[EM] FairVote on Robert's Rules of Order and IRV

Steve Eppley SEppley at alumni.caltech.edu
Sun Dec 14 09:49:11 PST 2008


I think Mr. Lomax missed the big point (though I agree he is right to 
criticize Instant Runoff).  The big point is that the authors of books 
on Robert's Rules showed zero awareness of the existence of Condorcetian 
preferential voting methods--or perhaps they were aware but their 
analysis was made before the technological age made it easy to 
exhaustively tally all the voters' pairwise preferences--so their 
"recommendation" of single winner STV preferential voting was only 
relative to a few even worse methods.  Clearly, Condorcetian methods 
have properties that are much closer to the properties of the Single 
Elimination Pairwise method that RR advocates, because Condorcetian 
methods are not subject to the criticism they made of STV that it can 
easily defeat the best compromise.

(Approval can easily defeat the best compromise too, because many voters 
will fail to approve compromise candidates out of fear of defeating 
preferred candidates, which in turn will deter potential candidates from 
competing.  If Mr. Lomax likes Approval due to its cheapness and 
simplicity, I'll point out that the family of voting methods known as 
Voting for a Published Ranking are as cheap as Approval, easier for the 
voters, some methods of the family are as simple, and if I'm right about 
how candidates would behave would tend to elect a good compromise.)

It would be worthwhile, I think, to reach out to recognized experts in 
Robert's Rules and teach them about better voting methods, and then see 
what they recommend.

Another deception by the IRVings is their widespread claim that IRV 
eliminates spoiling.  It's an even bigger deception, much more 
important.  A variation of IRV that permits candidates to withdraw from 
contention after the votes are published, before the votes are tallied, 
would be much better at eliminating spoiling and electing the best 

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax wrote:
> I'm quoting the current FairVote "introduction" to a substantial quote 
> from Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised (RRONR), on preferential 
> voting.
>> Robert's Rules of Order (RRO), the well-known guide to fair 
>> procedures, makes the point that an election by a mere plurality may 
>> produce an unrepresentative result. It recommends voting methods that 
>> can determine a majority winner when electing single-seat offices. At 
>> conventions of private organizations, etc., where the electors can 
>> cast repeated ballots, RRO prefers a system that allows open ended 
>> repeat balloting with no runoff eliminations to finally elect a 
>> majority winner. Such a system may be time consuming but can allow a 
>> compromise candidate to emerge after a number of ballots. However, in 
>> elections where open-ended re-voting is not practical, such as in 
>> elections by mail (or governmental elections), instant runoff voting 
>> (called "preferential voting" in RRO) is the recommended procedure. 
>> In the section detailing the procedure for conducting an instant 
>> runoff election RRO states that "It makes possible a more 
>> representative result than under a rule that a plurality shall 
>> elect..... This type of preferential ballot is preferable to an 
>> election by plurality."
>> The full text is below. (Again, note that the term "preferential 
>> voting" is another one for instant runoff voting). It is from:
>> Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised
>> In Chapter XIII §45. 10th edition, 2000, pp. 411-414
>> (Used with permission from The Robert's Rules Association, 
>> <http://www.robertsrules.com/>www.robertsrules.com)
> The text is close enough to the truth that it is plausibly deniable 
> against a charge of pure deceiption, but it is also highly misleading. 
> Basically, it's designed to leave an easy impression that Robert's 
> Rules of Order "recommends" "IRV," even though the introduction 
> doesn't actually say that (any more, it may have said it at one time.) 
> And if "IRV" means what FairVote has been promoting in the U.S., 
> specifically a runoff replacement -- implicit in the name that they 
> invented, and which name was not used by RRONR -- then it's directly 
> and demonstrably false. The difference is subtle enough, what might 
> seem like a technical detail to some, but it's quite a good example of 
> "the devil is in the details."
> IRV, as used in the U.S., is a form of election by plurality. 
> "Preferential voting," as described by RRONR, is a method which never, 
> following their rules, elects by plurality, but it is more efficient 
> at discovering a majority than pure plurality, so it will avoid some 
> runoffs, hence it is "preferable to an election by plurality." 
> However, note, "preferential voting" is *not* "instant runoff voting." 
> FairVote wants the reader to conclude that. However:
>> Preferential voting has many variations. One method is described here 
>> by way of illustration.
> Then they describe Single Transferable Vote, though they do not name 
> it. Later, in reference to it, they call it "this form." However, if 
> we look at the description, there is what many might think an 
> inconsequential difference. I know I missed it at first. If you read, 
> say, the rules for Ranked Choice Voting for San Francisco or for 
> Australian "Optional Preferential Voting," you will find that the word 
> "majority" is used to refer, in describing the process, to a "majority 
> of ballots containing a vote for continuing candidates," i.e., those 
> who have not been eliminated. The description of RRONR's example of 
> preferential voting refers to "a majority of ballots." Exhausted 
> ballots, those where a voter only voted for or only ranked eliminated 
> candidates, continue to be part of the basis for a majority.
> The process continues:
>> until one pile contains more than half of the ballots, the result 
>> being thereby determined.
> In Australia, what they call "Preferential Voting" refers to "an 
> absolute majority." That is not exactly the same as "a majority of 
> ballots," for Australia excludes ballots with some invalid or 
> invalidating vote, which allows PV to always find a majority, because, 
> in Australia, full ranking is required or the ballot is invalid.
> RRONR talks about the possible effect of incomplete ranking:
>> Sometimes, for instance, voters decline to indicate a second or other 
>> choice, mistakenly believing that such a course increases the chances 
>> of their first choice. In fact, it may prevent any candidate from 
>> receiving a majority and require the voting to be repeated. The 
>> persons selected as tellers must perform their work with particular 
>> care.
> This is a description of the Later No Harm Criterion. RRONR actually 
> errs here, because that additional ranking may cause the election to 
> find a majority and thus terminate, whereas withholding it could, as 
> they describe, cause the election to fail, and then their favorite 
> might win in subsequent process. There are some conditions, not 
> uncommon, where this is a reasonable possibility.
> The main point here, though, is that "this form of preferential 
> voting" isn't "Instant Runoff Voting." It reduces, but does not 
> eliminate, the possibility of needed some further process, such as a 
> runoff, depending on what the bylaws specify. If the bylaws do not 
> specify what happens, the default in Roberts Rules is that the 
> election -- the whole process, including nominations -- is repeated. 
> They do allow existing nominees to be included by default, unless they 
> withdraw. No eliminations.
> In real public runoff elections, the rules generally specify that the 
> top two remain on the ballot, none of the others are placed there. 
> Some rules, such as the default in California, allow write-ins in the 
> runoff, and these write-ins sometimes win, they are not irrelevant.
> Then, RRONR goes on to criticize "this form of preferential voting," 
> i.e., the STV form.
>> The system of preferential voting just described should not be used 
>> in cases where it is possible to follow the normal procedure of 
>> repeated balloting until one candidate or proposition attains a 
>> majority. Although this type of preferential ballot is preferable to 
>> an election by plurality, it affords less freedom of choice than 
>> repeated balloting, because it denies voters the opportunity of 
>> basing their second or lesser choices on the results of earlier 
>> ballots, and because the candidate or proposition in last place is 
>> automatically eliminated and may thus be prevented from becoming a 
>> compromise choice.
> Note that the common form of Top Two Runoff is a compromise with what 
> Robert's Rules of Order is prescribing. They would have a vote-for-one 
> election process repeat indefinitely until one candidate has a 
> majority. It's possible to have a public election system that is very 
> close to this, but it would require a shift in our concept of what an 
> election is. If the U.S. electoral college were elected with 
> proportional representation, and if it were functioning as originally 
> conceived, it could continue the election through an indefinite number 
> of ballots. But, aside from this, it's been considered adequate to 
> have two stages, when a majority is not found in the first stage, and 
> the probability that the election will complete with a majority is 
> greatly enhanced or even ensured, the latter being done by rigorous 
> elimination of all candidates but the top two.
> RRONR is not a book about voting systems, these systems are actually a 
> detail for them; the rules *require* that all decisions, large or 
> small, be made by majority vote on Yes/No questions. There are easy 
> tweaks to the two-stage election process that make it far closer to 
> the pure democracy that RRONR requires by default. But RRONR is a 
> manual about existing practice, and only the IRV form of preferential 
> voting is in current use for public elections.
> However, the problem they describe, that it "denies voters the 
> opportunity of basing their second or lower choices on the results of 
> earlier ballots," is very real, and is a common argument for Top Two 
> Runoff voting, which really does shift results from the first ballot 
> based on the new campaign and new consideration by the voters. 
> Further, the elimination of a "compromise candidate" is what is called 
> Center Squeeze, and with nonpartisan elections, it is reasonably 
> common; if it were not reasonably common, RRONR would not mention it. 
> Other forms of preferential voting do not suffer from this problem.
> So, does Robert's Rules of Order recommend IRV?
> No.
> What RRONR suggests for use under some conditions is different from 
> "Instant Runoff Voting." If we used STV, as an example, for primary 
> elections (the first stage in a Top Two Runoff practice), and we used 
> it as a two-winner process -- which functions better than 
> single-winner IRV -- and we considered the election done if any 
> candidate gained an "absolute majority," and if, then, a runoff is 
> needed, we allowed or continued to allow write-in votes, we would have 
> a system far closer to what Robert's Rules suggests than what we have 
> as IRV in the U.S.
> U.S. IRV almost always elects the first-round leader. (The same is 
> true for Optional Preferential Voting in Australia: FairVote points to 
> Preferential Voting in Australia as an example of what IRV is, but, in 
> fact, the U.S. is using a damaged form of Optional Preferential 
> Voting. Australia always allows full ranking, the U.S. implementations 
> have mostly been limited to three ranks, even in races with over 
> twenty candidates.) In nonpartisan elections, so far, there is not one 
> example of the runner-up going on to beat the first round leader after 
> the vote transfers. Top Two Runoff changes the first round result in 
> roughly one-third of runoff elections. Partisan elections are a little 
> different, because it's much more likely, when there is only one minor 
> party with a percentage of the vote that is greater than the 
> difference between the top two, that the vote transfers go, for the 
> most part, to only one of the top two candidates.
> If we want to use preferential voting, there are better and simpler 
> and cheaper forms to use, including Bucklin voting, which was known as 
> "preferential voting," when it saw fairly wide use in the United 
> States almost a century ago. Bucklin is not only cheaper, it is 
> substantially more likely to find a majority, so if it were used as a 
> primary, it would be less likely to need a runoff. I would estimate 
> that roughly one out of three runoffs would be avoided.
> There is an extremely cheap method, surprisingly good, considered by 
> some voting system theorists to be one of the best methods, and by 
> nearly all to be better than Plurality or even than IRV, and that is 
> what I call Open Voting, known commonly as Approval Voting. I don't 
> like the name Approval, even though the votes have that effect, 
> because it implies that one should vote for all candidates that one 
> "approves." Maybe, maybe not. Open Voting is simply Plurality except 
> that all the votes are counted. If a voter votes for more than one 
> candidate, say for two, both votes are counted. The winner is the 
> candidate with the most votes. Because some people quickly and easily 
> think that this violates one-person, one-vote, it does not. If, after 
> the election is decided, one looks back and eliminates the moot extra 
> vote, it would not change the election result. Open Voting can be seen 
> as a kind of alternative vote.
> Bucklin Voting is Open Voting, except that the voters rank the 
> candidates, and counting proceeds in rounds like IRV, except that each 
> new round adds in the old votes instead of substituting them. Thus 
> there are no candidate eliminations, but the voter can still specify 
> which candidate is the favorite. In the last round, Duluth Bucklin 
> allowed the voter to mark as many candidates as desired, which allows 
> the system to handle, intelligently, many more candidates than 
> three-rank IRV. But, in fact, with all forms of preferential voting, 
> many voters only vote for their favorite, and usually this is 
> relatively harmless, and it is especially harmless if the methods are 
> used for a first round. Bucklin does not suffer from Center Squeeze in 
> real elections. When a majority has not been found, it has counted all 
> the votes, it has neglected none. IRV elections do not report many of 
> the votes which have been cast, either because the candidates were 
> eliminated while the votes were still covered up by a candidate with 
> higher rank, or because there were two candidates left, when counting 
> stops, and some of these ballots remaining may contain a vote for the 
> opposite candidate. This happens much more in nonpartisan elections 
> than in elections where only a major party candidate might win.
> I would recommend that anyone in a position to influence what voting 
> systems a community decides to use, and who has realized that there is 
> deceptive propaganda out there on voting systems, subscribe to the 
> Election Methods mailing list, for a while, and ask any questions they 
> may have, or propose their preliminary conclusions. They will get 
> responses from many points of view, including from supporters of IRV, 
> but also including serious experts about voting systems. The EM list 
> includes discussion of many arcane details of some complex voting 
> systems, and much of this may not be of interest to the general 
> public, and sometimes debates rage on this list indefinitely, 
> sometimes because the questions are difficult, and sometimes because 
> there are partisans who will argue till the cows come home, but the 
> truth will be there, and someone who asks, carefully reads the 
> responses, and then asks again, until it's clear, will find that truth.
> ----
> Election-Methods mailing list - see http://electorama.com/em for list 
> info

More information about the Election-Methods mailing list