Sunday, February 7, 2010

Instant runoff voting method challenged in San Francisco, the substance of the case

A suite against San Francisco's method of instant runoff voting was filed last week. See
Suit challenges San Francisco election practice

I just looked at a
copy of the lawsuit.

Its no surprise that Rob Richie (who is director of a non profit corporation that promotes instant runoff voting) says that S.F. Ranked-Choice Voting Lawsuit
is a 'Waste of Taxpayers' Money'
Be sure to read the comments - RR attacks other commenters for having an agenda. Never mind that Rob Richie is a paid promoter of instant runoff voting. RR's claim that political consultants lose money because of IRV is ludicrous - if anything, IRV will be a stimulus package for political consultants. Oakland CA's city attorney has proposed doubling the campaign donation limits because of IRV.

The key points of the case:

The issue of the constitutionality is based on HOW IRV is conducted in SF at this time.

Page 2: ...the instant runoff voting system being implemented in San Francisco is unorthodox and-at the time it was adopted-unprecedented in that it allows a voter to "rank" only three candidates even though there are often more than three candidates running for a particular office. San Francisco's novel system violates the constitutional rights of voters because it arbitrarily and illegally extinguishes a voters right to vote once his or her three ranked candidates are eliminated from contention. The result has been that in election after election thousands of voters have illegally had their votes "exhausted" and been denied the right to participate in subsequent rounds of balloting while other voters have been allowed to participate fully. As such the instant runoff voting system used in San Francisco violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment, and 42 U.S.C 1983.

There's much more to the suit, but that is why the plaintiffs are addressing the issue of constitutionality. The issue of exhausted ballots explains why instant runoff voting does not produce a true majority. In fact, San Francisco had to change the charter to redefine what a majority is:

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." SEC. 13.102. -INSTANT RUNOFF ELECTIONS(D)

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.

The ironic thing is that many people who support IRV do so because they believe that IRV helps third party candidates and the third parties. But because of the math of IRV and the need for name recognition and or big money to get enough votes, IRV hurts third parties:

IRV leads to two party domination:

"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) – despite having many other features in their governments which would seem much more multiparty-genic than the USA with IRV added will ever have.
From the Center for Range Voting's report "Why does IRV lead to 2-party domination?

Another issue will be - if a judge instructs San Francisco to allow ranking all candidates, then this will be rather unwieldy using a paper ballot system as IRV uses up alot of "real estate" on the ballot.

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1 comment:

Dale Sheldon said...

Interesting. Wouldn't the claim that IRV-3 "illegally" truncates a voter's ballot after their first 3 choices have been eliminated apply equally to first-past-the-post voting, since it "illegally" truncates a voter's ballot after their *first* choice has been eliminated?

Although the "majority means majority of continuing ballots" argument sounds like it may have some legs to it, particularly if the plaintiffs can find an example election where the outcome would have been changed by continuing until either one candidate had a majority of all votes cast or all but two candidates had been eliminated.

Sounds to me like some people believed the IRV propaganda, and have adopted a "it's not working because it's not REALLY IRV" mindset; but if they think a few simple tweaks (more than 3 rankings, total instead of continuing majority) will make IRV really work, then they're going to be in for a world of continuing disappointment.