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

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Thu Dec 25 11:48:28 PST 2008

At 03:36 AM 12/25/2008, Kristofer Munsterhjelm wrote:

>Do you think my runoff idea could work, or is it too complex?

For years, attempts were made to find a majority using advanced 
voting methods: in the U.S., Bucklin was claimed to do that, as it is 
currently being claimed for IRV. (Bucklin, in fact, may do it a 
little better than IRV, if voters vote similarly; my sense is that, 
in the U.S. at least, voters will respond to a three-rank Bucklin 
ballot much the same as an IRV one, so I consider it reasonable to 
look at analyzing IRV results by using the Bucklin method to count 
the ballots. If the assumption holds -- and prior experience with 
Bucklin seems to confirm it, Bucklin detects the majority support 
that is hidden under votes for the last-round candidates.

The methods generally failed; holding an actual runoff came to be 
seen as a more advanced reform, worth the cost. All this seems to 
have been forgotten in the current debate. Bucklin, IRV, at least one 
Condorcet method (Nansen's, apparently) have been used.

The error was in imagining that a single ballot could accomplish what 
takes two or more ballots. Even two ballots is a compromise, though, 
under the right conditions -- better primary methods -- not much of one.

When considering replacing Bucklin or IRV with top two runoff, what 
should have been done would have been keeping the majority 
requirement. This is actually what voters in San Jose (1998) and San 
Francisco (2002) were promised, but, in fact, the San Francisco 
proposition actually struck the majority requirement from the code. 
Promise them majority but given them a plurality.

If the methods hadn't been sold in the first place as being runoff 
replacements, we might have them still! The big argument against 
Bucklin, we've been told by FairVote (I don't necessarily trust it) 
was that it did not usually find a majority. There is little data for 
comparison, but I do know that quite a few Bucklin elections that 
didn't find a first preference majority *did* find a second or third 
round one, but in the long Alabama party primary series, apparently 
there was eventually little usage of the additional ranks. But even 
the 11% usage that existed could have been enough to allow the 
primary to find a compromise winner. What they should have done, in 
fact, was to require a runoff, just like they actually did, but 
continue to use a Bucklin ballot to try to find a majority. This 
would avoid, in my estimation, up to half of the runoffs. Since 
Bucklin is cheap to count and quite easy to vote, this would have 
been better than tossing preferential voting entirely.

Sure. Setting conditions for runoffs with a Condorcet method seems 
like a good idea to me. One basic possibility would be simple: A 
majority of voters should *approve* the winner. This is done by any 
of various devices; there could be a dummy candidate who is called 
"Approved." To indicate approval, this candidate would be ranked 
appropriately, all higher ranked candidates would be consider to get 
a vote for the purposes of determining a majority.

In Range, it could be pretty simple and could create a bit more 
accuracy in voting: consider a rating of midrange or higher to be 
approval. This doesn't directly affect the winner, except that it can 
trigger a runoff. Not ranking or rating sufficient candidates as 
approved can cause a need for a runoff. If voters prefer than to 
taking steps to find a decent compromise in the first ballot, *this 
should be their sovereign right.*

A Range ballot can be used for Condorcet analysis. Given the Range 
ballot, though, and that Range would tie very rarely, it seems 
reasonable to use highest Range rating in the Smith set, if there is 
a cycle, to resolve the cycle. Thus we'd have these conditions for a runoff:

(1) Majority failure, the Range winner is a Condorcet winner. 
(probably the most common). Top two runoff, the top two range sums.

(2) Majority failure, the Range winner is not a Condorcet winner. 
TTR, Range and Condorcet winner (cycles resolved using range sum).

(3) Majority, both Condorcet and Range, but Range winner differs from 
Condorcet winner. same result as (2).

(4) Majority for Range winner, not for Condorcet. or the reverse. I'm 
not sure what to do about this, it might be the same, or the majority 
winner might be chosen. A little study would, I think, come up with 
the best solution.

Range is theoretically optimal, as optimal as is possible given an 
assumption that most voters will vote a full strength vote in some 
pair. However, normalization or poor strategy can result in 
distortion of the Range votes compared to actual voter utilities. One 
of the symptoms of this might be Condorcet failure for the Range 
winner. If it is true that the Range winner truly is best, then we 
have a situation where the first preference of a majority might not 
be the Range winner, or, supposedly, the Range winner vs the 
Condorcet winner might award the election to the Condorcet winner. 
But, in fact, it is normal for small electorates to set aside the 
first preference of a majority in favor of some greater good. I see 
no reason not to extend that as a possibility to large electorates. 
My own opinion is that, *if the Range votes are accurate*, the Range 
winner will normally beat the Condorcet winner, because of 
differential turnout and weak preferences that reverse during the 
runoff campaign. On the other hand, having this runoff possibility 
answers the common objection to Range: majority criterion failure.

With a runoff system like this, MC failure doesn't occur, because the 
majority in the final and effective election has voted for the winner.

(That's not 100% absolute, if write-in votes are allowed in the 
runoff, as I believe they should. But if the runoff is, say, Bucklin, 
maybe two-rank, I think that spoiled majorities will be relatively 
rare, and that the elections that end up with a plurality would 
almost always be resolved the same way if an additional runoff were 
held. Thus, short of Asset Voting, this could be almost perfect.

Want perfect? Asset Voting, which bypasses the whole election method 
mess! Single-vote ballot works fine! And that's what many or even 
most voters know how to do best.

I originally proposed that the first reform in the U.S. to focus on 
was Open Voting, Count All the Votes, i.e., Approval, because of its 
terminal simplicity and the probability that no harm would be done, 
the scenarios of multiple majorities with a mediocre candidate 
elected are highly improbable. We might go many, many years before we 
see a multiple majority, and then it would be because two quite good 
candidates were running. We should be so lucky!

However, Bucklin, when a majority hasn't been found in a round, 
gradually becomes full Approval. The claim that Approval hasn't been 
used in the U.S. was just plain false, it's part of the Bucklin 
method. The use of the ranks, seeking a majority, makes Bucklin more 
likely to add additional approval, which is what ranking candidates 
in Bucklin must be considered. If they are used, that's what they 
are. My sense is that this is sufficiently adequate for voters as 
protection of their favorite; the only difference between this and 
IRV is that with IRV, your candidate has to be taken out and shot, 
er, eliminated, before your additional preference can be revealed, 
whereas with Bucklin, there are no eliminations, so, yes, your vote 
for another has effectively, and only if there is majority failure, 
just in that specific pairwise election, abstained, it has *not* 
actually "hurt" the candidate. And, in return, your candidate might 
actually win instead of being eliminated. Which one is help and which 
one is hurt?

In any case, it seems that Bucklin voters did add substantial numbers 
of additional preference votes, at least in the municipal elections.

So I've shifted to proposing Bucklin, though Approval remains a 
simple, do-no-harm, cost-free reform. Introduce it to a TTR system, 
some runoffs may be avoided. Introduce Bucklin, more.

There is a variant of Bucklin that was a Range method: Oklahoma. That 
alone should have received some attention! Unfortunately, I think no 
election was ever held, because the reformers overreached, and 
example of how a bright idea might not be. *Require all voters to use 
all three ranks!* I.e., don't count their vote if they don't. The 
very system used in Australia to guarantee a "majority." And, of 
course, under that situation, with full ranking, it is an absolute 
majority, if we disregard the spoiled ballots.

In any case, the Oklahoma court tossed it out because of that 
disregard of perfectly plain votes for a favorite. Rightly so, in 
that respect. What wasn't so right was that they did not merely 
declare that particular provision void, as the minority opinion 
claimed should have been done. They just voided the whole thing.

But Range Voting, a ranked form, was written into law in the U.S., I 
think it was about 1915. Dove v. Oglesby was the case, it's findable 
on the net. Lower ranked votes were assigned fractional values; I 
think it was 1/2 and 1/3. Relatively speaking, this would encourage 
additional ranking, I'd expect.

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