[EM] Does IRV elect "majority winners?"

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Fri Jan 2 11:59:03 PST 2009

At 01:06 AM 1/2/2009, Dave Ketchum wrote:
>Terry and Abd look set to duel forever.

It could look that way. Terrill Bouricius is one of the major players 
with FairVote, he has a lot invested there, so to speak. He finally 
said that he wouldn't, personally, make the majority claims that 
others have made.... though his basis for it was solely that full 
ranking wasn't allowed. Nearly all U.S. implementations allow, at 
most, three expressed ranks.

However, the point of a majority requirement is that a majority of 
voters support the winner! This is standard democratic procedure. 
Even with full ranking, it could occur that the only reason *a 
majority of voters* have supported the IRV winner is that someone 
*worse* was on the ballot.

One may argue that a runoff election can present the same Hobson's 
choice, and, indeed it can. However, if write-ins are allowed, there 
is a way for voters to fix the problem -- and they have, on occasion. 
Even without that, the voters are, at least, making a fresh choice, 
with increased opportunity to examine the candidates, with a real runoff.

>Conduct of elections is a serious topic, but both of them offer too many
>words without usefully covering the topic.

Perhaps. Occupational hazard for me. Possibly smokescreen for 
Terrill, or not. It did take a lot of words to explain the tortuous 
logic that turns a minority of those who voted into a majority, into 
a "majority winner," to try to turn Robert's Rules of Order on its 
head, when *clearly* RRONR, for preferential voting, considers that 
majority failure may occur if there is truncation by voters, they are 
explicit, but that doesn't stop Terrill from trying anyway.

>They offer RRONR as ammunition in a war it was never intended for:  Over
>100 years ago General Robert had to chair a meeting.  As an army general he
>should be able to handle such a task?  After doing it he decided there
>better be batter directions put together for the future.  The resulting
>rules continue to be used by many.

Yes, Dave, we know where RRO came from, and what it is used for. The 
term "majority of the vote" has clear meaning for the rules of order. 
I didn't bring it into this debate, FairVote did, and they were quite 
successful. Researching this, I found that election officials had 
repeated the claim, using exactly the same language as FairVote.

>RRONR has a few pages about elections.  Unlike some of their directions for
>new meeting chairs, these are not designed for blind obedience.  Their
>major direction is that whoever does serious elections had better decide
>carefully and formally agree as to how they will do such.

Yes. There are default rules, and the default is repeated ballot 
until a majority is found. No eliminations, but perhaps voluntary withdrawals.

>Meaning of 'majority' is their big dispute.

It's not in dispute for anyone who understands the rules. Further, 
the context is typically the replacement of a top-two runoff process 
with IRV. TTR requires a majority in the primary, or a runoff is 
held. "Majority" here means that more than half of all those who 
voted any legal ballot (typically containing a vote for an eligible 
candidate, and not otherwise spoiled) voted for the winner.

Now, to people who have a runoff system, the word "majority" has a 
very clear meaning, and when you tell them that they can get a 
majority without having the runoff, they are certainly interested. 
IRV *looks* like it would do this, if you don't look too closely, and 
if you don't look at the Australian experience with Optional 
Preferential Voting, but, instead, only look where FairVote points 
you: standard Preferential Voting there, which finds an "absolute 
majority," and can do so because full ranking is required, the ballot 
is spoiled if not fully ranked.

Without making any specification or indication that the word 
"majority" is now being used in a different way, FairVote activists 
make the argument, and they have made it successfully enough and with 
such insignificant opposition, that even supposedly neutral analysts 
have repeated the claim.

Voters have been deceived, and may well have voted differently had 
they known the truth.

>IRV documentation claims its found winner has a majority (with no 
>attached statement of what this means) and Terry defends this usage.

He finally said that "He wouldn't say it himself," though for a 
different reason.;

>Abd claims this is deception, if not worse:

No. Just deception. It is probably deliberate, given the power of the 
argument and how badly the argument is damaged if the necessary 
qualification to make the claims into true statements, and that it 
was made by some very knowledgeable people.

>Majority means more than half and, without qualification, means of 
>the whole thing measured.

That's right. So the only question, then, is, "What is the whole thing?"

>      Blanks are excludable - presumably their voters chose not to 
> participate in deciding whatever is voted on.

We don't know what blanks mean.

>      Exhausted ballots are not excludable - those voters certainly 
> participated, though for other candidates.  But IRV, claiming a 
> majority, has to be excluding these since IRV only has a majority 
> between the last two candidates considered.

That's certainly what I thought! And Robert's Rules of Order 
considers the question, in the section on educating voters: the 
voters should know that if they do not fully rank the candidates, 
there could be a failure to find a majority, and "the election would 
have to be repeated."

They don't even mention the possibility that a winner would be 
declared on the basis of a false majority, i.e., a last-round 
majority. That's because RRONR *never* recommends election by 
plurality. It's *allowed,* but only if the Bylaws so state. They are 
providing preferential voting -- and they state there are many forms, 
and they only give the STV form as a specific example, which they 
proceed to specifically criticize, with criticism that doesn't 
necessarily apply to other methods -- as a method of finding a 
majority that might not be present in first preference votes. If all 
the voters rank all the candidates, or at least rank a frontrunner, 
it *does* find a true majority. So that's what they have in mind, it's obvious.

This is turned by FairVote into a "recommendation" of IRV. It's 
actually several steps removed from that. The majority issue is only 
one aspect of it. And FairVote activists bitterly contested efforts 
to correct the mention in the Wikipedia article of this 
"recommendation." To get it to stick, I had to exactly quote the 
source, which was fine with me, it was brief enough; when that was 
finally stable, the mention was removed from the introduction by a 
FairVote activist, whereas previously, such had tenaciously resisted 
any attempt to move it into the core of the article, where fuller 
explanation was possible. This time other editors intervened; the 
quote was considered important enough to remain in the introduction.

Nothing on Wikipedia is guaranteed to be permanent, except that the 
history is presumably there indefinitely. This is the present text:

>Robert's Rules of Order calls preferential voting "especially useful 
>and fair in an election by mail if it is impractical to take more 
>than one ballot. . . . In such cases it makes possible a more 
>representative result than that under a rule that a plurality shall 
>elect. . . . Preferential voting has many variations." The single 
>transferable vote technique used by IRV is the example given. The 
>manual goes on to note that if voters don't rank enough candidates, 
>this may prevent any from receiving a majority and "require the 
>voting to be repeated. . . . 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 
>in last place is automatically eliminated
>and may thus be prevented from becoming a compromise choice."

>Therefore Abd complains since:
>      Deciders can be sold IRV based on the Fairvote claim of majority.
>      Anyone looking close will disagree due to failure of IRV to 
> produce a true majority.

That's correct. I'm not exactly "complaining," I'm actively promoting 
the truth on this. It's worse than I thought until I started to 
actually examine U.S. IRV elections. It is unusual that a majority is 
found after vote transfers when one did not exist before vote 
transfers. However, when I looked around, I found that this is a 
known phenomenon in Australia, with Optional Preferential Voting, as 
they have in Queensland and some other places.

But I'm saying even more. I have, as yet, been unable to find out why 
Bucklin voting, which was spreading like wildfire at one point, 
stopped being used. There is some indication from Alabama, which 
continued to use Bucklin for primaries for many years -- I have not 
confirmed this --, that low usage of additional ranks was a factor. 
All indications are that IRV, under similar conditions, results in 
low usage of additional ranks. Most voters, in fact, appear to vote 
for their favorite and leave it at that. The voters who *don't* are 
those who support a minor candidate and who know that this candidate 
is highly unlikely to win anyway.

So low usage of additional ranks may be *normal.* Now, if this 
torpedoed Bucklin -- which was, like IRV, sold as a method of finding 
majority winners with one ballot -- it's quite likely to torpedo IRV 
as well, when jurisdictions wake up and discover that, if they use 
IRV for nonpartisan elections, they are getting the same results as 
Plurality at higher cost. If they wanted to get rid of the majority 
requirement, they could have done it much more simply.

But they did *not* want to get rid of the requirement, they wanted to 
keep it, and they were very explicitly -- and deceptively -- told 
that it would remain. I'd say that if lying in ballot arguments were 
a crime (it isn't), then they would easily be convicted, and all the 
quibbles about last round majority would be of no avail. *In the 
context,* where the word "majority" already had a clear meaning, the 
claims were false.

Had they argued that the IRV result is "like a majority," that it was 
better to accept this plurality result than to hold a runoff, they 
might have been wrong, but the argument would not be deceptive, at 
least not on this level. It would hinge on more complex issues.

But it isn't that way, it's simple: the emperor has no clothes.

More information about the Election-Methods mailing list