[EM] Why I think IRV isn't a serious alternative 2

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Wed Dec 24 21:16:53 PST 2008

At 08:06 PM 12/24/2008, Terry Bouricius wrote:
>Another shortcoming of two-round elections is the sharply lower voter
>participation (primarily among lower income voters) typical in one of the
>rounds of a two election system. I know you have written favorably about
>such drop off in voter turnout as an effective method of "compromise"
>(voters who don't care enough stay home). I disagree.

Low voter participation means, almost certainly, that the voters 
don't have anything at stake in the election. Another flaw here is 
that when both rounds of a top two runoff election are special 
elections, turnout tends to be roughly the same. That's not *exactly* 
the case in, say, Cary NC, where the primary is in October and a 
runoff is with the general election in November, but the turnout in 
both in the elections I looked at roughly matched. The "general 
election" is an off-year election without major candidacies on it.

There has been a lot of *assumption* that the low turnout in runoff 
elections is connected to somehow the poor being disenfranchised, but 
I've seen no evidence for this at all. I do wonder what comparing 
registration data and turnout data -- usually who voted is public 
record -- would show. But the theory would be in the other direction: 
low turnout indicates voter disinterest in the result, which can be 
either good or bad. From what I've seen, when an unexpected candidate 
makes it into a runoff, turnout tends to be high, as the supporters 
of that candidate turn out in droves. In France, of course, the 
supporters of Le Pen did increase in turnout, apparently, but Le Pen 
already had most of his support in the primary, and that, of course, 
didn't stop everyone else from turning out too, since the French 
mostly hated the idea that Le Pen even did as well as he did.

It's simply a fact: top two runoff is associated with multiparty 
systems, IRV with strong two-party systems. Two party systems can 
tolerate the existence of minor parties, with even less risk if IRV 
is used, the annoyance of minor parties becomes moot. The only reason 
the Greens get Senate seats in Australia is multiwinner STV, which is 
a much better system than single-winner IRV. The place where we can 
probably agree is with understanding that single-winner elections for 
representation in a legislature is a very bad idea, guaranteeing that 
a significant number of people, often a majority, are not actually 
represented. It's really too bad that the proportional representation 
movement in the U.S. was recently co-opted by FairVote to promote IRV 
as a step toward it. That's a step that could totally torpedo it, as 
people realize that they have been conned. IRV, used in nonpartisan 
elections, is an expensive form of Plurality, almost never changing 
the results from what people get if they simply vote for their 
favorite, nothing else. Top two runoff *does* change the results in 
roughly one out of three runoffs.

Why? Shouldn't that be an interesting question? Shouldn't cities 
considering using IRV as a replacement for top two runoff be aware of 
this? Instead, they are being told that IRV guarantees majorities, 
with statements that are just plain lies. "The winner will still have 
to get a vote from a majority of the ballots." Really?

Even the *opponents* of IRV largely missed this. In San Jose, 1998, a 
Libertarian opponent noted that the language was "vague," and it 
seems he was referring to the usage of the word "majority," which 
wasn't made explicit in the ballot measure. He made the political 
mistake of claiming that the elected body that would consider 
implementation details would use the ambiguity to feather their own 
nest. Maybe, but it made him look like a nut case. It's too bad that 
he didn't just focus on the deception involved of the claim that IRV 
would guarantee majorities. The opponents in San Francisco totally 
missed it, they argued for this and against that, but not against the 
central error: the claim that IRV would still "require the candidates 
to get a majority of the vote."

If "majority of the vote" meant "majority of the vote after ballots 
not containing a vote for the top two remaining candidates after 
eliminations are set aside," which would in itself be deceptive, it 
would still not be a "requirement," but, instead, a simple 
mathematical certainty (ties excepted), just as it would be certain 
that we'd get unanimity if we set aside all ballots not containing a 
vote for the winner.

Terrill, I ask you, how can you justify such deception? Political 
expediency? What?

*It worked.* But it won't work forever. The opponents of IRV, for 
better and for worse, will figure it out. The deceptive arguments 
that have been promoted by FairVote about Bucklin and Approval and 
Range Voting and Condorcet methods will also be trotted out by these 
opponents. Deception is bad news, and the effects of it can persist. 
How many Americans still think that Saddam Hussein and 9/11 were connected?

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