[EM] Does IRV elect "majority winners?"

Jonathan Lundell jlundell at pobox.com
Fri Jan 2 12:53:40 PST 2009

On Jan 2, 2009, at 12:31 PM, Abd ul-Rahman Lomax wrote:

> At 01:09 PM 1/2/2009, Jonathan Lundell wrote:
>> So sure, IRV elects "majority winners" in one particular operation
>> sense of the term. Even if there's a first-round absolute majority,
>> we're faced with the problem of agenda manipulation. To take another
>> US presidential election, in 1992 I might have voted
>>        Clinton > Perot > Bush
>> but only because I didn't have a meaningful NOTA option.
>> In the immortal words of Jim Hightower, "If the gods had meant us to
>> vote, they would have given us candidates."
> Any election where write-in-votes are allowed has a NOTA option.  
> Under Robert's Rules, there is no restriction as to what you can  
> write in, though identifying yourself on the ballot might be an  
> exception. You could literally write in "None of the above," and it  
> would count as part of the basis for "majority," it wouldn't be a  
> stupid vote, because if enough people vote that way, or for  
> candidates other than the leader, the election fails and there is  
> another opportunity for the "gods to give us candidates."
> (In preferential public elections, where only ballots with a vote  
> for a legally allowed candidate count, you would simply use your  
> ranks to vote for any candidate where you would not mind being part  
> of the majority which elects the sucka.)

In the above example, I like the opportunity to rank candidates that I  
don't like, since I do have relative preferences. But if the winner's  
majority includes very many voters like me, in what sense does he have  
a majority? A majority of ballots in the final stage, yes. Majority  
political support? No.

FWIW, in California there's no way to write in NOTA and have it counted.

NOTA is also hard to count, since it's not quite like just another  
candidate. In my 1948 example, one voter might be voting for "anybody  
but Dewey or Thurmond", and another for "anybody but Wallace or  
Truman". That is, the "above" in NOTA differs from ballot to ballot.

NOTA is easier to interpret in a Condorcet method. It's very difficult  
for IRV to handle, I think, especially if counted as just-another- 
candidate, since it's not unlikely that NOTA would be eliminated  
early. Looked at another way, I don't think that the fact that IRV  
fails to find "everybody's second choice" is ordinarily a very serious  
problem. But it *is* a problem if that choice is NOTA.

> Preferential voting with a runoff trigger can be a much better  
> method than without it.
> With IRV, it seems, about one nonpartisan election in ten, very  
> roughly, the method produces a winner who would lose in a direct  
> face-off with either the runner-up or an eliminated candidate.

I'd be interested in seeing documentation on this that didn't involve  
reinterpreting plurality or TTR results as an IRV election.

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