[EM] IRV and Brown vs. Smallwood

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Sat Jan 17 10:49:48 PST 2009

At 07:59 PM 1/15/2009, Markus Schulze wrote:

>in 1915, the Supreme Court of Minnesota declared
>the "preferential system" unconstitutional. The
>decision ("Brown vs. Smallwood") is here:
>The crucial sentence is (page 508):
> > We do right in upholding the right of the
> > citizen to cast a vote for the candidate of
> > his choice unimpaired by second or additional
> > choice votes by other voters.
>Now, a county judge had to decide whether
>Brown vs. Smallwood also applies to IRV.
>The judge came to the conclusion that
>Brown vs. Smallwood doesn't apply to IRV.
>The decision is here:
>In my opinion, the decision is very problematic.
>The judge judged the methods not by their
>properties, but by IRV's underlying heuristic.

It's complicated. This was, however, more or less the result I 
feared, though I'm pretty sure it will be appealed. The problem is 
that this court didn't read Brown v. Smallwood completely, nor did 
they read it accurately. Brown v. Smallwood, very clearly, prohibited 
all forms of preferential voting, but FairVote successfully diverted 
the court's attention to one passage which reads like a concern for 
Later No Harm.

We can see the classic smokescreen here. The Court begins with a 
statement describing the quorum for a single-seat election, "the 
majority of the voters." The description does correctly insert, in 
one place, "for continuing candidates," but doesn't excplicitly take 
note that the threshold is a shifting one, an incautious reader would 
assume otherwise, since the description talks about continuing rounds 
until a "candidate reaches the threshold number of votes."

However, IRV is, in my opinion, constitutional. But so was Bucklin. 
What's unfortunately here is that the decision appears to uphold 
Brown while also allowing IRV. That doesn't bode well for better 
election reform in Minnesota.

IRV is a plurality method; it has a peculiar way of finding 
plurality. That peculiarity isn't unconstitutional, and I would agree 
that an IRV winner is usually better than a plurality winner, where 
they differ. However, there are still problems, of course. It is 
quite possible for a candidate to win under IRV, when more voters 
voted against this candidate than for this candidate, and 
specifically, that more voters voted for another candidate over this 
candidate. The Court did not adequately address this, it directly 
flies in the face of the "majority of the votes" concept. The 
majority of the voters voted against the IRV winner, but because of 
how they voted, their votes did not count.

IRV counts many more votes than the number of voters, there are a 
whole series of ultimately preposterous statements made by the court. 
It just doesn't count them *simultaneously*. Bucklin counted them 
simultaneously, which ensured that all of them would be counted. But 
a candidate still faces, with IRV, one candidate after another, from 
a particular voter, instead of just one. The result is pretty much the same.

The plaintiffs did not pursue the mostly likely avenue of success.

Note that had the plaintiffs been successful, pretty much all voting 
reform would have remained impossible in Minnesota, except for LNH 
compatible methods, which is the worst of preferential voting methods.

I would have hoped that Friend of the Court briefs would have been 
filed seeking overturning of Brown; I suppose that will be 
appropriate when it gets to a higher court, if it does. The Brown 
ruling was out of synch with the rest of the courts in the U.S., 
which didn't have a problem with Bucklin, nor with IRV.

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