[EM] Does IRV elect "majority winners?"

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Fri Jan 2 12:57:10 PST 2009

At 01:23 PM 1/2/2009, Terry Bouricius wrote:
>Dave makes a good point, that I may have emulated Abd in verbosity in
>making my point. Here it is in a nutshell:
>Since the two-round runoff election system widely used in the U.S. that
>involves counting votes in two rounds is said to always elect a "majority
>winner," meaning a majority of votes from those voters who chose to
>express a preference between the two candidates who made it into the final
>runoff, then by the identical logic, an IRV winner is also a "majority
>winner" who ALSO has a majority of votes from those voters who chose to
>express a preference between the two candidates who made it into the final

In other words, if we don't consider the runoff election to be a 
single election, if we neglect that this election can and does result 
in plurality winners (Long Beach, CA, recently), then a narrow claim, 
possibly misleading, made about this situation can be applied by 
analogy. However, Robert's Rules of Order specifically rejects this, 
and notes that the STV method "deprives" the voters of the 
opportunity to base their votes in the next election on the results 
of the previous one.

What Bouricius is doing is to create an elaborate analogy; under this 
analogy, the use of the word "majority" is then, presumably, 
justified. However, the argument about "majority" is being used in a 
context where the word has a very clear meaning. It means more than 
half of the legal votes cast, i.e., the legal ballots contain a vote 
for the winner, never mind what rank -- as long as it isn't bottom, 
which is usually unexpressed.

Now, if I were selling you something, and I were accused of consumer 
fraud in the sale, and I claimed an analogy like this, it would not 
be accepted as a defense, because the word, in context, had a 
specific and clear meaning, and that meaning was the foundation of 
the desirability of runoff voting. Voters want that rule.

Runoff voting *seeks* a majority, and some forms guarantee it, in the 
second round, by considering all other votes to be illegal. However, 
in the runoff, voters make the specific decision to vote in that 
election or not. In the runoff, an abstention is specific and clear. 
Further, the electorate in a runoff is a different electorate, it is 
not the same voters. The primary merely controlled the nomination process.

Come FairVote with a promise that a "majority" can be obtained 
without a runoff! And, in fact, one who doesn't realize the 
implications of truncation, nor who realizes how *common* it is, will 
think, why, of course it will do this! A true majority. However, the 
reality is that IRV doesn't do this, in practice. Most elections 
where a majority is not found in the primary, there is no majority 
found with the vote transfers -- in nonpartisan elections.

The analogy is interesting, but it isn't what the voters were told! 
Words were used that would reasonably be expected to lead them in a 
certain direction, and the analogy is the typical deniability 
asserted by spin doctors when they get caught.

"I didn't have sex with that woman." (Uh, what I did isn't 
considered, by some people, to be "sex.") Did that argument stand? It 
was actually stronger for him than the argument is here, he was under 
considerable pressure, and, as a lawyer himself, may not have had an 
obligation to parse the words more carefully, it would have been the 
obligation of the examining attorney to make sure meanings were 
clear. But I think he was found to have perjured himself.

I'm claiming that, coming from FairVote, the deception was 
*intentional*. That there is an alternate interpretation -- a 
far-fetched one -- doesn't change that. The alternate interpreation 
is not what was communicated by the words, and I know this to be the 
case by the degree of resistance FairVote activists, including Mr. 
Bouricius, exerted against clarification.

>  Both methods define a majority by excluding from the basis for
>calculating the majority threshold all of the voters who may have voted
>for a candidate in the first round but abstain (do not indicate any
>preference) in the final round. In sum...If two round runoffs result in
>"majority winners" so does IRV.

This argument, of course, depends on, among other things, the ability 
to fully rank the candidates, which wasn't even present in nearly all 
these implementations. The voters may not have been able to sincerely 
rank candidates *and* vote in that "last round."

But the runoff election in TTR is actually a separate election, 
merely with a special nomination rule. That's why the first round is 
called a "primary." There are various such primary methods.....

We don't compare the votes in the primary with those in the runoff 
because they may be a quite different set of voters. Bouricius knows 
that whenever a motion fails, or an election fails, in deliberative 
process, the vote becomes moot and of no further effect. But, 
desiring to avoid a long series of election attempts, TTR was devised 
as a major reform, mostly in the last century, I think, to 
*encourage* a majority, by only allowing the top two from the primary 
a place on the runoff ballot.

But then these two campaign against each other, different voters may 
show up. Voters may change their minds and switch sides. It's a new 
election. Normally, however, the preference strength between the top 
two remaining is weak compared to the overall preference strength 
from the primary. Voters who think, "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" may 
not bother to vote. Voters who like both equally or roughly so, may 
not bother to vote!

We know that when voters care, runoff turnout is high. But that is 
all irrelevant to the issue of majority. Runoff rules are of two kinds:

(1) Only votes for the two names on the ballot are legal. This method 
of course, guarantees a majority, but I didn't see it described that 
way in early descriptions of runoff voting. With this form, a 
majority is indeed guaranteed, but it isn't the same voters, and more 
voters may participate in the runoff than in the primary, and that 
isn't terribly uncommon.

(2) Write-ins are allowed. In this case majority failure is possible, 
certainly, though it's uncommon. In this case, describing top two 
runoff as a method which "guarantees a majority" would be a bit of 
hype, but not greatly so. It's unusual. With IRV, majority failure is *common.*

Majority failure is a sign that the winner hasn't been thoroughly 
vetted. It could be a sign of Center Squeeze, or of other election 
pathologies. Under Robert's Rules, it is taken as a proof that the 
electorate has not made a decision, hence further process is 
necessary. That principle doesn't change with public elections, 
though it is certainly ignored often enough.

More information about the Election-Methods mailing list