[EM] How FairVote IRV propaganda has been very effective.

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Wed Dec 10 11:00:36 PST 2008

FairVote is like a politician who tells people what they want to 
hear. That's the art of spin. When it gets repugnant is when what's 
being said is false. A post to the Approval Voting list, from which 
I'm still banned from posting, referred to an article in the LA 
times. It's worth noting that the author of this article has some 
correct ideas, and he has merely been misinformed about the truth. 
The truth isn't rocket science, but it is simply that there are 
implications that often are overlooked by those not familiar with a field.


Instant runoff voting

Such an electoral system saves time and money, and ensures a majority winner.
By Blair Bobier
December 10, 2008


>Two examples from the seemingly never-ending 2008 election showcase 
>the system's flaws. More than a month after election day, we still 
>don't know who won Minnesota's Senate race. In Georgia's U.S. Senate 
>contest, it took two elections and tens of millions of dollars to 
>produce a winner. Both races could have been resolved quickly and 
>with less expense using instant runoff voting.

"Less expense" is a joke. IRV is expensive, and in a very close 
election could be extraordinarily expensive. I haven't studied the 
particular election, but what happened here was that the election was 
close, and there are always a pile of ambiguous ballots, and 
resolving the ambiguities, the way that we count votes here, can be 
tedious. There are better ways to count, see various proposals I've 
made for Public Ballot Imaging. This would quickly reduce ambiguous 
ballots to a specific set, and the range of effects that they could 
have on the outcome could be rapidly determined. If it is close 
enough, then, there would be a clear and open basis for a legal 
challenge to whatever conclusion the election officials issue, and a 
rapid means of resolving the issue.

IRV results in higher numbers of spoiled ballots, some of which would 
be ambiguous, and there are many more opportunities for ties. 
Elimination sequence can affect the next stage of counting. In a 
strong two-party system, IRV will *usually* work, and the only likely 
tie is among the frontrunners, but it is quite unclear that IRV would 
have created a big lead for one candidate or the other. It depends on 
the exact configuration of candidates, and how many voters don't 
fully rank, and so forth. On average, vote transfers don't change the 
first preference order, so in a very close election, it will often 
remain very close after transfers.

Georgia apparently requires a majority, which is a huge safeguard 
against certain common election failures. Again, I haven't studied 
it, but I presume Georgia was top-two runoff. While special elections 
cost money, it's the price of democracy, in fact. IRV, we can now 
tell, produces less democratic results than Top Two Runoff, for 
reasons I won't address here. But it's certainly different, probably 
differs from "instant runoff" in about one out of three runoff elections.

>With instant runoff voting, voters indicate their first, second and 
>third choices among candidates on the ballot. If a candidate wins a 
>majority of first-choice rankings, that candidate is elected. If no 
>candidate receives an initial majority of first-choice rankings, the 
>candidate with the fewest first-choice rankings is eliminated and 
>that candidate's supporters have their votes count for their second 
>choice. The process repeats until a candidate emerges with majority support.

Now, the bait and switch is set up. "Majority support." IRV 
supporters repeat that phrase like a mantra, and it is directly 
misleading, to the extent that we could say, with the ordinary 
meaning of words, and the author does explore this, and he thinks 
he's using the ordinary meaning from the argument he makes, it is 
just plain false. "Majority" in elections means that more than half 
the legal ballots, containing a valid vote, have voted for the 
winner. Preferential voting, of which IRV is an example, though a 
particularly poor one, can allow alternative votes which can be put 
together, but "majority" still means the same thing. These methods, 
in general, can discover a majority that would be missing if voters 
vote sincerely in Plurality Voting, for their favorite alone. So, if 
we insist on a majority, preferential voting reduces the need for 
runoffs but does not eliminate it. In fact, until this year, which I 
haven't examined yet, the large majority of "instant runoffs" held 
did not find a majority.

Replacing the Georgia top-two runoff method with IRV would be a very, 
very bad idea, a step backward, actually reversing older reforms, 
moving away from democracy. Replacing Plurality with IRV, better, but 
expensive, and there are other forms of voting, including 
preferential voting, that are far cheaper and which perform better at 
discovering majorities and at finding the best winner by reasonable norms.

>The Georgia runoff was triggered because a Libertarian candidate won 
>3% of the vote and the Republican finished the first round a handful 
>of votes shy of a majority. In Minnesota, 16% of the votes went to a 
>third-party candidate. In both cases, had voters been able to 
>indicate their second choice on the ballot, we would have known the 
>outcomes of the races on election night, saving a second election, a 
>recount and lots of time and money.

He's absolutely dreaming. Has he looked at, say, the San Francisco 
Department of Elections web site? They only issue first preference 
counts immediately, because those are easy to count. Lots of IRV 
elections, the ones that don't find a majority in the first round, 
are still counting three weeks later. It's been said that San 
Francisco didn't call the method "Instant Runoff Voting" because it 
is far from instant. If those minor parties are equally arrayed on 
the left and right, which is common, the vote transfers tend to be 
roughly equal. It takes a strict three-party situation for the 
situation to be different.

>Instant runoff voting is also an important innovation because it 
>produces a winner who has demonstrated support from a majority of 
>voters. When a candidate wins election with less than majority 
>support, it means that a majority of voters have actually rejected 
>that candidate. That's not fair to the voters, and it undercuts the 
>legitimacy of the electoral process. It is also, unfortunately, a 
>common occurrence in California and national politics. Three of the 
>last five presidential elections, and three of the last four 
>gubernatorial elections in California, were won by a candidate who 
>failed to win the support of a majority of voters.

He is utterly unaware, it seems, that he's just given the best 
argument against using IRV as a method to finally determine 
elections. In most of the IRV elections held in the U.S. since the 
current rash began, the election results show that less than a 
majority of voters voted for the winner. We really don't know, in 
fact, because many, even most, of the various votes cast in IRV are 
not counted. (San Francisco does publish so-called "ballot images," 
which aren't actual images, they are representations of what the 
op-scan machines concluded was the effective vote; various vote 
patterns considered moot or illegal have been unexpressed. These 
images do include all the votes, but they are certainly not all being 
officially counted, and most of them have no effect on the result.)

In one San Francisco election, the winner had less than 40% of the vote.

>Instant runoff voting is politically neutral. It might have resulted 
>in the election of two GOP senators in 2008 or a Democratic 
>president in 2000. Who would have won the Minnesota Senate race 
>using it is anybody's guess, but a winner -- regardless of party 
>affiliation -- already would have emerged, the preference of the 
>voters would be clear, and the winner would have a legitimate 
>mandate to govern.

Under circumstances which are relatively unusual, but which might 
occur, based on my studies, in up to ten percent of elections, 
particularly nonpartisan ones, IRV can elect a seriously poor 
candidate, because the best, who might beat the IRV winner by 2:1 in 
a real runoff, is eliminated because of being third place in first 
preference votes. This happens easily when this "compromise winner" 
is a centrist candidate, the best compromise. So he's got it 
precisely backwards. Plurality has some obvious problems, but IRV 
doesn't necessarily solve them and, by encouraging sincere voting (a 
good thing in itself, but not necessarily a good idea with IRV, just 
as it is not necessarily a good idea with Plurality), it fixes *some* 
of the problems but makes others worse. IRV advocates generally point 
to partisan elections for examples of the great job that IRV will 
supposedly do, but IRV is only used, around the world, in strong 
two-party environments, where it looks best. When you get a third 
party that actually rises up in prominence to the point where it 
could win elections, IRV results become highly erratic and can 
produce a worse problem than is likely with Plurality when most 
voters make the necessary compromises when voting.

>Instant runoff voting is used by cities in Maryland, Vermont and 
>North Carolina and approved for use in Tennessee and Minnesota, and 
>it has been used for years in Ireland and Australia. With momentum 
>growing for a national popular vote to replace the electoral 
>college, the day may come when it is used to elect the president. 
>We, the people, deserve no less: a simple and civilized way to 
>ensure that the outcomes of our elections reflect the intentions of 
>our citizens.

He has no idea of the nightmare that could result with IRV being used 
for a national election? I can think of only one election in the 
world where it's used for that: the largely ceremonial office of the 
Presidency. IRV works fine when a majority is found in the first 
round. It works okay when only a single round of transfers are 
needed. But it is probably the most complicated voting system to 
count. It *sounds* easy. It is not. In other -- better -- voting 
methods, you can count the ballots locally and transfer the sums for 
central tabulation. Doing that with IRV requires that individual 
ballot data be transferred, because you cannot just sum up the votes 
in each rank, IRV doesn't work that way. Rather, the effective vote 
in the second rank on the ballot can only be determined when the 
first round results have been found; second rank votes are only 
counted from the ballots containing votes for eliminated candidates. 
Sometimes, when there are many candidates, there can be many, many 
rounds of elimination, and an error in any one of them can ripple 
through all the subsequent rounds. Cary, NC, ran a trial IRV 
election, and the election officials seem to have considered it a 
nightmare. Election security experts appear to agree that IRV is much 
harder to audit, you cannot extrapolate results from samples.

For a simple example of a better method, nearly a century ago there 
was a method used in a number of different places, and the political 
science literature considered it an advanced method. It was called 
Bucklin voting, or the Grand Junction system, after the Colorado town 
where the inventor (Bucklin) lived and was politically successful. 
However, the simple name, used in some places, was preferential 
voting. This is the same name that IRV was known by, and is known by 
in Australia. The ballot, as used in, say, Duluth, Minnesota, looked 
the same as a three-rank RCV ballot as is used in San Francisco. But 
all the votes are counted, if needed. If there is a majority of first 
rank votes, done. If not, the second rank votes are added in. If a 
majority, done. If not, the third rank votes are added in, and the 
candidate with the most votes won. The vote *totals* can add up to 
more than the number of voters, but, in the end, these are really 
alternative votes, because only one of them is effective to create a 
winner, all the others could be stricken and would be of no effect.

Bucklin, like IRV before in the U.S., was rejected, but not because 
it did not work. There were various reasons;  in Minnesota, in 
particular, the Minnesota Supreme Court, in Brown v. Smallwood, 
decided, against what was clearly the prevailing legal and popular 
opinion of the time, that allowing voters to cast any kind of 
alternative or additional vote was contrary to the Minnesota 
Constitution. That decision was not emulated elsewhere, but any kind 
of election reform faces tough enemies, those who don't like the 
possible changes that will result. In the case of IRV, though, most 
people seem to get it backwards. IRV makes the world safe for the top 
two parties. No longer can minor parties spoil elections, which 
*reduces* the power of third parties. Regardless of theory, this is 
what is seen in Australia. IRV activists will point to Burlington, 
Vermont, where a member of the Progressive Party of Vermont won the 
mayoral race using IRV; but, in fact, this candidate was the first 
round leader by a good margin, was very popular (had served in the 
Vermont legislature), and would have won the election with any 
method. I've been told that in that town, the top two parties are the 
Progressive and Democratic parties. The election results don't 
necessarily confirm that, the Republican did get a substantial vote, 
but city elections tend towards the nonpartisan in any case, even 
when party labels are allowed. People vote for the person more than 
for the party.

The most immediate danger is that the only method which actually, in 
some environments, guarantees a majority result, or could, is being 
replaced with IRV, which doesn't do that. Top Two Runoff can be 
improved. Using a better method for the first round in TTR would be a 
great improvement. Bucklin, for example, is more efficient than IRV 
in finding a vote for the winner from a majority of ballots, because 
it will count all the votes. With IRV, a vote for the winner may be 
concealed underneath a vote for the runner-up, so IRV never counts 
that vote. If we want legitimacy, we should Count All the Votes. I'd 
estimate that Bucklin would eliminate the necessity for a runoff in 
over half of the present levels of runoff with TTR. IRV doesn't do as 
well, except, of course, when we simply eliminate the majority requirement.

That the Ranked Choice Voting proposition in California eliminated 
the majority requirement -- literally struck it from the code -- 
slipped by opponents. The voter information pamphlet claimed that the 
winner would still be required to get a majority of votes. Yes, if we 
exclude from consideration all ballots of those who did not vote for 
one of the top two. In other words, if you voted sincerely, but not 
for one of two candidates, even if you detested them both, you didn't 
count. Only people who voted for the top two count.

Real runoffs are not like this. It's a different set of voters, and 
voters have had an opportunity to consider the two candidates left on 
the ballot. In some places, if the "wrong" candidate has been 
eliminated in the primary, which can happen with top two runoff just 
as it can with IRV, voters can still write in a vote in the runoff, 
and write-in candidates sometimes win. A single runoff does not 
guarantee a majority result, either, but a good voting method used 
for the runoff, such as Bucklin, would make a failure to find a majority rare.

There are far cheaper and better ways to fix what is broken with our 
elections. I'd recommend Gaming the Vote, by William Poundstone, to 
any who wants to know more about this. There has been a tremendous 
amount of misinformation spread about IRV in the U.S., by people who 
haven't taken the time to really study the rather complex field of 
voting systems. But there are some simple voting systems, that are 
not hard to understand, that are known to work well, we do not have 
to use the complicated, quirky, and expensive to count "Instant 
Runoff" Voting. The very name was invented to promote the method 
here, and was promoted by activists who settled, for political 
expediency, on IRV as the method to promote, knowing, in fact, that 
they were creating a much more complicated voting system than is 
needed for single winner elections. Why did they do this? Their goal 
is proportional representation, and IRV is single-winner STV, Single 
Transferable Vote, which is actually a decent method for creating 
roughly proportional representation. They realized that an obstacle 
to the success of proportional representation here was the complexity 
of the voting system, so ... if they could sell IRV as a substitute 
for "expensive" runoff elections, they'd have a foot in the door, and 
the next step would not be so expensive. It made some sense, and the 
goal of proportional representation is good, but using STV for 
single-winner elections has been known to be problematic since the 
nineteenth century. And there are also better ways to do proportional 
representation, though STV is the best method in actual use.

IRV is, in fact, a nineteenth century system. It's been around a long 
time. It has also been used in the U.S.; one long-lived usage was for 
political primary elections. It was replaced with Top Two Runoff!

Now, why was IRV replaced with Top Two Runoff, if the latter was not 
better? I think that's a good question. I think that people who 
recognize that we need election reform should be asking questions 
like this, and doing some serious research to find answers, not just 
grab the first idea that comes along. It is very, very expensive to 
convert to IRV, and it can continue to be expensive to run the 
elections. The continued expense is probably cheaper than real 
runoffs, but real runoffs have huge advantages, in terms of basic 
democratic values. Political parties wanted to get better results!

There are other reforms, considered by voting systems experts to be 
better, one of which is actually free. Just Count All the Votes! I 
call it Open Voting, a name which has yet to catch on, it is 
generally called Approval Voting, but it really is just Plurality 
with a tweak: strike the no-overvoting rule, the rule that doesn't 
count ballots where, single-winner, the voter votes for more than one 
candidate. Approval Voting is considered a very respectable method, 
some experts think it the best (I don't agree, but it's close!). All 
voting equipment and procedures can already count it. Most voters 
will not add additional votes: this has been called a defect, but it 
isn't. Additional votes are only needed by voters whose favorite is a 
minor party candidate, or in certain other unusual situations 
(basically three-party situations where voting the sincere preference 
is considered to risk the election of the worst candidate from the 
voter's point of view.) Most people can continue to vote as they 
have, and those who support minor candidates can pretty easily 
understand how to vote.

But Bucklin fixes the problem with Open Voting, that there is no 
means to vote to show which candidate is the favorite. Hence Bucklin, 
which is a kind of "instant runoff open voting," may be politically 
more feasible. It actually has a slightly lower counting cost than 
Open Voting, on average. But a more complicated ballot, with probably 
three ranks. It can handle *many* candidates with only three ranks, 
because voting for more than one candidate in a rank may be possible. 
In Duluth, the third rank was Open. The first two were vote-for-one.

Summary: Blair Bobier, learn something about voting systems and about 
how IRV actually works!

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