Saturday, March 27, 2010

Response to "blackboard" videos by SJVoter

Terry Reilly ("SJVoter") is an opponent of instant runoff voting from San Jose. He has made a series of videos using a blackboard that share a fundamental misrepresentation. His videos appear to show flaws and troubling paradoxes unique to IRV. In fact, IRV doesn't introduce any paradoxes that don't already exist under common runoff elections systems ( including the runoffs Reilly ironically defends in San Jose). Every one of his videos' examples is also applicable to any runoff election system, and he ignores far more serious paradoxes with plurality elections, such as the possibility of electing a candidate that the majority of voters agree is the absolute worst candidate.

If you don't immediately see how the paradoxes Reilly presents in the YouTube videos apply to traditional separate runoff elections, you only need to walk through the exact scenarios presented, but imagine that the IRV rankings are merely preferences inside voters' heads. These voters can vote for their first choice in the initial round of voting. Then in the separate runoff they use the preference order in their heads to decide which of the finalists they will vote for in the second round of voting. Whether the issue is non-monotonicity, winner-turn-loser, participation, etc.... ALL of these paradoxes apply to ALL runoff election systems, not just IRV.

However, IRV does REDUCE the risk of these paradoxes playing any role in an election compared to traditional runoff elections. This is because, in a traditional runoff system, a voter can vote strategically in the first round for a weak opponent, and then switch his or her first choice to the true first choice in the runoff round. Since IRV uses a single ballot and a single round of voting, this trick can't be used. So with IRV attempting to exploit these paradoxes to manipulate the election is far more likely to back-fire than with traditional separate runoffs.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Response to Kathy Dopp "Report" on IRV "Flaws"

Kathy Dopp, a Blogger and lone member of what she calls the "National Election Data Archive," has authored a "report" alleging 18 flaws of IRV. Her "report" has been floating around the Internet, but is deeply flawed itself.
Here is a response to each of the points she raises...

1. Dopp: "Does not solve the "spoiler" problem except in special cases..."

Dopp has her "special cases" reversed. In fact, IRV solves the spoiler problem in virtually all likely U.S. partisan elections. Whenever a third party or independent candidate is unlikely to be one of the top vote-getters (true in over 99% of U.S. elections), IRV eliminates the spoiler problem completely. If a third party grows to the point that its candidates out-poll major party candidates, another issue that is related to the spoiler problem, can occasionally arise. This is where supporters of a third party candidate may worry that by supporting their favorite candidate, they risk causing their less-preferred compromise choice to be eliminated from the final runoff, leading to the election of their least-preferred choice. In other words, the issue of whether to vote for your favorite choice, or to rank your compromise choice first can resurface in this unique circumstance. But this is extremely rare and no different than a candidate in a party’s political primary arguing "Vote for me because I am more electable in the general election."

2. Dopp: "Requires centralized vote counting procedures at the state-level…"

IRV creates no need to centralize the counting or the ballots themselves, although that is one possible counting procedure -- and indeed a central count is often sensible for smaller jurisdictions. But all that is required to implement IRV is central coordination of the tally. If ballot images are recorded on optical scan equipment, the data from those images can be collected centrally for an IRV ballot (with an appropriate manual audit to confirm accuracy). If a hand-count is conducted, vote totals need to be reported to a central tallying office in order to determine what step to take next in the count. In Ireland, for example, there are 43 counting centers in the presidential race. Election administrators count ballots and report their totals to a national office that in turn instructs the administrators at each counting center on what to do next. The entire process takes less than a day even though more than a million ballots are cast.

3. Dopp: "Cannot be implemented without modification to the ballots or to the optical scan voting machines or their software."

She is wrong when she says older "discrete-sensor machines cannot accommodate ranked ballots. San Francisco has used such voting machines for IRV since 2004. Obviously one needs to modify the ballot to give voters the option of ranking candidates, and many current voting machines are not programmed to record ballot rankings. While true, this is hardly a "flaw" of IRV.

4. Dopp: "Encourages the use of complex voting systems and …[FairVote promotes] electronic-balloting…"

Most government IRV elections are in fact conducted with hand-count paper ballots, including national elections in Australia, Ireland and Papua New Guinea. FairVote is a leading advocacy organization for IRV, but it is joined in supporting IRV by numerous other organizations and individuals, including the founders of TrueVote Maryland and election integrity leader David Cobb and Anthony Lorenzo.

As to FairVote, it advocates the replacement of all paperless voting machines with paper-ballot systems, such as optical scanners. All three of the major voting machine vendors have created optical scan options for ranked-choice ballots. Not all of these are ideal (some, for example, cannot handle more than three rankings), but FairVote expects IRV elections to be overwhelming run on paper ballot systems in the future. FairVote advocates that all such machines store a redundant electronic record of each ballot, as well as a paper ballot to allow for better fraud detection, and simplify ranked ballot tabulations. Rather than making such elections more complicated, this would simplify the process, while improving transparency and integrity.

5. Dopp: "Confuses voters…"

All the evidence shows that voters are not confused by IRV. The rate of spoiled ballots did not increase in any of the U.S. cities when they switched to IRV. For example, Burlington (VT) used IRV for the first time in a hotly contested race for mayor in 2006, and among those casting votes in the IRV race fully 99.9% of ballots were valid, with the very highest valid ballot rate in the ward in town with the highest number of low-income voters. San Francisco’s rate of valid ballots in the most closely contested race in its first citywide election with IRV was 99.6%. Furthermore, exit polls have been conducted in every city having an IRV election for the first time in the modern era. Each survey shows that voters overwhelmingly prefer IRV to their old method of elections.

6. Dopp: "Confusing, complex and time-consuming to implement and to count…"

IRV certainly is simpler for election officials and voters than conducting a whole separate runoff election to find a majority winner. It is more complicated to administer than a single vote-for-one election, but election officials have adjusted well to their new responsibilities. Note that the winning threshold for an IRV election, as with any election, must be specified in the law.

7. Dopp: "Makes post election data and exit poll analysis much more difficult to perform…"

To date, IRV election can make it easier to do post-election and exit poll analysis. Because optical scan counts with IRV require capturing of ballot images, San Francisco (CA) and Burlington (VT) were able to release the data files showing every single ballot's set of rankings – thereby allowing any voter to do a recount and full analysis on their own.

Exit polls can be done just as well under IRV rules as vote-for-one rules. California requires a manual audit in its elections, which has been done without difficulty in San Francisco’s IRV elections. Manual audits should be required for all elections, regardless of whether IRV is used or not.

8. Dopp: "Difficult and time-consuming to manually count…"

Manual counts can take slightly longer than vote-for-one elections, but aren't difficult, unless many different races on a ballot need to go to a runoff count. As cited earlier, Irish election administrators can count more than a million ballots by hand in hotly contested presidential elections in one standard workday. In most IRV elections the bulk of the ballots have first preferences marked for the two strongest candidates, so these ballots only need to be sorted once. It is only the small stacks of ballots for eliminated candidates that may need to be resorted according to alternate choices.

9. Dopp: "Difficult and inefficient to manually audit…"

IRV can be manually audited just as well as vote-for-one elections, although it does take more effort (since voters must be allowed to express more information on their ballot). Contrary to Dopp's insistence, there is no need to use precinct sums to perform an audit. A manual audit can be done using a random sample of ballots from a random sample of voting machines to confirm that the ballot records are accurate, or by a complete re-tally from a random sample of voting machines. A complete re-tally of all ballots (a recount) is, of course, possible but unnecessary unless a court recount is ordered.

10. Dopp: "Could necessitate counting all presidential votes in Washington, D.C.…"

If the Electoral College were abolished and IRV were then adopted for future national popular vote elections for president, there would need to be national coordination of the tally in order to know which candidates got the fewest votes nationwide and needed to be eliminated – just as in Ireland. But the actual counting of ballots does not need to be federalized any more than if IRV was not used, and could be conducted by counties, states or whatever level is easiest and most secure for that jurisdiction. Note that voters certainly would be pleased to have a majority winner in elections for our highest office.

11. Dopp: "IRV entrenches the two-major-political party system …"

IRV neither "entrenches" nor "overthrows" the two-party system. It simply ensures no candidate wins in the face of majority opposition. If a minor party has the support to earn a majority of votes, it will win in an IRV election.

IRV is a winner-take-all method, like plurality voting and two-round runoffs. However, IRV allows independents and candidates with minor parties to run without being labeled as spoilers. This may reveal a higher level of support for these parties, and if these parties are attractive to voters, their support may grow.

Relating to multi-party representation, any winner-take-all, single seat election method tends towards two dominant parties, at least in any given geographic area. To allow for multiple parties to regularly win office, jurisdictions should adopt a form of proportional representation in which candidates will be able to win office with less than 50% of the vote.

Note that Australia’s IRV elections are often cited as an example of two-party domination. But while the two major parties (one of which is actually a coalition of two parties, with one party running in one particular region of the country) dominant representation, the minor parties contest elections very vigorously, with an average of seven candidates contesting house elections in 2007. That year the Green Party did not win any seats in house elections, but it ran candidates in every district and earned 8% of the national vote. It naturally would prefer a proportional representation system, but supports IRV over alternate winner-take-all systems and uses it to elect its internal leaders.

12. Dopp: "Ranking a voter’s first-choice candidate LAST could cause that candidate to WIN…"

Dopp is referring to what election methods experts refer to as the "non-monotonicity" paradox. The key fact she doesn't state is that this is not unique to IRV, but common to all runoff election systems (whether instant or traditional). While technically correct, her presentation is intentionally miss-leading. The mere receiving of an additional first choice vote can never be the cause of a candidate's losing (although her wording intentionally implies this). Non-monotonicity is the result of the possibility that a change in the order of finishing of the other candidates that results from switching votes may mean that the otherwise winning candidate will face a stronger opponent in the final round of the runoff (whether an instant runoff or a separate runoff). In traditional separate runoff election systems this possibility may open the door to strategic manipulation, in which voters vote for a weak opponent of their true favorite in the first round, and then switch to their true favorite in the second round. Fortunately, with IRV the appeal of such manipulative strategy is practically eliminated, because a voter is not able to change her first choice between rounds, and thus the risk of the strategy backfiring is much greater with IRV than in a traditional runoff. For a fuller discussion of the monotonicity issue see

13. Dopp: "Delivers other unreasonable outcomes..."

Unreasonable outcomes are less likely with IRV than with any other single-seat voting method in use today. Every single voting method ever proposed can deliver "unreasonable outcomes" in some scenarios, but real-world experience has shown IRV to be one of the best methods. The overwhelming number of election method experts agree that IRV is fairer and more democratic than plurality voting even if some might prefer other theoretical voting methods. The American Political Science Association (the national association of political science professors) has incorporated IRV into their own constitution for electing their own national president. Robert’s Rules of Order recommends IRV over plurality voting.

As to the specific examples…Irv can indeed have more ties, because there may be numerous rounds in the tally. However, such ties are for last place and elimination, and have little possibility of mattering. Most jurisdictions with IRV use a rule that eliminates in a single batch all candidates at the bottom with no chance of winning, so that none of these potential ties among write-ins or fringe candidates need to be settled.

As to the vanishingly rare but mathematically possible pair-wise "lose to everybody except one" possibility, Dopp fails to mention that plurality elections frequently elect the candidate who in pair-wise comparisons would lose to every other candidate (the "Condorcet loser") which can never happen with IRV.

Real world experience for over 80 years in Australia proves that IRV does not in fact favor extremist candidates over centrists. Certainly not has much as plurality elections can. This is because under IRV a candidate needs to not only have strong core support, but also appeal to the supporters of other candidates for second choices. If anything, candidates in the political center have the benefit that it is easier for them to win second rankings from the supporters of candidates on either side of them politically, than for candidates at the margins.

14. Dopp: "Not all ballots are treated equally…"

This charge reveals a lack of understanding of how IRV works. All ballots are treated equally. Every one has one and only one vote in each round of counting. Just as in a traditional runoff, your ballot counts first for your favorite candidate and continues to count for that candidate as long as he or she has a chance to win.

Your rankings should be considered as backup choices. Your ballot will only count for one of your lesser preferences if your favorite candidate has been eliminated. Every ballot counts as one vote for your highest ranked candidate who is still in the running in every round of counting.

Note that courts in Michigan and Minnesota have upheld IRV for this very reason and Robert’s Rules of Order recommends it over plurality voting. For some key quotes from the Michigan court decision upholding IRV's equal treatment of ballots, please see note <1> below, or for the full court decision see

15. Dopp: "Costly…"

The two main expenses associated with the transition to IRV are voting equipment upgrades and voter education. Both of these are one-time costs that will be quickly balanced out by the savings coming from eliminating a runoff election in each election cycle. In San Francisco, for example, the city and county saved approximately $3 million by not holding a separate runoff election in 2005, easily covering the mostly one-time costs spent in 2003-2004 to implement the system.

In North Carolina, counties spent $3.5 million for the Superintendent of Public Instruction runoff in 2004, at election with statewide turnout of only 3%. In 2007, IRV elections in Cary (NC) avoided the need for a runoff in one of the city council districts that would have cost taxpayers $28,000.

An effective voter education program can also be done for relatively little money by learning from what types of education worked well in other jurisdictions and what types did not – with the biggest factors being a good ballot design, clear voter instructions and effective pollworker training in that order. In a report to the Vermont General Assembly, the Vermont Secretary of State estimated that, based on how well IRV was implemented in Vermont’s largest city of Burlington in 2006, voter education for statewide IRV in Vermont would cost less than $0.25 per registered voter. In a city of more than 100,000 people, Cary spent less than $10,000 on all IRV implementation and voter education (saving the $24,000 cost of a separate runoff election in District B) – with highly favorable reactions from voters.

16. Dopp: "Increases the potential for undetectable vote fraud and erroneous vote counts…"

Actually, just the opposite is true, so long as paper ballots (such as optical scan) are used. The reason that any attempts at fraud are easier to detect with IRV is that there is a redundant electronic record (called a ballot image) of each ballot that can be matched one-to-one with the corresponding paper ballot. Cities such as San Francisco (CA) and Burlington (VT) release these ballot files so that any voter can do their own count. Without such redundant ballot records (which are not typical with vote-for-one elections) there is no way to know for certain if the paper ballots have been altered prior to a recount.

17. Dopp: "Violates many election fairness principles…."

This charge reveals either a general lack of understanding, or intentional miss-representation. Every single voting method ever devised must violate some "fairness principles" as some of these criteria are mutually exclusive. Dopp's example in appendix B of "Arrow's fairness condition" (the Pareto Improvement Criterion) completely misunderstands the criterion, and gives an example that has no relevance to it (and contrary to her implication, IRV complies with this criterion). IRV works essentially the same as a traditional runoff election to find a majority winner. When the field narrows to the two finalists in the final instant runoff count, the candidate with more support (ranked more favorably on more ballots) will always win. Some theoretical voting methods may satisfy some "fairness' criteria, such as monotonicity, but then violate other more important criteria such as the majority criterion, or the later-no-harm criterion.

18. Dopp: "Unstable and can be delicately sensitive to noise in the rankings…"

This point has some validity, but is of extremely minor significance. Whenever there is a close election with many candidates, regardless of the voting method, there is a chance that the ultimate winner may win due to the votes of the "most ill-informed voters." Holding a separate runoff as proposed by Dopp as a way of effectively excluding many voters (due to typically smaller turnout) is an anti-democratic approach.

No implementations of IRV in the U.S. have suggested mandating that voters rank all candidates, as is typical in Australia. It is rarely ever important that a voter "fill out a ballot ranking every candidate 10 deep." A study of the related single transferable voting method used in Cambridge (MA) found that in a race with over 20 candidates for nine seats on the city council, approximately 90% of voters saw their first or second choice elected. Dopp's final suggestion of "restricting the ranking depth" so as to ease the cognitive burden on voters and eliminate "noise" of low rankings has been implemented in many U.S. applications, though most experts agree it is preferable to give voters the option to rank as many candidates as they wish.


<1> The rank order ballot used in instant runoff voting (and other voting systems) is known by political scientists as the "single transferable vote" or STV. This balloting procedure has been consistently upheld in United States courts as constitutional and upholding the "one person, one vote" principle. As an example, here is what the Michigan Court ruled in upholding the use of instant runoff voting in an Ann Arbor, Michigan Mayoral race in a 1975 challenge:

"Under the "M.P.V. System" [IRV], however, no one person or voter has more than one effective vote for one office. No voter's vote can be counted more than once for the same candidate. In the final analysis, no voter is given greater weight in his or her vote over the vote of another voter, although to understand this does require a conceptual understanding of how the effect of a "M.P.V. System" is like that of a run-off election. The form of majority preferential voting employed in the City of Ann Arbor's election of its Mayor does not violate the one-man, one-vote mandate nor does it deprive anyone of equal protection rights under the Michigan or United States Constitutions."

page 11, Stephenson v Ann Arbor Board of City Canvassers File No. 75-10166 AW Michigan Circuit Court for the County of Jackson

The Judge also observed on page 7, "Each voter has the same right at the time he casts his or her ballot. Each voter has his or her ballot counted once in any count that determines whether one candidate has a majority of the votes. . . . Far better to have the People's will expressed more adequately in this fashion, than to wonder what would have been the results of a run-off election not provided for."

Response to Gierzynski "Assessment" of IRV

Table of Contents:

1. Introduction
2. response from Prof. Richard DeLeon
3. Response from Terry Bouricius
4. Response from Prof. Jack Nagel
5. Appendix A: further comments by Prof. Richard DeLeon
6. Appendix B: Refutation of Gierzynski's paradox arguments by Terry Bouricius

1. Introduction:

Anthony Gierzynski's "assessment" of IRV is not an impartial academic analysis, and Mr. Gierzynski is not an impartial academic. As Professor Richard DeLeon writes, “Anthony Gierzynski’s assessment of IRV is shoddy, biased, and borders on ridiculous.” His report is misleading and seems motivated by his clearly stated bias against a voting method that accommodates independent and third party candidates. This bias against third parties is not surprising considering that Mr. Gierzynski in 2002 was a Democratic candidate for the Vermont legislature who lost to Progressive candidate Bob Kiss. His analysis of the subsequent IRV election of his former opponent, Bob Kiss, incorporates this bias. His stated solution to the "spoiler" problem, which can punish voters and result in the election of the least preferred candidate, is for third parties to merge into major parties - - a solution that is irrelevant to non-partisan municipal elections, impractical for Vermont and unable to address the potential of independent candidacies that also have been an ongoing feature of Vermont elections.

If one wants a genuinely impartial analysis of IRV, one shouldn't choose a partisan political opponent of the two-time IRV winner in the Burlington mayoral race, merely because he also has an academic credential. There are many genuine experts without axes to grind within the field of political science. Indeed, it should be noted that the primary organization of political science professors, the American Political Science Association (APSA), incorporates IRV into its own constitution for electing its national president.

In addition to this rebuttal of Gierzynski's essay, below you will find comments that have been offered by other political scientists with actual expertise in the area of election methods. These include Prof. Richard DeLeon, Prof. Jack Nagel


2. Response from Prof. Richard DeLeon:

San Francisco State University professor emeritus Richard DeLeon [ ] was founder of the Public Research Institute at SFSU and its long-time director. He was Chair of SFSU's Department of Political Science from 1994-2000, chair of California State University Social Science Research and Instructional Center and author of numerous award-winning articles and books. He was a consultant to SFSU's surveys on ranked choice voting in San Francisco 2005 and 2006. (

“Anthony Gierzynski’s assessment of IRV is shoddy, biased, and borders on ridiculous. It uses tortured logic, cherry-picked “evidence,” and dubious arguments to slam IRV and lamely defend two-party rule and the status quo ante. Worst, it distorts and misrepresents San Francisco’s experience using IRV, which has been used in six elections now with very good results. As documented in two university exit polls, San Francisco voters of all races and classes (a) understand how IRV works, (b) like that it allows them to choose their preferred candidates and not waste their votes, and (c) overwhelmingly prefer IRV to the traditional run-off system.”
[Additional comments from Prof. DeLeon are contained in Appendix A]


3. Response from Terry Bouricius

FairVote policy analyst and former Progressive Party Burlington City Councilor and State Representative

Below is a rebuttal of each of the sections of Gierzynski's "assessment" of IRV.

Discrimination by Complexity:
Anthony Gierzynski argues that by having a more complex ballot, IRV discriminates against less educated voters. At some point, added complexity certainly could introduce significant discrimination into the electoral process. However, Mr. Gierzynski does not provide any evidence that IRV approaches that threshold. In fact, most evidence indicates that education levels have no actual impact on effective use of ranked ballots. Prior to the first use of IRV in Burlington elections, to provide one anecdotal example, third grade students at Burlington's Edmunds Elementary School were asked to use IRV to elect a student council representative. These third-graders easily used the ranked choice system, and there were no spoiled ballots. Gierzynski simply dismisses the fact that the Burlington voters in Wards with the lowest income and education levels had no increase in invalid ballots and were just as likely to mark alternate choices as voters in Wards with higher incomes and education. Instead he relies on an exit poll he conducted in 2006. Gierzynski's 2006 report on that exit poll states:

"In general most voters thought that IRV was a better way to express voting preferences—both theirs and voters’ in general—than the usual system (see Figure 3). Seventy-one percent of respondents agreed that IRV was “a better way to express my voting preferences than the usual system.” Sixty-nine percent agreed that with IRV “the election results will better reflect voter preferences than the usual system.” Regarding any difficulty voters might have had with IRV, only 8.6% of voters said they found the ballot confusing."

However, Gierzynski notes, among the least educated 14.5% agreed the ballot was confusing. Though not insignificant, it still reflects a small minority of such voters, and does not mean there was any corresponding failure to effectively use the ranked ballot. We do not know how many of these voters who found the ballot somewhat confusing, none the less appreciated the additional ranking opportunity, and how many disliked it. For example, a person might say that their cable TV selections are more confusing than having only over-the-air programming, but still want to keep and be able to use cable television. Since virtually every one of these less educated Burlington voters cast valid ballots (99.9% of all IRV ballots were valid), it is unreasonable to suggest, as Gierzynski does, that any class of voters were disenfranchised or harmed.

Much of the rest of Gierzynski's analysis about ballot complexity relates to a hypothetical situation in which IRV might be used for all, or most general election contests, rather than a short municipal ballot. For municipal elections the current "complex" ballot typical in the U.S. does not apply. Typically, towns are only electing two or three offices, and voter turn-out is far lower than in state elections with "complex ballots" with many races. Contrary to Gierzynski's implication, the relative "complexity" of ballots clearly is far less significant than how exciting the races are in terms of affecting turnout. Races with only one or two uncompetitive candidates do not drive high voter turnout. Because IRV accommodates, and as Gierzynski points out, may even encourage more than two candidates while reducing the threat of a "spoiler" scenario, it does appear to somewhat enhance voter turnout. Burlington's two recent IRV mayoral elections had higher turnout than the two preceding mayoral elections (though not higher than some historic races). Aspen (CO) conducted its first ever municipal election using IRV recently and saw the highest turnout for a municipal election ever. However, IRV certainly does not guarantee a high turnout. For example, a recent San Francisco election in which the incumbent mayor won a landslide victory over only token opposition, did not spur high turnout despite the use of IRV.


This section of Mr. Gierzynski's assessment is the most disturbing. It reveals either a lack of basic understanding of voting methods, or an intentional effort to mislead the reader. Gierzynski discusses four voting paradoxes that can occur with IRV, but amazingly fails to note the key fact that these identical paradoxes can also occur under normal plurality elections or two-round runoff elections, and are not at all unique to IRV. He also neglects to mention the dramatic paradox of his preferred system of plurality voting that would have elected the candidate least preferred among the top three candidates in Burlington.

Nothing in this section of his assessment brings any useful information to light, as these paradoxes have nothing to do with any difference between IRV and the voting methods already commonly used throughout the U.S. The only possible purpose for presenting these paradoxes (and not mentioning that they also apply to plurality or runoff elections) is to mislead the reader into assuming they are unique "defects" of IRV.

An exhaustive presentation of paradoxes and election method criteria see

[Appendix B contains a more thorough explanation of the four paradoxes Gierzynski mentions and how all of them also apply to plurality or traditional runoff election systems.]

Addressing the "Real" Problem:

Mr. Gierzynsnki virtually defines "the real problem" as voters getting more than just two choices on the ballot – it is “technical fix” to solve a “political problem” that is the very fact of more than two candidates running. He writes “single seat contests (such as mayor, or US Senator, or governor, or president) provide an incentive for those of similar political mind (that is ideology) to coalesce behind a single candidate in order to win a majority of votes and capture the seat – those that work together to build a majority before elections win, those that don’t, lose. This structural incentives is the main reason the US has a two party system." Mr. Gierzynski goes on to make it clear that he is a strong advocate of the two-party system with only two choices on the ballot.
This view is debatable for state and federal elections and has even less influence in a municipal setting with non-partisan elections. Under a plurality voting system that suffers a serious threat of "spoiler" scenarios, worthy potential candidates often refrain from running so as to avoid causing a split in the majority. Some people may agree with Mr. Gierzynski that democracy is enhanced by such limitations on voter choice, and encouraging behind the scenes negotiations and arrangements prior to the election to avoid having more than just two choices on the ballot. However, I believe that most people believe greater voter choice would be a good thing, so long as the spoiler problem could be mitigated with either a traditional runoff or IRV. Certainly it diminishes some of the worst abuses of attack politics and the impact off campaign spending on those attack ads.


As to the cost of transitioning to IRV, Gierzynski again miss-represents reality. In jurisdictions that replace two-round voting systems (either primary and general, or first round and runoff) with IRV, cost savings are the norm (see the response of the Wake County election administrators about the savings from using IRV here However, there can be a modest net increase in costs if the jurisdiction is replacing single-round plurality elections. The added cost depends largely on the voting equipment in place, and whether it can easily be adapted to ranked ballots. Some jurisdictions may decide a more democratic election process warrants the additional cost and others may not.


Here Mr. Gierzynski has turned reality on its head with his analogy to climate change scientists. Virtually every election method expert knows that the paradoxes Gierzynski discusses are not unique to IRV, but apply to plurality or traditional runoff elections as well. If anything, in his analogy Gierzynski represents the climate change denier, being outside the norm among electoral method experts (I again refer you to the fact that the APSA itself incorporates IRV into its own constitution). Many leading comparative political scientists support instant runoff voting over plurality voting. Some of them can be found on this list:


4. Response from Prof. Jack Nagel

Fullbright Scholar Jack Nagel is graduate chairperson of the Department of Political Science at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania. His area of research includes elections and voting theory. He is Co-Editor of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, on the Editorial Board of Electoral Studies, and on the Editorial Board of Political Science.

Prof. Nagel made this comment after reading Professor Gierzynski’s report:

“IRV always prevents the victory of a candidate that the majority of voters like least. A runoff plan that elects any candidate with a plurality provides no such guarantee. As for repeal advocates’ desire for a two-party system, the two-party system has already broken down in Burlington, so voters will be better served by an election method like IRV that is well adapted to multi-party races. ”


5. Appendix A

Further comments from Prof. DeLeon:

1. Here's a link to my original report on my re-analysis of the PRI exit poll data for the Nov 2004 election in San Francisco:

Most relevant regarding alleged negative effects of ballot complexity etc. are Tables 1 (understanding IRV) & 2 (information burdens of IRV) on p 4, the bottom line critical results in Table 6 (overall preference for IRV vs old system), and Table 7A on p 8, with the interpretive note: "Notice that voters who gathered more information were much more inclined to favor RCV (71%) than were those who gathered less (52%) – a result some readers may find surprising, especially if they view information-gathering as a burden or cost of voting rather than as a benefit."

2. Here's a relevant excerpt from my written testimony to Minnesota State Senate :

QUESTION 1: Did San Francisco voters understand ranked-choice voting?

ANSWER: Yes. More than half the sample voters (52.8%) said they understood ranked-choice voting (RCV) “perfectly well,” and another 35.3% said they understood it “fairly well.” About 12% said they had at least some trouble understanding RCV, including only about 2% who said they did not understand it at all. See Table 1, attached.

QUESTION 2: Did RCV require voters to gather more information about candidates compared to past elections?

ANSWER: Yes, on net, with about 31% of sample voters saying they gathered more information than in the past and only about 7% saying less. The vast majority of voters, however, reported no difference. Whether the need to gather more information is a good or bad thing, however, is an open question. There is evidence, for example, that voters who gathered more information were actually much more pro-IRV than were those who gathered less.
3. The piece I did for the Los Angeles people (see attached) might be of some use. This is based on PRI's exit poll of voters in the Nov 2005 election, with an exclusive focus on the responses of self-identified Latino and Latina voters. Esp. see Tables 3 and 4 and the interpretive notes, particularly this bit following Table 4: "More than four out of five Latino voters in all income classes reported that they understood RCV perfectly or fairly well.

4. In general, there's no evidence I've seen in the 2004 & 2005 PRI exit polls that IRV ballots are so complex or burdensome that they discriminate against lower SES classes of voters by confusing them & discouraging their turnout in elections, etc. For me, the bottom line is that SF voters, including lower SES voters, overwhelmingly prefer IRV to the old system, and for good & plausible reasons (fewer wasted votes, more able to vote for preferred candidates, etc.).

5. One last thought: A much more "complex" version of rank choice voting (in the form of its use in full-blown PR/STV systems) was used by voters in a number of U.S. cities between 1915 & 1960, including some big ones like Cincinnati & Cleveland in Ohio, and the voters had no problem with using it with good results -- and this long before computers & when the average schooling level was much lower. See Kathleen L. Barber's book, Proportional Representation and Election Reform in Ohio (Ohio State Univ Press, 1995). In her conclusions, she writes: "The conventional wisdom came to be that the PR/STV ballot was too complicated for people to understand, causing turnout to decline. In four of the five cities this turned out not to be true...." p 308. Re claim that ranked choice voting leads to greater conflict, she writes: "In none of the Ohio cities using PR elections was there a significant increase in conflict among council members. In fact, it appears that the electoral pressures of ranked voting led to greater consensus as campaign styles changed." p 308. Her overall conclusion is that: "In these five Ohio cities, PR/STV was demonstrated to be an electoral system technically capable of facilitating public decision making in complex communities as well as producing fair representation." p 309.


6. Appendix B: Refutation of Gierzynski's paradox arguments
by Terry Bouricius

All of the paradoxes Anthony Gierzynski describes apply to common plurality or two-round runoff election systems as well as IRV, and are thus irrelevant to deciding between these voting methods. He also neglects to discuss the far more serious paradoxes of plurality elections (such as the fact that the candidate who the large majority of voters agree is the single worst candidate can win under plurality rules).

Gierzynski describes a paradox known as the "Condorcet cycle" paradox (the rock/paper/scissors cycle of winners). This is simply a restatement of a well know fact among political scientists that with three or more choices, it is mathematically possible that no single candidate is favored by a majority of voters over all other candidates. Such a cycle could exist, even if unrecognized in any election using plurality rules. The declared "winner" of a plurality election with less than 50% could even be the single candidate that the majority of voters believe is the worst choice (which can't happen with IRV). Likewise if there is an actual tie between two candidates, there will be no "majority winner." These non-majority realities are not "caused" by IRV or any other voting system. They are simply mathematical truisms and have no relevance to choosing a voting method. No voting system can ultimately guarantee to find a majority winner since there may not be one to be found. However, the standard method to try and find a majority winner used in the U.S. is to reduce the field of candidates to two finalists and hope that in the runoff there isn't a tie. This is the same logic used by IRV.

Another paradox Gierzynski mentions deals with what is called the "Condorcet winner." In the Burlington example he uses, the candidate in third place (Andy Montroll) was the preferred compromise second choice of the supporters of both of the stronger candidates (Bob Kiss and Kurt Wright). If Montroll had somehow made it into a runoff against either Wright or Kiss he might have won. Using the logic of a traditional runoff, having less core support than Kiss or Wright, Montroll with 23% support did not make it into the final IRV runoff tally. However, it would be possible to write election rules that made a series of pair-wise comparisons of all five candidates in that race to see if one candidate would theoretically beat all comers. There are advocates of such voting rules within academia, though there is no track record for such a system for governmental elections. One reason such a system would have a hard time passing muster, is that it would be possible for the candidate who came in dead last in terms of "first choices" to be the Condorcet winner simply by being inoffensive. However, it seems bit disingenuous for Gierzynski to fault IRV for failing to elect this weak compromise candidate who also would have lost under plurality elections (finishing in third place) or a traditional runoff election (being eliminated before the final runoff.). IRV found the "majority winner" in the same sense that a traditional runoff election does…by narrowing the field to the two strongest finalists and seeing which is preferred by more voters. Just as in a traditional runoff election, some voters may sit out the final runoff, by staying home in the case of a separate runoff, or by declining to indicate which of the two finalists they prefer over the other, in the case of IRV. This right to abstain should be respected, but should not prevent the conclusion of the election process with the declaration of a winner.

He mentions the "non-monotonic" paradox, in which a candidate who receives more votes from voters who otherwise supported an opponent, thereby goes from being a winner to a loser. This ironic possibility exists in any runoff election or any election based on two rounds of voting in which some candidates are eliminated in the first round. It is not actually the additional votes going to this candidate that cause the switch to a defeat, but rather the change in relative positions of the other candidates that results from the swapped votes, such that this otherwise winner ends up facing a stronger opponent in the final runoff. For example, in any runoff election (whether instant or two round) there is a possibility that a voter might help her favorite candidate by instead of voting for that favorite, by voting for a weak opponent in the first round, so that her favorite candidate will have a better chance of winning in the second round. Of course this strategy can easily back-fire if too many voters attempt it and is counter-intuitive in IRV elections. Since under IRV voters cannot make this strategic switch in the first round only, it is a far less likely scenario than under two-round runoff elections, where voters can switch to their true favorite in the second round. Thus this particular paradox is significantly more likely to be a factor in a traditional runoff election than in an IRV election. A court affidavit by Prof. Jack Nagel in a Minnesota court case involving this issue is available here:

Note that the Minnesota court and on appeal, the Minnesota Supreme Court, concurred and upheld IRV.

A fourth paradox he mentions is the "no-show" paradox, which again is common to both IRV and all runoff elections throughout the U.S. It is possible in a traditional runoff election, that by staying home during the first round of voting, voters may keep their favorite candidate from advancing to the final round. But in this final match-up, if their favorite were a candidate, he or she would lose to a candidate the voter thinks is the worst candidate. However, by sitting out the first round of voting, an acceptable compromise candidate might make it into the final match-up against the hated candidate, and this compromise candidate has broader appeal and can win.