[EM] Does IRV elect "majority winners?"
Abd ul-Rahman Lomax
abd at lomaxdesign.com
Sun Jan 4 13:10:16 PST 2009
At 05:26 PM 1/3/2009, Kathy Dopp wrote:
> > Date: Sat, 3 Jan 2009 14:29:23 -0500
> > From: "Terry Bouricius"
> > However the norm in governmental elections is to discount all abstainers
> > from the basis, regardless of the manner of their abstention.
>It seems that IRV/STV proponents have no limit for the convolutions
>they'll use to justify their own unique definitions of commonly
>understood concepts like "majority" in order to mislead the public
>into supporting IRV/STV.
It should be noted that Terry is not merely some loose cannon; we see
preposterous arguments from such, from time to time, here on the
Election Methods list and elsewhere.
He is a co-author with Rob Richie, the Executive Director of
FairVote. He has been listed as a consultant to FairVote.
Here is what he says about himself at http://www.fairvote.org/?page=2224
>I served ten years on the Burlington, VT City Council, including a
>term as president. I then served ten years as a member of the
>Vermont House of Representatives, where I drafted legislation on
>instant runoff voting. After leaving the legislature I served on the
>state board of the League of Women Voters of Vermont.
>Professionally, I am an elections administration consultant, having
>administered elections for non-profit organizations and consulting
>on ranked-voting election methods. I am a senior policy analyst for
>FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy, and have given
>testimony and consulted on IRV with Republicans and Democrats in
>over a dozen states and numerous municipalities. I designed the
>ballot, the vote tabulation procedures, and voter education plan for
>Burlington., Vermont for its 2006 IRV election. [...]
>In 1998 the Vermont House of Representatives passed a resolution
>creating a Citizens Commission to Study Preference Voting. This
>Commission had members from across the political spectrum, including
>former legislators, and others. The Commissions final report
>(available at http://fairvote.org/irv/vermont/index.html )
>unanimously recommended the adoption of instant runoff voting for
>all statewide elections. The key finding of this commission was that
>plurality election rules in common use through out the U.S. cannot
>accommodate more than two candidates without risk of "spoiler"
>situations resulting in the true will of the majority being
>thwarted. IRV was deemed the best solution.
The final report shows no signs of participation by people with a
broad knowledge of voting systems. If we look at the Executive
Summary, we find:
>This Commission recommends the adoption of Instant Runoff Voting
>(IRV) for statewide elections as a remedy to a potentially serious
>defect in Vermont's election laws. Vermont's plurality election
>rules allow for the election of a candidate with the most, but less
>than half, of the votes, even if the majority of voters oppose this
>candidate and prefer a different one. This is a fundamental defect
>that violates the most basic precept of democracy: majority rule.
>Today the plurality problem in the case of the offices of Governor,
>Lieutenant Governor and Treasurer is resolved by falling back on the
>legislature. If no candidate receives a popular majority, a secret
>ballot election by the members of the General Assembly, rather than
>the voters, decides the race. The General Assembly has had to choose
>state officers 69 times, often electing a candidate that had come in
>second in popular votes, in one case electing a third-place
>candidate who had received 3% of the vote, and in another failing to
>elect a Governor altogether. In 35% of all election years, at least
>one statewide race has had a result with no majority winner.
Sure. Problem is, IRV doesn't fix this with any reliability, and it
can *still* elect a candidate when "the majority of voters oppose
this candidate" -- and their votes express this!
>For most of Vermont's history, a majority vote was required to win
>all single-seat elections, and runoff-like re-votes were common. It
>wasn't until 1940 that re-votes were completely done away with, and
>a plurality of first-round votes was deemed sufficient for election
>to any office other than Governor, Lieutenant Governor or Treasurer.
>The inconvenience of re-voting was felt to be a bigger problem than
>the risk of undemocratic outcomes. Since IRV eliminates the
>inconvenience of re-voting, there is no longer any reason to use an
>election process that allows for the defeat of the candidate
>actually preferred by a majority of voters.
I'd interpret the matter differently, of course. What is happening
here is that democratic requirements are being discarded for
convenience. But, once again, the concept of "majority" is being done
violence to. This comment is in the context of a recommendation for
Instant Runoff Voting, *as if* it is not such an election method as
described above. There are better single-ballot voting systems than
IRV, but, of course, *no method* can guarantee a majority unless it
coerces voters or prevents them from expressing themselves freely.
A description of the method was provided:
>This process of dropping off bottom vote-getters and transferring
>their votes to their supporters' alternate choices continues, until
>a candidate gets a majority, or only one candidate remains.
"Majority" wasn't defined. That there would be exhausted ballots
wasn't mentioned. This is far from a neutral report, this report was
a piece of crafted propaganda, inconvenient facts that *will* be
mentioned in a true neutral report are just glossed over.
>IRV is preferable to a two-round runoff election in that it saves
>money, assures that the deciding election will have maximum voter
>turnout, and does not face constitutional problems. In a single
>election, IRV ensures that a candidate actually preferred by a
>majority of voters can win, and eliminates the existing problem of
>multiple candidates splintering the vote.
Note the incorporated assumptions.
(1) IRV will save money.
(2) IRV elections will maximize turnout.
(3) IRV does not face constitutional problems.
(4) IRV ensures that a candidate actually preferred by a majority of
voters can win.
(5) IRV eliminates the existing problem of multiple candidates
splintering the vote.
Some of these are probably false. Some are arguably true, but other
methods would do a better job.
>IRV tends to reduce negative campaigning. One reason for this is
>concern over alienating voters who would not give a nasty campaigner
>a second-preference vote, which that candidate might need to win.
>Although negative campaigning has not yet become a widespread
>problem in Vermont, IRV may help protect campaign civility here.
Remember, this is a Commission report. Was there evidence for this
"negative campaigning" claim? I haven't read the whole report yet, I
will. But this claim has been made, over and over, it is a *sales
point*, which the Commission simply repeats as if it were a known
fact. It probably isn't true, at all.
Consider the situation that is normal: two major candidates, and some
minor ones. The minor candidates *aren't* going to win the election,
normally that is a given -- that there are exceptions, rare ones,
doesn't change the substance of this. Are the top two going to
attempt to get each other's supporters to vote them second
preference? Those are useless votes, you know, they won't ever be
counted even if they are cast, under the IRV rules. No. There is no
incentive for them to abstain from negative campaigning, except the
same incentive that already exists: done clumsily, it can make you
look bad, and you will lose undecided voters. From a theoretical
standpoint, there is no reason to expect IRV to have a major impact
on negative campaigning, and, from the San Francisco experience, it
appears that it doesn't.
>IRV will not increase the cost of holding elections, other than the
>minimal cost of conducting recounts when there is the lack of a
>first-choice majority. There would be some small transition cost for
>a voter education campaign.
I hope they are not still claiming this! IRV has had enormous
implementation costs and serious counting costs. It *might* pay back
this cost, over some long time. But there is another method of
preferential voting, variously called American Preferential Voting or
the Grand Junction System or Bucklin, which is much easier to
canvass, which used the same ballot, essentially, as the three-rank
RCV ballot that has actually been used, and which probably resulted
in about the same degree of additional preference votes as IRV does,
and which is *more* likely, from such votes, to find majorities in
nonpartisan elections; it's probably about the same with partisan
ones, where voting follows relatively predictable patterns. So why
isn't this system being considered?
The last sentence of this report:
>IRV assures that a candidate preferred by the majority of voters
>will not be defeated by a candidate preferred by a minority, and
>strengthens Vermont's democracy for the next century.
It's a lie. IRV makes no such assurance; the method, as described and
as was attempted in Vermont, doesn't seek majorities except in the
first round of counting. It could easily be modified to do so, and
this is, in fact, how Robert's Rules of Order describes it. However,
this, then, would mean that it wouldn't eliminate all runoffs, and
the cost savings are a major part of the campaign arguments.
Now, back to Bouricius' testimony before the Colorado House:
>The first use of IRV in Burlington was in 2006.
>By all accounts, the Burlington IRV election was extremely
>successful. Exit polls conducted by a political science professor at
>the University of Vermont found that voters overwhelmingly preferred
>IRV to the former voting method. Some people had worried that voters
>might not be able to handle using ranked ballots leading to lower
>turnout or many spoiled ballots. However, turnout was higher than
>recent mayoral elections, and among those voting in the mayoral race
>99.9% of ballots were valid.
No, 99.9% of ballots weren't "valid," not if, as Bouricius has been
arguing, the voters with exhausted ballots abstained. Did they cast
valid ballots or not? If not, then it's legitimate to exclude them
from the basis for majority. But if the votes were valid, how can
they be excluded? What actually happened in Burlington? If this
election was, "by all accounts," "extremely successful," then surely
it found a majority. It did not.
March 7, 2006:
9,788 valid ballots.
Electing 1 candidate.
Winning threshold is 4895 votes.
There were 77 invalid ballots.
(9,865 total ballots processed.)
ROUND 1 -- Tally of 1st place votes.
CANDIDATE THIS ROUND TOTAL STATUS
Bob Kiss +3809 3809 CONTINUING
Hinda Miller +3106 3106 CONTINUING
Kevin J. Curley +2609 2609 DEFEATED -- 1st round
Louie The Cowman Beaud. +119 119 DEFEATED -- 1st round
Write-ins +78 78 DEFEATED -- 1st round
Loyal Ploof +57 57 DEFEATED -- 1st round
EXHAUSTED PILE: +10 10
TOTALS: +9788 9788
Kevin J. Curley is declared DEFEATED, as his/her defeat was
Louie The Cowman Beaudin is declared DEFEATED, as his/her defeat was
Write-ins is declared DEFEATED, as his/her defeat was mathematically
Loyal Ploof is declared DEFEATED, as his/her defeat was
ROUND 2 -- Transferring all votes simultaneously from all defeated candidates.
CANDIDATE THIS ROUND TOTAL STATUS
Bob Kiss +952 4761 ELECTED -- 2nd round
Hinda Miller +880 3986 CONTINUING
Kevin J. Curley -2609 0 DEFEATED -- 1st round
Louie The Cowman Beaud. -119 0 DEFEATED -- 1st round
Write-ins -78 0 DEFEATED -- 1st round
Loyal Ploof -57 0 DEFEATED -- 1st round
EXHAUSTED PILE: +1031 1041
TOTALS: 0 9788
Bob Kiss has been ELECTED because s/he has a majority of the remaining votes.
Notice that the first page gives, correctly, the Droop quota as 4895
votes. The Droop quota is, for a single-winner election, a majority.
However, note, then, that with only 4761 votes, Kiss is declared
elected, because he has a "majority of the remaining votes." I.e., a
plurality of the votes.
What's the gap? Well, the exhausted pile is 1031 votes. These are
voters who did not rank either Kiss or Miller. Kiss got 952 of the
vote transfers, Miller got 880, and 1031 ballots voted for a "minor
candidate" -- Curley was a Republican, if I've got it right, which in
Burlington makes him a significant third-party candidate! -- and did
not add any additional preferences. The gap between Kiss and Miller
is 775 votes.
It is highly unlikely that any voting system (of the ones reasonably
proposed) would have come up with a different result. If this
election had gone to a runoff, though, we *cannot predict the
outcome.* Miller would almost certainly be the other candidate,
against Kiss. Kiss was (is) very popular in Burlington. But Miller
might pull off a comeback. It *happens* with real runoff elections:
what may have been a minor candidate, with the additional attention,
manages to win. *This doesn't happen with IRV, unless an election is
very, very close.*
The only problem with this election is that it shows a victory
without a majority of votes being shown. In reality, a majority may
have cast a vote for Kiss, *but the results don't show it,* because
the IRV method conceals what may be a rather large number of second
preference votes for Kiss among supporters of Miller (and the
reverse, as well). This was a municipal election, and even when it's
partisan, as this was, municipal elections tend to be much more about
personalities than parties. Thus, we really should look at the ballot
images to see what actually happened. Bucklin would count all the
votes, that's one reason to prefer it. Same ballot; in this case,
same result; but in this case, Plurality would have given the exact
same result as well.
And that turns out to be typical for IRV, in nonpartisan elections --
and in many partisan ones as well -- it is *functionally equivalent*
Look at the results: Most of the transferred votes must have come
from the Republican. More than half of the voters for the Republican,
very roughly, also voted for a Democrat (Miller) and a Progressive
(Kiss). If this doesn't clue us in that this election isn't at all
typical for the U.S., that ought to!
The vote transfers show roughly the same preference for Kiss > Miller
as does the overall electorate in first preference votes. That,
again, seems to be typical for nonpartisan elections, this happens in
Australia with Optional Preferential Voting. Where this phenomenon
holds, IRV tends to produce the same results as Plurality; the vote
transfers simply increase the lead, ordinarily, or sometimes reduce
it a little, they don't reverse it.
Absolutely, from the votes, it appears that Kiss was the legitimate
winner. That's not the problem. The problem is that no majority was
found! It is possible, theoretically, that the voters with exhausted
ballots could have turned it around in a real runoff. But unlikely.
My guess at this point is that Bucklin analysis of the ballots, which
could be done, since the ballot images are available, would show the
Kiss *did* get a majority of the votes. But, despite all the fine
words about "majority rule" and "finding a majority," IRV, as a
method and as implemented, *doesn't care about "majority"* not as
reasonably defined. (The Droop quota as mentioned on the web site.)
(Note that http://www.burlingtonvotes.org/20060307/ links to ballot
images and format files.)
Has anyone looked to see what the overall truncation rates were? In
any Bucklin election result, you can tell immediately, since all the
votes are counted. In a two-party situation, we can expect high
truncation rates among those who support the frontrunners, whether
the method is IRV or another, such as Bucklin. But this is really a
three-party situation in Burlington. And it's the kind of situation
where Center Squeeze can bite. Suppose instead of the Republican
being in third place, it had been the Democrat, and suppose that
party affiliation were a larger factor than the Democrat's first
place support that she came in third place, being the candidate
squeezed in the middle, but she also might be the pairwise winner,
i.e., she'd win a contest between herself and either the Progressive
or the Republican. Thus this election is not far from one where a
very poor result, *contrary to majority rule* -- as shown by the
votes! -- could have occurred. IRV works more reliably in a two party
I was going to go on and show other statements, more specifically by
Bouricius, where he has made these spurious majority claims, without
explaining what he means. That's typical for FairVote, for they *do
not want to explain it,* they don't want the relatively ignorant to
realize the details about ballot exhaustion and what it means. They
want them to assume that they can get their desired majority without
spending any more effort for it, and they absolutely don't mind that
ignorance about this serves their cause.
We've been bringing this up for some time now, and there has been no
change in the propaganda. It continues, because, if nobody brings
these things before the electorate in a referendum or Ballot
Question, *it works.* It's time for serious opposition to IRV to come
forward, to make cogent and clear arguments against the method.
Originally, I thought that IRV was better than Plurality; as such, I
would have been reluctant to oppose it. However, what is *actually*
happening is that IRV is mostly replacing, not Plurality, but Top Two
Runoff, which is a *much* better method, proably worth the cost, even
though it, itself, suffers from one of the IRV problems: Center
Squeeze. It's actually easy to fix, once we start making decisions
about these things with some sanity. With a better primary method,
roughly half of the runoffs, probably, could be eliminated (IRV may
eliminate as many as a third of them, legitimately, the rest involve
faux majorities), and with a better runoff method, such that voters
can write-in candidates and still not create a spoiler effect (that's
*very* easy to do), one has, actually, a highly democratic system
that will *almost always* find a majority; where it doesn't, a direct
face-off would *probably* come up with the same result, and seriously
poor results *will not happen*. Which they *can* with IRV, though it
is rarely a terrible result.
But if you must have a single ballot, IRV isn't the right choice, at
all, there are very few people who understand voting systems who
think so, and among those who support IRV, it is often because,
supposedly, IRV has "momentum," and they don't seem to realize the
damage that is being done by removing majority requirements.
As to "momentum," I remind readers that, by 1918, 55 towns and cities
had implemented Preferential Voting, which is far, far more than what
FairVote has accomplished to date with IRV. (Almost all of it was
American Preferential Voting, i.e., Bucklin, a little was IRV.) What
happened? FairVote gives us a brief analysis that is almost certainly
dead wrong. My tentative hypothesis, though, is that it was oversold
as making runoffs unnecessary, i.e., "Find a majority with a single
ballot!" That should make us worried that, by promoting IRV, or by
allowing it to be ignorantly promoted, we may be setting up a
backlash, just as happened with Bucklin eighty years ago. It could
set the cause of voting systems reform back for the better part of
Imagine how different it would be if, instead of replacing Bucklin
(and IRV) with top two runoff -- which was often done, I think,
ultimately: San Francisco apparently implemented preferential voting
in 1916! and ended up with top two runoff, but I don't know the
intermediate history -- a majority requirement had been added back,
so the method becomes a way to avoid *some* runoffs. In addition, if
something as simple as Open Voting (Approval Voting) had been used
for the runoff, or even better, a two-rank Bucklin, the runoff, with
two clear major candidates, has a spoiler effect fix that allows
write-in votes without a spoiler effect. This becomes almost
completely what Robert's Rules of Order would want for straight,
direct-democracy elections, differences would be rare. In the rare
case that the best candidate isn't in the top two, it can be fixed!
-- But the voters can still add a security vote for one of the
candidates on the ballot, as a second preference.
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