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

Terry Bouricius terryb at burlingtontelecom.net
Sun Dec 28 09:02:18 PST 2008


I don't want to re-hash our Wikipedia argument about whether an exhausted 
ballot in a full-ranking-possible IRV election should be treated as an 
abstention -- like a stay-home voter in a runoff (excluded from the 
denominator), or treated as a vote for none-of-the-above (included in the 
denominator), in deciding whether the winner has "a majority." I will 
simply say, that I have not resorted to "deception," in any of my writing 
about IRV and majority winners.

I am, however, interested in your statement:
"It's simply a fact: top two runoff is associated with multiparty systems, 
IRV with strong two-party systems."

I take it, that your use of the word "associated" means you are not 
actually claiming any causality, correct? Can you give examples of 
countries that use only winner-take-all Top-Two Runoffs (TTR) elections 
(and no form of PR) that has a multi-party democracy (by which I mean that 
more than two parties regularly succeed in electing candidates). It seems 
to me that the distinction you are trying to make between TTR and IRV in 
terms of multi-party democracy is specious, as both are winner-take-all 
and inevitably not conducive to multi-party democracy...What matters is 
whether the country uses a form of PR for legislative elections, 
regardless of what method is in place for electing single-seat executives.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Abd ul-Rahman Lomax" <abd at lomaxdesign.com>
To: "Terry Bouricius" <terryb at burlingtontelecom.net>; "Election Methods 
Mailing List" <election-methods at electorama.com>
Sent: Thursday, December 25, 2008 12:16 AM
Subject: Re: [EM] Why I think IRV isn't a serious alternative 2

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 

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