[EM] condorcet.org / IRV

Eric Gorr eric at ericgorr.net
Mon Jan 19 11:58:02 PST 2004

I haven't been able to connect to this site. Anyone know if it is down?

Also, check out this recent opinion article in support of IRV:

Richmond's Mayor:
Amend Proposed Election System


Lexington. Whenever a member of academia proposes anything labeled 
"reform," seasoned political practitioners wince. Speak specifically 
about "electoral reform" and you have an uphill battle on your hands 
from the get-go. Nonetheless, a good balance among practical poli- 
tics, comparative political studies, and a bit of math can actually 
prove useful when folks contemplate creating a new electoral system 
such as that pending before the General Assembly for Richmond.

In November, Rich- mond voters overwhelmingly stated their desire to 
govern themselves via a directly elected Mayor. This tidal wave of 
democratic spirit should therefore be rewarded with a cost-effective 
method of electing the Mayor.

HB 62 proposes a two-step electoral process: "The person receiving 
the most votes in a majority of City Council districts shall be 
elected. Should no one be elected, a run-off election shall be held 
on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in December between the 
two persons receiving the highest total of votes citywide. The person 
receiving the most votes in a majority of City Council districts 
shall be elected."

IN GENERAL, every electoral system has its costs and benefits. This 
one is no different. But it does entail a fixed cost that could be 
avoided: the cost of the runoff election.

In theory, runoff elections guarantee that whoever wins will be able 
to claim that he or she is supported by a majority of the electorate. 
The problem is that in two-round runoff systems such as that proposed 
in HB 62, turnout plummets in the second-round election. As a result, 
whoever wins in the second round may not actually receive a true 
majority of the vote.

I've studied different electoral systems used around the world. While 
I am pretty skeptical about calls for "reform" (invariably, reforms 
create as many new problems as they solve), I think the proposed 
runoff system for Mayor could be made more cost-effective.

In the proposed system, if more than two candidates run for Mayor, it 
is quite possible that no one will receive a majority of the vote - 
in five districts or citywide. If this happens, it will result in 
more ballots, more campaigning, more time, and quite possibly fewer 
citizens voting in the runoff election (unless Richmond bucks a trend 
that plagues runoffs worldwide).

Instead of using a second-round runoff, why not use the instant 
runoff method of elections? It would entail asking voters simply to 
enumerate their choices for Mayor. If no candidate received a 
majority of first-place ballots, the candidate with the fewest 
first-place votes would be dropped and the second-place votes on 
his/her ballots would be redistributed among the other candidates. 
This process would continue until one candidate received a majority 
of the votes cast. The beauty of this system is that it removes the 
costly necessity of having to organize and campaign in a second 
runoff election.

I DON'T MAKE this recommendation quixotically. There would of course 
be start-up costs such as alter- ing or replacing existing voting 
equip- ment to accommodate this sort of election system. But 
Cambridge, Massachusetts, has used a type of instant runoff system 
for 50 years. San Francisco recently adopted a similar one.

I realize of course that Cambridge and San Francisco are not the 
strongest selling points for the rest of the country. Using them to 
sell electoral reform in Richmond runs the same risk as the poor cook 
in the Pace Picante sauce ad who gets strung up by Southwestern 
ranchers for trying to feed them salsa made in New York City. Still, 
in an era of skyrocketing campaign expenses, IRV might be something 
to consider. Regardless of who else uses it, its positive impact on 
election expenses can't be ignored.

Mark Rush teaches politics at Washington and Lee University.

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