[EM] To Bill Lewis Clark re: stepping-stone

Forest Simmons fsimmons at pcc.edu
Thu Jan 22 16:15:02 PST 2004

Many of us on this list once thought as you do on this topic, and now we
are impatient with our former selves.

See more comments below.

On Wed, 21 Jan 2004, Bill Lewis Clark wrote:

> > IRV is not, in any way, an improvement - that is the point.
> I believe Mike would agree with you, but I don't think this is as
> clear-cut as you both seem to think it is.

It would be a slight improvement in some elections, but (in my humble
opinion) not enough to justify the cost of ranked ballots and a
non-summable, non-transparent counting process, especially considering
that there are simpler methods that work better, including Candidate
Proxy, Approval, and MCA which make use of simpler ballots, and are
summable, transparent, and easier to describe and understand.

There is also the "crying wolf" cost that has been brought up already.
People do get burn out.

> First and foremost, IRV is a change.  Any change at all gets people
> thinking about election system reform.  That's a good thing.  The natural
> desire to stick with the status quo is the biggest obstacle to reform.
> Secondly, IRV gets people used to ranking candidates.  From a voter
> standpoint, the procedure they'd use in an IRV election is EXACTLY THE
> SAME AS the procedure they'd use in a Condorcet election.  The only
> difference is in how the tallying is done.  That means that it wouldn't be
> as hard to transition from IRV to Condorcet, as it would to go from
> Plurality.
> Thirdly -- and please correct me if I'm wrong here -- the problems with
> IRV aren't likely to spring up in a political climate with only two major
> parties and relatively small additional parties.  For the time being,
> that's the situation here in the US, and it isn't likely to change very
> quickly, even if we were to adopt Condorcet.  The situations where IRV
> does worse than Plurality are even less likely to occur.  I'm talking
> about what's *really* *likely* to happen, given the existing political
> situation in this country -- not what "might" happen in unlikely idealized
> cases.
> Finally, IRV is similar enough to the existing traditional runoff system
> that it wouldn't be as difficult to convince people to transition to it,
> as it would be to convince them to switch to Condorcet outright.  Once
> they were comfortable with a new voting system that used ranking, it would
> be easier to argue for additional changes to how the votes are tallied, in
> order to complete the transition to Condorcet.
> So, do you see why IRV might be a good stepping-stone, after all?

Here in Oregon there was a state wide IRV initiative that didn't get
enough signatures to get on the ballot.  I attended some of their meetings
and corresponded with their leaders.  They were not interested in offering
the voters a choice of methods; they wanted IRV at all costs.

It struck me as ironic that the supposed advocates of improved democracy
didn't want the public to have a choice, except the extremely limited one
they were offering and the status quo, i.e. the evil and the lesser evil.
How ironic for activists whose professed goal is to remove the strategic
necessity of voting for the lesser evil.

The most opened minded of the leaders rejected Approval only because it
didn't allow him to distinguish his favorite above the other approved
candidates without bullet voting.

I could understand that. That was my impetus for proposing MCA (Majority
Choice Approval) and Candidate Proxy.

He agreed that these were better than IRV, but by that time they were
already in the middle of the signature gathering process for the IRV
initiative.  Now they are burnt out.  They wasted all of their energy on

I think that nine out of ten people would prefer either (or both of)
Candidate Proxy or MCA over IRV as stepping stones, given the choice, but
that Approval and Condorcet take more education because their advantages
are more subtle.  Even my well educated and politically savvy friend still
believes that Candidate Proxy is better than Approval.

In my opinion MCA isn't really so much better than Approval as to justify
the cost of a "three slot" ballot, but my friend ranks both MCA and
Candidate Proxy well above Approval, and I would definitely approve
all three of these methods in an approval style voting methods election if
it looked like either plurality or IRV had any chance at all of winning.

Candidate Proxy is the simplest of all: each voter votes for one
candidate, then the candidates themselves perform the runoff voting on
behalf of their supporters. Instead of merely conceding their defeat, the
low vote getters have a chance to will their support to candidates with
greater chances of success.

Most folks that I have talked to believe that this would be a genuine
improvement over plurality.  Some think that it is adequate reform (I
don't), while others believe that it would be a very economical stepping
stone; the voters could safely vote for their favorite about as often as
they could safely rank their favorite first under IRV, but with none of
the cost of IRV.

If you get a chance, talk to the IRV folks in your area before they get
too much invested into one method.  Let them know that there are other
viable options, and appeal to their sense of fair play in letting the
voters decide among them.

Best wishes,


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