Thursday, October 29, 2009


Roberts Rules DOES NOT recommend Instant Runoff Voting. Period. What they recommend is not IRV as implemented everywhere, nor as proposed by FairVote. There is a crucial difference, and that difference is relevant.

What Robert's rules "describes" (not "recommends") is not what is described as Instant Runoff Voting. It is similar, but different, in an important way that points out how the claim that IRV always elects a majority winner is a tautology. It*creates* a "majority winner" in some cases by discarding ballots, by excluding them from the majority.

From the list of election-methods FairVote on Robert's Rules of Order and IRV
Abd ul-Rahman LomaxSat, 20 Dec 2008

Robert's Rules are pretty clear: avoid making decisions, including elections, without a majority vote, and they don't fall into the trap of thinking that one gets a majority by excluding ballots without a vote for the top two.
But what they describe as "preferential voting," while the rules are single transferable vote, do *not* elect by plurality, they merely make it easier to find a majority, and they suggest that voters be made aware that if they do not rank enough candidates, the election might fail to find a majority "and must be repeated."

FairVote has radically misrepresented this section of RRONR, and that misrepresentation has been taken up and repeated by election officials in places which have implemented IRV or RCV. The method described in RRONR is indeed "better than election by plurality," but what is being implemented is, in some of the applications, no better than plurality: it *is* plurality, almost always. That's with nonpartisan elections. There are subtle but crucial differences between what RRONR describes and what is being implemented: the most important is that election by plurality is allowed, and the dirty little secret is that IRV usually, with nonpartisan elections, where full ranking is not obligatory, does not find a majority if one did not exist in the first round; further, it only rarely -- no examples so far in the U.S. with nonpartisan elections! -- finds any winner other than the first round leader.

In other words, with all the jurisdictions that have implemented IRV, with nonpartisan elections, no results have been shifted from what Plurality would have obtained. But results almost certainly *have* shifted: most of these jurisdictions were ones that required a runoff election if a majority wasn't found, and runoff elections, depending on rules, do find a real majority, at least in some senses, and even when the method is open to write-in votes, majorities are normal.

IRV is replacing top-two runoff, not Plurality, usually, so the comparison with Plurality is a false one. And top-two runoff, while certainly not perfect, is different from IRV in a number of important ways. Regardless of theory, it seems that about one out of three TTR elections results in a "comeback" where the first round leader loses to the runner-up. Since IRV is not presenting us with these, in nonpartisan elections, we can be fairly sure that IRV is changing results from TTR (better) to Plurality (worse).

FairVote, in describing or giving examples of how IRV works, focuses on *partisan* elections, where vote transfers follow some relatively predictable pattern. Not as strong a pattern as they or voting systems theorists often predict, but still strong enough to shift results. So the Green candidate is eliminated and *some* of the votes go to the Democrat. Not all. Usually, it turns out, there are enough exhausted ballots that a majority still is not found. IRV is a form of election by plurality, merely a slightly more sophisticated one that can *sometimes* fix the spoiler effect.

And who benefits from that? Mostly the major parties, which is why IRV, where it is significantly used, is associated with strong two-party systems. What voting system is associated with multiparty systems? ...

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