always
complicated rules for handling the details of elections counting.  As long
as they are public, the people who care about the detailed rules can
devote as much time to them as needed, and the people who don't want to
worry can just vote like the ballot tells them to and expect that their
votes will be treated fairly.


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