[EM] Does IRV elect "majority winners?"

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Sat Jan 3 10:32:29 PST 2009

At 07:04 PM 1/2/2009, James Gilmour wrote:
>Who would have thought such a simple example and such a direct 
>question could provoke so much obfuscation and prevarication.
>References to IRV, FairVote and Santa Clara are all completely irrelevant.

"Irrelevant" to what? To an abstract discussion of voting systems, 
hang the real-world implications? I brought in this issue, not you, 
James, given what I found as to arguments presented by a prominent 
FairVote activist, Steve Chessin, in a measure to authorize IRV in 
Santa Clara, California. The argument was being made, and is still 
being made, that IRV guarantees a majority, in a context where 
"majority" has a clear meaning already.

>So let's try again, with little bit of additional information that 
>was (more or less) implied first time.
>At a meeting we need to elect one office-bearer (single-office, 
>single-winner).  There are four candidates and we decide to use the
>exhaustive ballot (bottom elimination, one at a time) with the 
>requirement that to win, a candidate must obtain a majority of the
>votes.  East person is allowed to vote for only one candidate in 
>each round of the exhaustive ballot and the votes for each
>candidate are to be indicated by show of hands.

Exhaustive ballot is a poor method, actually, strongly disapproved by 

>First round votes:  A 40;   B  25;  C 20;  D 15.
>No candidate has a majority, so we eliminate D.

All that has happened is that the rules agreed upon have eliminated 
D. Otherwise the first vote is *moot*.

>Second round votes: A 47;  B 25;  C 20.
>It seems that some of those present who voted for D in the first 
>round did not want to vote in the second round  -  but that is
>their privilege.

Indeed, that is their privilege, and it is a choice that they made 
knowing accurately the results of the first round. Perhaps they have 
no preference between A, B, or C, all are equally good to them. Or 
equally bad, and they leave the organization and never come back, 
disgusted that such a poor election method is used, when they knew -- 
or believed, that D would have won every pairwise election, and that 
simple democratic process would have discovered this quickly.

Left out was how "we decided."

>QUESTION: did candidate A win at the second round with 'a majority 
>of the votes'?

Yes, A won the second round with a majority of votes. That is, when 
the question was finally presented to the voters, in the only round 
that is legally effective, a majority voted for A. We don't know who 
abstained. In fact, we don't know that *anyone* abstained. Maybe they 
were out of the room. All we know is that so many voters voted, and 
that a majority of them voted for A.

Tbe voting pattern, by the way, is utterly artificial and isn't how 
votes would be likely to go in nonpartisan elections.

>If you want you can rephrase the definition: "Win with a majority of 
>the votes";  "Obtain a majority of the votes"; "Win a majority
>of the votes".  IF these differences in wording have real 
>differences in meaning, it would be helpful to explain the differences and
>then to answer the question in relation to each of the different meanings.

"The votes" refers to a collection of ballots in a single election. 
There may have been a hundred ballots taken before.

Suppose we wanted to consider the votes in other rounds. How would we 
know which voters voted once and which voted twice, or a hundred times?

No, "majority of the votes" *always*, unless a different context is 
specified, refers to all non-blank ballots  (Robert's Rules), or all 
those expressing a vote (as by standing or show of hands) or all 
legal votes. Suppose roll call were used. What if a voter votes for 
other than the now-confined list? Is that a vote?

(This is one reason why candidate eliminations are contrary to the 
basic rules: they prevent members from expressing what is their 
democratic right to express.)

>Paul said 'Legislatures who follow RRoO pretty much define majority 
>by "majority of eligible voters." '  I am not going to argue
>about RRoO, but that definition is VERY different from the election 
>scenario above.

Paul was incorrect. That would be an "absolute majority," in American usage.

>   I have never heard such a definition used in a
>meeting for an ELECTION.  The language I have heard would be 
>something much more like "a majority of the votes".  Which takes us
>back to my request for answers to the direct question above.

The phrase "in the election under discussion" must be assumed, and, 
further, that prior process is moot. As I said, there could be a 
hundred rounds, but all that matters is the last, the one that found 
a majority. Exhaustive ballot *must* find a majority, but it's a 
constrained majority. In a real assembly, the assembly could refuse 
to accept the election result if they didn't like it (i.e., if a 
majority found it objectionable, or, under some rules, no majority 
was found to accept the election report.)

>The wording "majority of eligible voters" would appear to include 
>those "eligible voters" who were not actually present at the
>meeting.  That could be a much higher threshold.  I personally have 
>never known such a threshold set in an election, but it does (or
>did) happen in public elections in Russia where the seat was left 
>vacant and the local community unrepresented unless some minimum
>proportion (50% ??) of the registered electorate actually voted.  I 
>have, however, experienced a similar threshold in a public
>referendum in Scotland  -  that was set at 40% of the electorate.

It's done. That's a quorum rule. But it isn't done in the U.S. An 
election result is valid with a single vote, here. I almost saw it happen....

>While such thresholds do not feature in election instructions in the 
>UK, neither public nor private, something comparable is common
>in many organisations' constitutions to regulate voting on 
>resolutions to amend the constitution itself.  I have encountered three
>forms (given that is only a "yes" or "no" vote on each amendment): 
>1. "a majority of the members";  2. "two-thirds of those
>present";  3. "two-thirds of those present and voting".  These three 
>thresholds are all very different, but in my experience, they
>are not applied to ELECTIONS.

That's right. It was an error on Paul's part.

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