[EM] voting reform effort in DENVER - PLEASE HELP

Jan Kok jan.kok.5y at gmail.com
Sat Jun 10 23:39:17 PDT 2006

Denver city councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie is leading an effort to
get rid of their Plurality + delayed runoff election method, used for
electing city council members and a few other city officers, and
replacing it with IRV.  10 days ago I attended a meeting of that
group. There were about 12 people attending. At the moment, I'd say
there is about a 50% chance that they will be successful in enacting
some change.

I would like for Denver to adopt something better than plain old IRV.
Everyone attending the meeting except me was only supporting IRV. I
spoke for a total of maybe 5 minutes about other methods (mainly
approval) and they listened politely, but weren't much interested in
changing course.

I posted a message to their mailing list mainly pointing out some of
the problems with IRV, and briefly mentioning a few alternatives. Rob
Richie of Center of Voting and Democracy replied, and has posted
several other messages promoting IRV (although he says ideally he
would prefer proportional representation for the city council) and
generally helping the reform effort, for example, he posted a message
about voting machines and IRV.

I think a victory for IRV in Denver would be a step SIDEways for
voting reform in general. Yes, IRV is better than Plurality + delayed
top-two runoff. Yes, a victory for IRV would get the issue of voting
reform a little more into the public consciousness; certainly CVD
would use its resources to publicize it. The problem is that it could
entrench IRV even more firmly as the only alternative voting method
that anyone ever talks about or seriously considers as a replacement
for existing Plurality elections. US Rep Jesse Jackson's IRV bill
might get passed, and it might be impossible to change after that.

I think we need to get other methods into use - several of them. Let's
not get stuck with just one!

In any case, if you would like to influence the course of voting
reform in Denver,


1. Get on the irv-l mailing list, by signing up at www.irvdenver.org .
When I did that, it took several hours before I got a confirmation
message, so please go sign up NOW.

2. If you know anyone in Denver that might be willing to help, even if
it is just to lend their name in support, please contact them and ask
them to sign up.

3. Read the IRV Overview at www.irvdenver.org/docs/overview.pdf which
explains the Denver situation.

4. When you get onto the irv-l list, read some of the archive
messages. I posted a message about problems with IRV. I'll post (as
soon as I can) a comparison of IRV and Approval. Kathleen MacKenzie
has posted some time line and other info.

5. Post a message to irv-l saying what course of action you think they
should take, or which method(s) you support. If the message is brief,
you can just send it to me, and I will consolidate whatever messages I
get in the next few days and post them to the irv-l list as one
message. NOTE: most of the people on the irv-l list are political
activists, not mathematicians. Most are not very familiar with methods
other than IRV. Please don't get too technical with them.

That's all I can think of at the moment. Here are several alternative
voting methods that I think may be viable:

1. Proportional Representation. Rob Richie prefers it, several others
favor it, I fully support it (though I haven't studied it in any
depth), Gary Swing (a Coloradoan who has some expertise in PR)
supports it... Where there's a will, there's a way... By the way,
resistance to change from incumbent council members could be reduced
by merging districts into one common PR district when the incumbent
doesn't run for re-election, or loses an election.

1a. Asset Voting (which could be done with a Range Voting ballot -
just normalize...), or Fractional Approval Asset Voting (which can be
done with an Approval Voting style ballot).
http://math.temple.edu/~wds/homepage/multiwin.pdf . I'll mention this
to Rob Richie and the irv-l list as a SIMPLER way to achieve PR than
STV. Who knows, if Rob really wants PR but has been holding back
because he thinks STV is too complicated, maybe he will take an
interest in some version of Asset Voting.

1b. I just noticed this paper as well...
http://math.temple.edu/~wds/homepage/rerange.pdf - Reweighted Range
Voting. I'll need to read it before deciding whether to recommend it.

2. Approval Voting. It's as simple as it gets! Many voters may not
even notice the change. Because this is the simplest, cheapest change
(other than reverting to straight Plurality), I think this is equal or
better than IRV in viability.

2a. AV+. If people object to giving an identical vote to their
favorite and the lesser evil, we could propose AV+, which allows
voters to mark a candidate as "Favorite", "Approved", or nothing
(disapproved). Favorite and Approved votes are counted and reported
separately, but are added together for determining the winner. Any
existing voting machines can count AV+ ballots, and make sure that
voters don't mark a candidate as both Favorite and Approved.

2b. AV+PW ("pairwise") An Abd Lomax invention, I think. Is this
Condorcet with equal rankings allowed and three levels (favorite,
approved and nothing)? If so, isn't there the possibility of circular
ties? If so, what is the completion method? Is there a simple way to
describe the method that ordinary people can grok? This method
probably requires the voting machines to store and send ballot images,
so it can't be done with primitive voting machines, but it should be
doable on voting machines that can handle IRV.

3. IRV/AV hybrid. (Thanks to Abd Lomax for bringing this idea to my
attention.) Use ranked ballots with equal rankings allowed. A ballot
like A=B>C=D contributes one vote to A and one vote to B as long as
either A or B survives, then contributes one vote to C and one vote to
D as long as either of them survive. In each round, eliminate the
candidate with the fewest votes. If someone sees something horribly
wrong with this method, please say so on the EM list, before I
embarrass myself on the irv-l list by proposing this.

4. BTR-IRV (equivalent to Condorcet with Plurality completion). A
candidate is "lowest ranked" on a given ballot if he is mentioned in
last place among all surviving candidates, or he is not mentioned at
all on the ballot. In each round, eliminate the candidate who is
lowest ranked on the most ballots, until there is just one survivor.
(I've stated that a bit differently than before, but I think it's
equivalent, right? And there is a reasonably simple hand counting
procedure: count up the number of mentions of each candidate on all
the ballots, eliminating duplicate mentions on any ballot, and
subtract that from the number of ballots, to obtain the number of
ballots that don't mention each candidate. Then sort the ballots
according to last choices. In each round, eliminate the candidate who
is lowest ranked on the most ballots, and redistribute the ballots to
the last surviving choices.)

5. BTR-IRV/AV hybrid (The "mongrel" method? :-) It's tempting to think
this is equivalent to Condorcet with Approval completion, but I'm not
sure it is. This needs more thought... Would the counting procedure
given above for BTR-IRV work here and do the "right thing"?

Thanks for your interest and help. I suggest technical discussions
that would sail over the heads of IRV supporters be sent to the EM
list only.

Please sign up for the irv-l list at www.irvdenver.org :-)

- Jan

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