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                                                                   By John Howard Wilhelm


Voter Choice Massachusetts and in Michigan, given

their concern to make our elections more open and representative,

advocate introducing Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV), aka Instant Runoff

Voting (IRV), into them.  I have been studying the technical literature

on voting systems for over two decades during which I have interacted

with some of our best voting system specialists and find this troubling

for two reasons.  First as a casual look at both organizations' websites

illustrates, both organizations clearly buy into the misleading and/ or

bogus claims often associated with FairVote's advocacy for RCV.  And

second, I don't see how a factual, or evidence based, analysis of voting

systems validates the case for replacing our simple system of plurality

voting with its IRV plurality alternative.


If we want to move away from our increasingly dysfunctional political

system, changing our voting system is a necessary, though not sufficient,

condition for doing so.  In thinking about alternative voting systems there

are two important considerations to take into account.  First, does a voting

system have a strong tendency to elect the most representative candidate

given voters' preferences?  And second, does it level the voting field for

third-party and independent candidates?


Under IRV voters are asked to rank candidates in order of their preferences.

These preferences are used to simulate a series of runoff plurality voting

elections in which each voter is permitted to have only one vote cast in

each round.  If no candidate has a majority of the first vote count, the

candidate with the lowest number of first place votes is dropped and his

or hers supporters' second place choices are allocated in a second round

in which they are treated as equal to the other voters' first place choices.

Again if no candidate emerges with a majority count of votes, the process

is repeated until a winning candidate emerges with a majority of the vote

counts in a simulated plurality voting election.


The proponents of IRV, especially those associated with FairVote, assert

that "it will give all candidates a chance to compete and win."  This assertion

is clearly the basis for Green Party members' support of IRV given that they

assume that this implies that IRV will open up our political processes to third

parties in our elections.  But the assertion is misleading since the same is

true of our system of simple plurality elections as witnessed by the success

of a Jesse Ventura in Minnesota in living memory.




The issue here is whether IRV is more receptive to the success of third-

party candidates than our current system of simple plurality voting in

which the candidate with the most votes, not necessarily a majority, wins.

Both the empirical and theoretical evidence suggests that it is not.


Australia has used IRV to elect members of its House of Representatives

since 1918.  But over a hundred years later, as data on the latest Australian

election clearly show, it has done nothing to move away from the two-party

duopoly of the Liberal/National coalition and  the Australian Labor Party

or engender any meaningful participation of third-party members in that

legislative body.


Simulations of voting systems by Ka-Ping Yee found in a piece by William

Poundstone on his website titled "A Test Drive of Voting Methods" in part

suggest why.  In his simulations based on an assumption of sincere voting,

IRV elections, with the exception of the monotonicity problem examined

below, give similar results to that of simple plurality voting.


But we know from the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem, that it is impossible

to devise a voting system in multi-candidate, single-winner elections that

can avoid an incentive to vote tactically or strategically.  So clearly in the

Australian case of IRV elections. it is also a matter of how voters interact

with their voting system in a strategic sense.  Until 1992 in Australia voters

in their national IRV elections were required to rank all candidates to have

a valid ballot.  But after 1992 this was no longer.the case in the state of

Queensland.  Data that Warren Smith presents on his website of "plumping,"

bullet voting in American parlance, in the 2009 Queensland federal election

suggest that a larger proportion of voters bullet vote for just one candidate

than is characteristic of approval voting elections.  This may suggest that

in IRV elections Australian voters interface with an IRV election similar to

how voters respond to simple plurality multi-candidate elections.


Given its cultural similarities with the British it is interesting to compare

Australian IRV elections for its House of Representatives with British

elections to their House of Commons which are conducted under simple

plurality voting.  In Australia to run for its House of Representatives, a

candidate needed to make a deposit of $1,000 Australian and beginning

in 2019 of $2,000 Australian, or $670 and $1340 US respectively, all of

which is given back if a candidate gets 4 % of the first place votes under

IRV or wins the election.  In Britain all it takes to run for Parliament is the

signature of ten constituents and a 500 pound deposit, $659 US, all of

which is given back if a candidate gets 5% or more of the vote.  That is,

ballot access for third party candidates is low in both countries.


But despite that, the electoral systems in both countries strongly favor

a two-party duopoly in their lower legislative bodies.  In the 2016

Australian election to its 150 seat House of Representatives its two

major parties held 96%of the seats as they did in the 2019 election.  In

Great Britain the dominance of its two major parties in its House of

Commons was 89.1% in its 2017 election and 87.3% in its 2019 election.

Based upon this data it would be hard to reject a hypothesis that simple

plurality voting is more favorable to third parties than IRV.




In my April 28, 2011 letter in the Financial Times just prior to the British

referendum on introducing IRV into their parliamentary elections, I pointed

out that claims as to the advantages of IRV turn out on critical examination

simply to be bogus.  An example of this can be found in a piece following

the adoption of IRV in Maine elections by Rob Richie, the executive

director of FairVote, in the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of Green Horizon

Magazine.  In the piece by Richie, it was stated that, "Starting in 2018

Mainers will be able to vote for the candidates they like the most without

helping elect the candidates they like the least."


That this is patently not true is illustrated by data on voters' rankings

of candidates from the 2009 Burlington, VT IRV election.  In that election

it is clear from the data that by voting for their candidate the Republicans

helped elect their least favorite candidate, the Progressive winner.  As

Andrew Jennings, a very knowledgeable voting system specialist, has

pointed out unless voters' first choice has a very strong chance of

winning or losing, voters cannot avoid the possibility of helping to elect

their least favorite candidate by placing their favorite first in their rankings

under IRV,


In many cases proponents of IRV seem to be unaware of the serious

pathologies that infest IRV and make it a very questionable voting

system for electing the most representative candidates.  The following

link to an analytical, as opposed to a polemical, piece on IRV by Kathy Dopp,

does a good job of pointing this out: Realities Mar Instant Runoff Voting.  In addition to that, the reader may

find my piece from the follow link

on a comparison between IRV and approval voting a useful read.  Both

pieces recognize that monotonicity failure is a serious pathology of IRV


Monotonicity failure can occur when a candidate who would have won can

wind up losing if he or she garners more first place support in the course of a

campaign.  This would happen because the increased support the candidate

receives in a campaign can change the order in which candidates will be

dropped and votes reallocated in arriving at a result.  In the technical literature,

this is referred to as violating the monotonicity condition--the idea that if a

candidate wins more support this should not adversely affect his or her prospects


For instance, suppose 21 voters are voting for three candidates: Alice, Bob

and Charlie.  Eight voters rank the candidates Alice 1, Bob 2, Charlie 3; two

rank them Bob 1, Alice 2, Charlie 3; five rank them Bob 1, Charlie 2, Alice 3;

and six rank them Charlie 1, Alice 2, Bob 3.  Since Charlie has the fewest

first-place votes, he is eliminated, and those six votes now have Alice in first

place, so she wins 14 to 7.


But suppose the vote were slightly different, and the two voters who put Bob

first had instead ranked Alice top (Alice 1, Bob 2, Charlie 3).  Now Bob, with

only five first place votes, is eliminated and those five rankings then have

Charlie in first place, so Charlie wins 11 to 10.  Moving Alice up in a few

rankings converts her from a winner to a loser, because in doing so there is

a change in which candidate is eliminated.


The upshot of monotonicity failure as Kathy Dopp's example illustrates very

well is that in its presence an IRV election responds to voters' preferences

in a perverse way.  For voters it means that in casting a vote for their

favorite candidate or ranking their least favorite candidate last they cannot

know whether for sure that will help the one and disadvantage the other as



Work done by Professor Robert Norman and Joseph Ornstein at Dartmouth

College suggests that monotonicity failure can occur in a fifth of close three-

man IRV elections, precisely the type of elections in which IRV is touted as

a significant electoral improvement.  To my knowledge the only solid empirical

evidence we have of this problem occurred in our 2009 public IRV elections.

As far as I can determine there were 9 such IRV elections in the US in that

year.  Of the nine, at least two, in Burlington VT and Aspen, CO, elections

exhibited this problem.  We don't know about the other 7 elections because

in most cases the data on voters' ranking of candidates is not available in

the published results.  But it is important to point out, as Warren Smith has

done, that the more candidates in an IRV election, the greater the possibility

of such failures.


IRV does not solve the spoiler problem except in special cases like the

2000 Florida presidential election as the 2009 Burlington, VT.election

illustrates.  In that election the Republican candidate, who could not have

won clearly played a  spoiler role.  Had he not entered the race the

Democrat candidate would have won over the Progressive by a margin

of twice the win of the Progressive in the final round against the Republican.


In situations where IRV does not take care of spoilers, candidates who

could not win but whose presence can change the outcome of an election,

the spoiler effect can be even more pernicious under IRV  That is, shifts in

preferences among minor candidates can change the order in which

candidates are dropped in the runoff process and votes reallocated with

the potential of leading to dramatically different outcomes.  This is the

source of the erratic behavior of RCV that Sir Michael Dummett  identified

in his book "Principles of Electoral Reform," Oxford University Press 1997.

In addition to that, Kathy Dopp's point that IRV does not treat voters

equally is certainly an addition troubling one about IRV,


                        A SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION


In sum, with its dependence on the plurality voting system in which a voter

can only cast one vote at each stage of the runoff, IRV, despite the claims

of its supporters, does not get rid of the wasted vote, the spoiler role and the

consequences of vote splitting when voters vote sincerely as proponents

of the system maintain they can without worrying about the consequences.


Approval voting, in which voters are allowed to give one vote each to the

candidate or candidates they support with the candidate having the most

votes winning, does get rid of the wasted vote, the spoiler role and the

necessity of vote splitting among the more representative candidates.  It

certainly is also third party friendly in that voters always have under the

system an incentive to vote for their favorite candidate, even if that

candidate is a third-party candidate.  And it certainly does a better job

of reflecting voters' preferences in the outcome as I argued in my piece

cited above.


On these considerations, I do not see how one can argue that approval

voting is not a much better alternative to our system of plurality voting

than IRV, which may not even be an improvement over our existing system

of plurality voting.