[EM] Historical perspective about FairVote organization

robert bristow-johnson rbj at audioimagination.com
Thu Mar 14 10:45:05 PDT 2013

On 3/13/13 4:16 PM, Richard Fobes wrote:
> For the benefit of those who don't understand why FairVote promotes
> IRV (instant-runoff voting) in opposition to many forum participants
> here, I'm posting this extract from an excellent, well-written, long
> message by Abd.
> On 3/13/2013 11:46 AM, Abd ul-Rahman Lomax wrote:
>> Example from the United States: There was a conference in the early
>> 1990s to discuss and support proportional representation. A small group
>> of people then formed the Center for Proportional Representation, and
>> leaders appeared. Eventually this because the Center for Voting and
>> Democracy. Early on, this thinking developed among the activists
>> involved:
>> 1. The best method for proportinal representation is Single Transferable
>> Vote. (it isn't but that's what they believed, these were not voting
>> systems experts, but political activists.)
>> 2. STV requires a complex voting system. Read, expensive to canvass,
>> difficult to audit, etc.
>> 3. The single-winner version of STV could substitute, it was thought,
>> for the fairly common runoff voting, which requires, sometimes, a second
>> ballot, which is expensive.

except for IRV *any* existing runoff method is a delayed runoff, a 
"second ballot" that is marked, usually weeks later.  the expense of the 
delayed runoff was not the major argument against it.

the principle argument is the greatly reduced voter turnout at the 
runoff (it's generally argued by election reformers that increasing 
voter turnout is good for democracy, one reason why we're for "motor 
voter" laws).

the next argument is that if the "loser" (whether this loser was the 
first or second vote-getter in the first election) dumps a truckload of 
money into the runoff election that is not matched by his/her opponent, 
that he/she can "pull 'victory' out of the jaws of defeat".  but 
"victory" for who??  might be a defeat for the majority of the original 
electorate, thus also decreasing the value for the electorate.)  the 
cost of the runoff would come in about 3rd place as reasons for ditching it.

i would add that it is *not* necessarily the case that the top two vote 
getters are the correct pair of candidates to put into the runoff. 
certainly not in Burlington VT in 2009 (if we had not adopted IRV in 
2005, the Condorcet winner would not have advanced to the delayed 
runoff).  this problem is *not* addressed by IRV.

>> 4. They invented the name Instant Runoff Voting, then, for single-winner
>> STV, and represented it as equivalent to Runoff Voting. (It isn't, and
>> studies have clearly shown this, but, again, they are coming up with an
>> *action plan*, something they think they can sell.)
>> 5. And so the primary activity of CVD became promoting instant runoff
>> voting.
>> Early on, voting systems experts tapped them on the shoulder and pointed
>> out that, while multiwinner STV is a decent voting system, the
>> single-winner form wasn't, it suffered from some serious problems. They
>> rejected these experts as impractical dreamers. Only their plan, they
>> believed, had any chance of success. And, of course, they, and their
>> Executive Director, became heavily committed to a whole series of
>> deceptive arguments.
>> Because many people saw the defects in existing systems, they did
>> succeed in getting IRV implemented in a few places. And then those
>> places started to discover the problems with IRV, and quite a few have
>> rescinded the implementations, and it's possible the backlash has made
>> it unlikely for voting system reform to succeed in those places for many
>> years. The experts whom they rejected have started to independently
>> organize, and to present evidence at hearings and in campaigns, it's
>> getting more difficult for FairVote, as they ended up calling
>> themselves, to win implementations.
> I'll add that in Canada the FairVote group directly advocates STV and
> European-based PR methods, not the stepping-stone IRV path.

no FairVote group advocates IRV as a stepping stone.

the problem is getting Rob and the other FairVote advocates to learn 
something from *both* the failures of IRV in function (the Burlington 
2009 election is the textbook example, but also is the surviving IRV 
elections where the number of ranking levels is limited to far less than 
the number of condidates on the ballot, like in SF) and politically (the 
few places that have repealed it).  like certain corporations that sell 
a product and cannot admit to themselves the intrinsic shortcomings in 
their product until the market makes it clear (and the product and 
company fail in the marketplace), FairVote will not risk admitting to 
any blemishes in their product, let alone admitting to the failure of 
their product to work in a meaningful test case (a test case that is 
difficult, like when there are 3 or 4 candidates, all roughly equal in 
popular support).  IRV will prevent a true spoiler (that is a candidate 
with no viable chance of winning, but whose presence in the race changes 
who the winner is) from spoiling the election, but if the "spoiler" and 
the two leaders are all roughly equal going into the election, IRV can 
fail and *has* failed (and Burlington 2009 is that example).

the purpose of having more than two viable parties (and/or having viable 
independent candidates) is to give the voters another choice when 
otherwise they may be forced to choose between "Dumb and Dumber". 
unfortunately, after this failure, we were faced again with the choice 
between Dumb and Dumber (IRV vs. plurality or delayed runoff) and this 
time, as has happened before, Dumber won.


r b-j                  rbj at audioimagination.com

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."

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