[EM] Historical perspective about FairVote organization

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Fri Mar 15 21:15:49 PDT 2013

At 12:45 PM 3/14/2013, robert bristow-johnson wrote:

>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).

Increasing voter turnout, by itself, is not particularly a benefit. 
It can just increase noise, and it makes elections more vulnerable to 
mass-media influence. Yes, this is an argument often advanced.

>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.

It's never a "defeat" for the original electorate, in fact, because 
if they care, they see that fancy campaign and they turn out and 
vote. In reality, in the kinds of elections where IRV is being 
considered, if it's replacing runoff voting, real runoffs allow dark 
horses to win. Not by money, but by convincing the voters!

>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.

That's correct. I could easily be addressed in a better two-round 
system, and why runoff systems, for a long time, were presumed to 
always be vote-for-one systems, while single ballot systems were 
proposed as sophisticated and complex methods, is beyond me.

Simply Approval Voting in a two-round system can improve it, Bucklin 
actually simulates progressive-Approval-cutoff three rounds -- in the 
original form, with the final round allowing multiple votes, but a 
hybrid system using a Range ballot could make much better choices, 
including identifying Condorcet winners and guaranteeing that such 
get into the runoff, if a runoff is needed.

My sense is that with good primary and runoff systems, far better 
choices could be made, many runoffs could be avoided, and, then, when 
a runoff is necessary, it would include the best candidates. With a 
decent runoff system, that could easily be three plus write-in, or 
*at least two plus write-in.*

>>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.

Of course not. However, FairVote *chose to work for IRV* as a 
stepping stone. "Advocating" it as a stepping stone would be a losing strategy!

>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.

The tragedy is that "delayed runoff" ... i.e, real runoff elections 
... could easily be improved, so that many or most would be unnecessary.

Doing this in San Francisco with over twenty candidates, though, 
might be difficult. There is a common phenomenon that if an advanced 
voting system is implemented, many more candidates file. That, then, 
tends toward majority failure. There are many possible solutions.

The majority requirement can be relaxed. Or we can notice that 
Robert's Rules actually likes repeated ballot, because it allows 
voters a better look at the candidates, now knowing who is really a 
serious candidate. My guess is that this is behind the one-third of 
nonpartisan runoff elections that are "comebacks." People didn't know 
that runner-up well enough. Allowing three candidates into a runoff 
-- or two plus write-in, say -- could improve results.

The alleged low turnout of runoff elections has several implications. 
Some jurisdictions reverse the sequence and hold primaries early, 
then a runoff, if needed, in the general election. That could simply 
be done routinely.

Or there is the possibility of going to a parliamentary system and 
using Asset Voting. One election, no runoffs needed, and an electoral 
college is created that could do things like replace an incapacitated 
candidate .... or even manage a recall.

Some group of students somewhere is going to realize how 
crazy-powerful Asset Voting is, and implement it for student 
elections.... and then they will see what *real democracy* looks 
like. If it's done right. Asset is hybrid representative/direct democracy. 

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