[EM] Real IRV Election, Disputable Result

Brian Olson bql at bolson.org
Tue Mar 14 00:55:02 PST 2006

On Mar 12, 2006, at 8:28 AM, radio deli wrote:

> Dear Jan,
> I saw your post on the Elections Methods List.  As a Vermont  
> legislator, we may have to decide the issue of IRV on a statewide  
> basis.  To be honest, I'm not very enthusiastic about IRV.  I would  
> prefer to support the candidate (not plural) of my choice, and if a  
> runoff must occur between candidates I didn't support, then make a  
> new decision based on the contest at hand.
> What are the problems you see with IRV?  Could you explain them in  
> a way that people without a statistics degree (like me) could  
> comprehend?  I hope you have a chance to respond---you seem quite  
> knowledgeable on the topic!
> Best Regards,
> Rep. Jim Condon
> Colchester, VT
> ----
> election-methods mailing list - see http://electorama.com/em for  
> list info

Perhaps the biggest problem in implementing IRV on a state-wide basis  
has to do with the computation and data requirements of IRV. IRV  
requires that all the ballot data be collected in one place at one  
time and processed together. You can't just have precincts report  
their partial sums, they have to report the full contents of each  
ballot. IRV becomes awkward in hand-count situations, it really works  
better on computer. There are still clever ways to do it by hand with  
paper, see  http://bolson.org/voting/manual.html#IRV

There is still on-going debate about the quality of solution IRV  
reaches. I prefer Virtual Round Robin (Condorcet's Method) for  
counting up rankings ballots (1st, 2nd, 3rd, ...). VRR is  
intermediate-summable, and precincts can do a local count and report  
in a small summary. Anecdotally, IRV is likely to miss a popular 2nd  
choice compromise candidate that VRR would find as the truly most  
broadly popular choice when everyone has a minority extremist 1st  

I disagree on the feeling of desiring to re-vote and have a full  
runoff. It may be that educating people on this point will have to be  
part of the preparations for a first ranked choice (IRV or VRR)  
election. There is no loss of expressivity or voting power by doing  
the whole vote at once on a ranked ballot. You just have to be honest  
with yourself when filling out the ballot. Who is your favorite? If  
they weren't on the ballot who would you vote for (who is you second  
choice)? If neither of your first two choices were on the ballot, who  
would you put an old fashioned one-vote behind? And so on. Your vote  
is a record of your conscience about how you feel about the choices.  
And then all the votes are counted up, the people have spoken, their  
will be done. There will still be winners and losers no matter how  
many times you go back to the polls and how emphatically you cast  
your one vote. May as well get it done efficiently and find the best  
result we can.

Brian Olson

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