Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Truth About Instant Runoff Voting - It Does Not Work As Advertised and Here is Proof

Instant Runoff Voting does not work as well as advertised, and has unintended consequences . IRV does not save money, does not reduce negative campaigning, does not simplify elections, does not increase turnout and does not provide a majority outcome in most elections. In fact, most often it provides a plurality result.

Administering instant runoff voting in US elections is like trying to put a square tire on a car... you can do it but you are in for a bumpy ride: IRV is a vastly different way to cast, count and value ballots and its results are non-intuitive. Implementation is complicated, expensive, damaging to election transparency, and the confidence in election results. IRV may negatively impact racial minorities. The list of places that have tried and rejected instant runoff voting continues to grow: Aspen Colorado, Cary North Carolina, Pierce County Washington, Burlington Vermont, the Utah Republican Party and even Georgetown University. IRV is not a solution, but a problem.

IRV is not "as easy as 1-2-3". It requires extensive, costly and repeated voter education. San Francisco spent $1.87 per registered voter per year in the IRV elections they have done since 2004 - yet a recent San Francisco civil grand jury
report indicates that more needs to be done, because voters and poll workers still don't know enough about IRV after 4 IRV elections.

In Cary, North Carolina's
2008 bi-annual citizen survey, a significant percent of respondents did not understand IRV. 58.6% indicated they understood IRV, 30.6% did not understand IRV, and 22.0% polled did not understand IRV at all. Overall this indicates a degree of misunderstanding among the respondents. That is shocking when you consider that Cary has the most Ph.D.s per capita in the U.S. for towns larger than 75,000 people. On May 5, 2009 in Aspen Colorado, the first IRV election left "plenty of voters confused at the polls.... And the whirlwind runoffs after three hours of tallying votes left plenty of observers at a loss to explain exactly how the results were tabulated."

Even University of Virginia students were confused by the results of recent instant runoff voting election for student body. ( Marginal mayhem The University Board of Elections should educate the student body further about its voting methodology Lead Editorial / Opinion March 3, 2010)
Strangely enough, the candidate with the most 1st and 2nd choice votes lost. Even the winner of the UVA's IRV election didn't understand the results. Consider that UVA "has ranked ...among the top 25 nationally since the first U.S. News rankings came out in 1988.

IRV actually hurts third parties. IRV leads to two party domination wherever used. IN March 2010, the only elected official in San Francisco who was a member of the Green Party switched to the Democratic Party. ( Green Party San Francisco City Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi switches affiliation to Democratic Independent Political Report. March 11th, 2010).
One reason is because if a voter puts a third party candidate as his or her first choice, it can hurt the chances of the voter’s second choice major party candidate, who could potentially be eliminated in the first round, causing that voter’s last choice to be selected for office

IRV entrenches a two party system. After decades of use of IRV, Australian Politics attests to that in
Disadvantages of the Preferential [IRV] System ... "promotes a two-party system to the detriment of minor parties and independents."
The Center for Range Voting reports: "The three IRV countries: Ireland (mandated in their 1937 constitution), Australia and Malta (and more recently Fiji for a brief period of IRV democracy before its coup) all are 2-party dominated (in IRV seats)" - from the report
"Why does IRV lead to 2-party domination?

IRV does NOT help voter turnout. Implementation of IRV corresponded with a drastic drop in
voter turnout in San Francisco's mayoral contests. In the 2007 mayoral/municipal election, turnout was only 35.61%, with 100,000 fewer voters than in the mayoral runoff in 2003 where 54% of the voters turned out to vote.

IRV consistently suffers from
majority failure. See An Instant Runoff Voting Majority is not what you think In San Francisco,"majority" is of the "continuing" ballots, not a majority of all ballots:

"If no candidate receives a majority of votes from the continuing ballots after a candidate has been eliminated and his or her votes have been transferred to the next-ranked candidate, the continuing candidate with the fewest votes from the continuing ballots shall be eliminated. All votes cast for that candidate shall be transferred to the next-ranked continuing candidate on each voter's ballot. This process of eliminating candidates and transferring their votes to the next-ranked continuing candidates shall be repeated until a candidate receives a majority of the votes from the continuing ballots."
this link and type in the SEC. 13.102 in search box.

In other words, the majority consists of the votes left after others are eliminated. The elimination of ballots and the exhaustion of ballots (the point a ballot does not have choices marked) is part of the reason that in many instant runoff voting elections often suffer
majority failure.

There are two possible reasons for this "majority failure":

First, as in a common plurality or two-election runoff system, there may be a compromise candidate who is preferred by most voters to the actual winner, but whose lack of first choice support meant the candidate did not make it into the final runoff.

Secondly, exhausted ballots, those with no votes on them for any remaining candidate, can result in the IRV winner not having received a vote from a majority of voters, but only a majority of votes from remaining ballots

In Cary, North Carolina in 2007 - after running voters 1, 2n and 3rd choices, Don Frantz obtained 1,401 votes,which is 46.36% of all votes cast in the Cary District B contest. See
Cary IRV election results for Oct. 2007.

In Pierce County Washington's first IRV election, 2 out of 3 Pierce County RCV "winners" don't have a true majority and in Burlington Vermont's 2nd IRV election, held in 2009 the winner did not get a majority of all votes cast. Bob Kiss had 4313 - or 48.41% of the original 8909, not 51.5%

IRV does not save money

Instant Runoff Voting creates new costs - upfront costs for purchase of new voting systems and software, and increased administrative costs in future elections. Several jurisdictions including Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Pierce County Washington, Vermont and San Francisco have performed fiscal analysis showing that IRV creates new and high capitol expenditures and new administrative
costs in elections. San Francisco has utilized IRV since 2004, yet has not saved money overall according to their net annual costs from 2000-2008.

Pierce County, WA reports actual costs of IRV for their first IRV election. From an
official recap of their 2008 IRV election:

2008 General Election Costs $1,664,542
RCV One Time Costs $857,025 - Software, Education, Equipment
RCV Ongoing Costs $769,773 - Printing, Paper, Envelopes, Education, Staff
RCV Subtotal $1,626,798
Total Costs $3,291,340

The County needed an additional 4 more charter amendments to clarify the implementation of IRV before they could move forward. The precinct scanners were "Not robust enough to handle RCV ballot image, would not support multiple precincts". As a result, Pierce adopted central counting of the ballots. They hired 114 Ballot Transporters and Ballot Processors and instituted 24 hour shifts to check in, visually scan and tabulate polling place ballots. The county hired and trained over 600 staff. Officials worked "24 hours per day for one week to tabulate ballots followed by 17 hour days up to certification."

Chris Telesca sums it up: "It cost 2 million to implement an un-certified system for 375,589 votes - or $5.33 per registered voter! That is on top of the regular costs of their election system. And in two of the three races that used IRV to decided the "winner", the "winner" didn't get a majority of the first column votes cast! Now 2 out of 3 voters in Pierce County want to ditch IRV after their first election!" - comments Chris Telesca of No IRV for NC blog.

Also see
Instant Runoff Voting too Costly - Pierce County WA Says Ditching Would Save $600,000

IRV has other start up costs besides just voting machines: The state of Maryland estimated start up costs totalling $12.5 Million. This includes for Documentation revision $5,000,000, Agency IT costs 4,500,000, Voter education 3,000,000 and Election judge training development 50,000. This does not even include the voting machines or software.

Cary, North Carolina costs were neither estimated nor tracked - voter education was mainly provided by the advocacy groups promoting IRV, ballots were counted by hand. The exit poll was conducted by IRV advocates, and data reported to a University Professor working pro bono. The IRV pilots were basically done off the books.

IRV affects Campaign Finance Disclosure.

The city of Minneapolis Minnesota failed to up date campaign finance rules to fit with IRV. According to the Minnesota Star Tribune in
Run-off voting delays finance disclosure June 7, 2009 : "candidates won't have to file the usual pre-primary report around Labor Day showing who has contributed to their campaigns."

Minneapolis is not alone in muddling this. San Francisco also
had a campaign finance problem when they first implemented IRV. From a NY Times article: San Francisco's New Election System Runs Into an Obstacle By DEAN E. MURPHY Published: October 17, 2004 "...several campaigns have been advised by the Ethics Commission staff that city and state laws appear to ban cooperation among candidates if it involves the expenditure of campaign funds."

IRV does NOT reduce or eliminate negative campaigning

See September 6, 2008 Letter from San Francisco: Politicos turning against Instant Runoff and Politics are nasty as ever of the "progressives" who pushed for IRV no longer believes in it. Here's a letter from a blogger who lives in San Francisco, the largest IRV jurisdiction in the country. Supervisor. Daly is one of the "progressives" who pushed for IRV. Blogger H. Brown says now Daly is against IRV because he wants to try and control votes. He even advocated "bullet voting" - something you CAN'T DO under IRV.

Also, see
Instant Runoff Voting Not Meeting Expectations - Part II by John Dunbar for "Beyond Chron" Nov. 17‚ 2005 , Dunbar says "there is no evidence IRV is stemming the flow of hit pieces. In the 2004 supervisor contests Districts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 all witnessed negative campaigning. Some negative campaigns used robo calls, others used the mail while others used both. The District 1 race broke new ground with negative street signs. In this year's contests, there were hit pieces."

IRV is complex to count
IRV increases reliance on
more complex and bleeding edge technology and requires the central counting of votes. This is in direct conflict with North Carolina statute § 163-182.2. and opens elections up to the risks of ballot box stuffing or tampering.

IRV is not additive. There is no such thing as a "subtotal" in IRV. In IRV every single vote may have to be sent individually to the central agency (1,000,000·N numbers, i.e. 1000 times more communication). [Actually there are clever ways to reduce this, but it is still bad.] If the central agency then computes the winner, and then some location sends a correction, that may require redoing almost the whole computation over again. There could easily be 100 such corrections and so you'd have to redo everything 100 times. Combine this scenario with a near-tie and legal and extra-legal battle like in Bush-Gore Florida 2000 over the validity of every vote, and this adds up to a complete nightmare for the election administrators.

The complexity of counting IRV ballots leads to great logistical problems and time-delays as in
San Francisco . IRV counting cannot be started until after all absentee and provisional ballots are judged eligible and are ready to count because any mistake in the first counting round requires that the counting process must be begun all over again. (Imagine recounts of each IRV round in a Minnesota-like recount!)

IRV is not transparent.
Voters have to rely on people instead of an open process.
From Voting Matters Blog:
The counting of IRV is complex — the elimination of some candidates at the end of the first round means that second choice votes are transferred to other candidates. If a third round is required the elimination and transfer process continues. The average voter has to place great trust in the reliability of the counting algorithm in a way far beyond what is necessary in plurality voting. So the counting is opaque and non-transparent — a kind of voting voodoo with election officials in the role of witch doctor producing the magical results. If one believes strongly that the average voter should be able to understand and observe the counting of votes in a democracy, then IRV fails to meet this standard.

Current IRV Vote Counting Computers are experimental and not trustworthy

Any jurisdiction that switches to new IRV capable voting machines will be beta testing them. That is beta - testing millions of dollars worth of computerized voting machines. These machines are considered to meet federal standards
as long as they do not exceed a 9.2% failure rate in a 15-hour election day. San Francisco spent over a million dollars to provide IRV capability for their optical scanners, ES&S Optech Eagles. After three years of beta testing the special IRV software created for them, problems were discovered: the algorithm was flawed, undervotes weren't being reported in some cases, and also the machines couldn't read all popular types of ink. San Francisco has new Sequoia voting machines that have not been federally certified yet. The city has been granted 2 exemptions from state standards for voting machines so that San Francisco officials wouldn't have to count IRV ballots by hand.

Pierce County 2008 IRV election recap: In 2008, Pierce County Washington had to obtain Emergency/Provisional permission to use the new IRV capable voting machines. During the certification it was determined that the Polling Place Tabulators (Insights) could not be used. Washington State certification testing of the Sequoia Ranked Choice Voting system found serious software defects that caused votes to be tabulated inaccurately – defects that Sequoia was unaware of until the state pointed them out. Backed into a corner since the other choice was to hand count the vote, the state allowed the use of the software anyway. Officials learned that the precinct scanners were "Not robust enough to handle RCV ballot image, would not support multiple precincts". As a result, Pierce adopted central counting of the ballots. They hired 114 Ballot Transporters and Ballot Processors and instituted 24 hour shifts to check in, visually scan and tabulate polling place ballots. The county hired and trained over 600 staff. Officials worked "24 hours per day for one week to tabulate ballots followed by 17 hour days up to certification."
If you want to read more details about the Pierce County problem, look at this report, ( ) and here ( ).

Scotland - after the May 2007 debacle, a report was issued that "... strongly recommends against introducing electronic voting for the 2011 elections, until the electronic counting problems from the 2007 elections are resolved." according to the
Register UK .

Instant Runoff Voting Results are not intuitive

It will be harder to detect fraud or tallying errors in an IRV election. The recent Burlington Vermont mayoral election exhibited paradoxes where IRV likely thwarted the will of the voters. See March 12th, 2009
Voting Paradoxes and Perverse Outcomes: Political Scientist Tony Gierzynski Lays Out A Case Against Instant Runoff Voting
Also see
Burlington Instant Runoff Election riddled with pathologies The instant runoff election in Burlington,Vermont suffered from nearly every pathology in the book! Non monotonicity, the spoiler effect, the no show effect, and majority failure.

Traditional Runoff Elections are much better than IRV

Consider the experience of two different municipalities, one using instant runoff voting and one not. In the Cary, North Carolina 2007 experiment, the winner of an "instant runoff" in the District B Town Council contest took office with less than 40 percent of the first-choice votes cast, and less than 50 percent of the votes of people who showed up on Election Day. Only voters who ranked either of the top two candidates had a say in the "runoff". It is possible that in a one-on-one contest, where voters would know who the top two candidates were - the outcome would have been different.

In Rocky Mount, where there was a traditional runoff on a separate day, more voters had a say than would be possible with instant runoff voting. In Rocky Mount's October election, City Council member Lois Watkins trailed a better-funded challenger, Tom Looney, by 12 votes. In a November runoff between the two, 448 more voters came to the polls than had in the October election. Watkins won the election with the votes of 60 percent of all those who showed up. This would not have been possible with instant runoff voting.

In San Francisco, the value of IRV may be questionable: In 2007, many SF Voters did not utilize the option to rank choices.
94% of absentee voters did not list 3 choices on their ballots in the November municipal election, even though the field of candidates for mayor was large.
There was confusion over ranking. According to
a Nov 8, 2007 Electionline report . "Voters also questioned the value of ranked-choice voting." "There are a lot of people who only mark one [candidate] or the same person three times," "I don't want to vote for a second one, I want this one."

Instant Runoff Voting is no solution, says election official who was there Debra Goldberg • Asheville Citizen Times August 27, 2008. Debra Goldberg, a former Wake County NC Election Official observed: "In the Cary IRV pilot, I can tell you that many voters left their backup choices blank, and that many other voters wrote in backup candidates with names such as 'Mickey Mouse' and 'Donald Duck.' This is direct evidence that many voters did not understand or accept IRV. Candidates involved in the IRV pilot in Cary have voiced doubts about the process."

Other election methods that do not damage election integrity:

Besides the traditional election + runoff method - thresholds can be adjusted, or other voting methods such as Fusion, Approval or other can be considered.
The state of Oregon just adopted Fusion Voting, a system that allows political parties a say in the process by way of endorsing other parties or candidates on the ballot. This method does not complicate vote tallying, and can be used without any modifications to voting systems including voting machines, levers, or hand counted paper ballots. Fusion voting was legal in Oregon and much of the country in the 19th century, and the Unity Party, Oregon's branch of the Populist Party, often fused with the Democrats in electing populists to office. New York, Delaware, Connecticut, South Carolina and Vermont all have some form of fusion voting,

does not help racial minorities and may even impede them

"Instant runoff voting is really really has eliminated the opportunity..." ~ Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (
Video). Stella Adams - Vice Chair of North Carolina Democratic Party and Housing Chair and Economic Empowerment Coordinator at NC NAACP threatened legal action if the city of Durham adopted IRV: "I am absolutely to the core opposed to instant runoff voting. And I believe that the issue of Instant runoff voting has clouded the discussions. And I want to make it very clear that that will cost the city money, not save the city money. Because I promise you that I will be protecting my right to vote, with legal action should you choose to do that. "
The Center for Range Voting has studied IRV races and says "It has sometimes been stated (falsely) by IRV-propagandists, that IRV helps minorities. But in fact, the available evidence indicates it hurts them." IRV may have depressed racial minority representation in Australia (used for decades there) or Takoma Park Maryland, home town of Fair Vote Director Rob Richie. In San Francisco, the only racial minority candidate to be assisted by IRV was Ed Jew, who was elected City Supervisor of District 4 in 2007, a district that he did not even live in. On election day, 73.8 percent of the voters in District 4 expressed a preference for someone other than Ed Jew. In late 2008, Jew pled guilty to both extortion and perjury charges, and was sentenced to 64 months in state prison for extortion, and a year in county jail for perjury "

may negatively impact the disabled. The Scottish Disability group "Capability Scotland" - has a report on the blundered May 2007 Scottish election and how IRV (or STV) impacted disabled voters. Several changes were implemented all at once, including using STV on one of the 2 ballot papers given to each voter. A “Polls Apart” survey specifically asked respondents for their views on the 'single transferable vote' system, with 36% stating that this made it more difficult to vote

See our
news page for the latest problems with IRV and efforts to implement it.
IRV is marred with problems, creates new costs and procedures, and requires voters to put their confidence in a handful of experts, rather than in a transparent election process. If the objective of an election process is to discern the will of the voters, then that process must be the simplest, most transparent and most enfranchising method for all voters. That is not IRV.

To those who value democracy and honest elections:

Election integrity watchdog Brad Friedman has an important warning about Instant Runoff Voting to folks who value democracy and honest elections. We can't even count votes the plain old vanilla way yet, but we are told we should adopt IRV and make elections more complicated. Brad has some sharp words.

Blogged by Brad Friedman on 6/2/2009 1:38PM
'Instant Runoff Voting' (IRV) Election Virus Spreads to Los Angeles County
Joins 'Internet Voting' and 'Vote-by-Mail' schemes as the latest bad ideas poised to further cripple American democracy

...the last thing this county needs is to complicate the math even further by confusing matters with IRV's complicated scheme of ranked choice voting where voters are asked to select a first and second place choices, etc.

For that matter, unless, and until, we can simplify our election procedures such that any and all citizens are able to oversee and verify the accuracy of their election results, no jurisdiction in this country should employ schemes like IRV, no matter how well-meaning supporters of it may be in hoping to allow a broader range of candidates and parties to have a shot at winning an election.

Along with the emerging nightmares of Internet Voting and Vote-by-Mail, IRV is yet another one of the horrible wack-a-mole schemes being endlessly advanced by advocates and profiteers who put winning elections and making money off them, over the idea of transparent, verifiable, secure democracy and self-governance expressed of the people, by the people and for the people....

For more about instant runoff voting see our website Instant Runoff Voting in the US.

About Instant Runoff Voting Facts Vs Fiction
We study the impact of instant runoff voting on voters rights, election administration and election outcome. Our goal is to ensure the dignity and integrity of the intention of each voting citizen. We welcome inquiries from the media, public officials, voter advocacy groups and concerned citizens.For more information or to obtain interviews with election experts contact Joyce McCloy, Director of InstantRunoffVoting.US via phone 336.794.1240 or email info (at)