Monday, December 21, 2009

Experts rebut Gautam Dutta instant runoff voting piece in LA Daily Times

Instant runoff voting doesn't do all that Gautam Dutta claims, say some experts. On Dec 14, 2009 the Los Angeles Daily Times ran this op/ed:

Gautam Dutta: End L.A.'s losing streak with Instant Runoff Voting
By Gautam Dutta. Gautam Dutta is deputy director of New America Foundation's Political Reform Program. 12/14/2009 WHEN it comes to elections, Angelenos are mired in a vicious losing streak.

Take last week's City Council runoff election between Paul Krekorian and Christine Essel. While Krekorian won the two-person runoff, thousands of people actually lost: Essel, Los Angeles voters, and Los Angeles taxpayers.

Comments by elections methods experts disagree with claims made in Mr. Dutta's OP:

Jim RIley Dallas, TX Reply » Report Abuse #9 Wednesday Dec 16
Turnout in the runoff was 23% higher than in September, and 92% higher than the last time the election was contested at a general election in 2007.

Mr. Krekorian would had to receive an improbable 93% of transfers from the other 8 candidates to have garnered the support that he did in the runoff.

More likely the split would have been about 1/3 for Essel, 1/3 for Krekorian, and 1/3 exhausted, as confused or indifferent voters expressed only one preference, or were unable or unwilling to guess which candidates might be contenders.

Krekorian would have received the support of about 2/3 as many voters as he actually did, and quite possibly not a majority of ballots actually cast in September.

If Los Angeles wished to save money, it would switch to 2-year terms for all city offices to eliminate the consequences of officials such as Wendy Greuel jumping offices mid-term. Alternatively, they could require candidates who want to run for another office to resign prior to the general election, so that a special election can be held concurrent with the general election.

Jim Riley Dallas, TX Reply » Report Abuse #10 Wednesday Dec 16
The last conventional runoff for mayor in San Francisco (2003) saw an increase in turnout of 22%, with turnout over 54% of registered voters. In 2007, the only IRV mayoral election in SF, turnout was off an astounding 40% from 2003, and less than 36% of voters bothered to vote.

IRV advocates cite the 2005 election in San Francisco as proof of the increased turnout under IRV, but neglect to note that it was concurrent with the statewide special election called to consider a number of initiatives supported by Governor Schwarzenegger. There were similar turnouts from Mendocino to San Diego. Turnout in Los Angeles County was 47%, even though in the city of LA, there were only two special city council elections.

Last month in SF, votes cast for the same offices as 2009 (Treasurer and City Attorney) were down 58% and 56% from 2005.

If we compare votes cast for those offices in 2001, we see a 33% decline from 2001, when the last conventional election was held.

Warren_D_Smith Kings Park, NY Reply »
Report Abuse #12
A few falsehoods in the Dutta piece and in the comments:
Falsehood #1. Dutta "...and their rankings are then used to determine the majority winner." Reality #1: actually, IRV can fail to elect Majority Winners, and it is wrong to claim it always elects them. An example is Burlington VT mayor election of 2009, where IRV refused to elect the majority winner Montroll and forced Kiss down the throats of Burlington residents even though in their votes they said (by majority they preferred Montroll. Details:

Falsehood #2: Dutta: If Los Angeles adopts IRV for all of its elections, taxpayers will save nearly $10 million every two years. Reality #2: IRV can either raise or lower costs. For example, In San Francisco, the costs rose. Details in:

Falsehood #3: Dutta: Equally important, IRV will encourage candidates to run cleaner, issue-based campaigns.
Reality #3: IRV proponents have often said this, but so far I'd say with no evidence.(For example, Dutta presented no evidence for it, he merely asserted it.) What little evidence actually exists, is mixed and unconvincing.

Falsehood #4: Northrop:
"IRV has been used successfully for over 80 years in democracies such as Australia and Ireland without the spoiler effect that we have in the US." --actually;
(a) spoiler effect still occurs with IRV. Indeed, it (also) occurred in the Burlington election cited above (that web page explains).

(b) IRV although used in Ireland for 80 years has so far only yielded a different winner than plain plurality voting in ONE SINGLE INSTANCE in all of Irish history. But in that one instance, IRV exhibited several pathologies. So Irish IRV has not exactly been a shining example encouraging the world to adopt IRV. Instead, the Irish experience argues pretty convincingly IRV has been a waste of time. Details:

One of the main problems with the spoiler effect is that it causes voting for third parties to be risky and a wasted vote. As a result the third parties die out and we get 2-party domination. That's bad because democracy with few choices is not a good democracy. All those problems can still happen with IRV. That is why Australia's house (the body it elects with IRV) is currently 2-party dominated, with ZERO third-party members holding seats this house. Also zero the previous house. Also zero the one before that.

Subelman: "There is an alternative IRV scheme that is workable: in an election with more than two candidates, you vote for as many as you want. The one with the most votes wins." Response: This is called "approval voting." It is far simpler and cheaper than IRV and can be done with "dumb" voting machines. I recommend it more than IRV, as do most political scientists. The book "Approval Voting" by Brams & Fishburn discusses its properties.

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