Wednesday, February 24, 2010

National Group FairVote $ Promoting Instant Runoff Voting - outside influence on local elections

The clamor for instant runoff voting comes from outside groups. Just look at the money that pro IRV groups spend on lobbying. Small jurisdictions are no match for the big money and slick sales pitches used to promote instant runoff voting. This week a Vermont news-paper reports on the outside money being spent to try to retain instant runoff voting in Burlington.

Burlington IRV draws outside money Wednesday, February 24, 2010 The group fighting to retain instant-runoff voting for mayor in Burlington, 50 Percent Matters, is funded largely by non-Burlington groups.

About 78 percent of the $14,819 the group has raised comes from sources from outside Burlington. That includes $5,000 from the nonprofit advocacy organization Vermont Public Interest Research Group and $6,500 from Fairvote, a Takoma, Md., group that supports election reform.

Learn more about outside groups' dollars spent on lobbying for instant runoff voting in Davis, CA., and Burlington VT, Minneapolis MN, Pierce Co WA, and Oakland CA. From data we've unearthed so far, FairVote has spent approx $65,000 at least on the promotion of IRV just in Pierce County Washington:

Here's some data from the 2005, 2006 and 2007 990 filings found at And a recent news article.

FairVote donated $22,000 to support a political campaign in Pierce Co WA:

Pierce charter amendment supporters, opponents squabble over campaign cash
Posted By David Wickert on October 15, 2009. State Public Disclosure Commission records show Citizens Against Rigging the System, which opposes the charter amendments, has accepted $22,000 from Fair Vote, a Maryland nonprofit. According to its web site, the group advocates for election law changes it believes will increase voter participation and give voters “more meaningful ballot choices.”

Fair Vote has contributed more than 80 percent of the money raised by Citizens Against Rigging the System.

Hays says the contributions undermine the principal that “local issues should be decided by local people.” He contends Fair Vote has not disclosed its contributors, so voters don’t know who’s ultimately behind the contributions. And he suggests the contributions are illegal because Fair Vote is a nonprofit and can’t support a political campaign.

According to FairVote's 2007 990 form, page 17 dollar support to Sarasota FL, Callam Co WA, Aspen, Co, and Pierce Co WA:

FairVote engaged in direct lobbying in several instances:

We supported with minimal expenses a ballot measure on instant runoff voting in Springfield (IL.) in the spring of 2007 and spent $18,400 in direct support of ballot measures for instant runoff voting in Sarasota (FL) and Clallam County (WA)in November 2007 and support through staff time, primarily that of our instant runoff voting program director and a full-time field organizer in Sarasota. We spent much more limited amount of staff time to support additional ballot measures on instant runoff voting in Aspen (CO) and Pierce COunty (WA) - the Aspen money primarily in the form of the executive director's advocacy of the city council in its deliberations to place the measure on the ballot.

FairVote spent $6,250 to fund lobbying activity for consultants in Vermont on instant runoff voting legislation. A limited amount of the time of FairVote's executive director was also devoted to this project.

According to FairVote's 2006 990 form, page 34:

FairVote engaged in direct lobbying in several instance:

We allocated a total of $43,419 to campaigns and organizations that supported passage of Charter Amendment Three for instant runoff voting in Pierce County, Washington. We had additional in-kind contributions of staff time and list purchases of more than $10,000 to that campaign.

We allocated $15,000 to a campaign to adopt ranked voting methods (instant runoff voting for some offices and choice voting for others) in Minneapolis.

We provided gifts of $5,500 to the campaign for choice voting in Davis, California and some staff time to this campaign.

We allocated just under $5,000 to a campaign for instant runoff voting in Oakland, California. Earlier in the year, a consultant was paid for work in California that included some efforts to lobby the Oakland city council to place instant runoff voting on the ballot.

We worked with consultants in Vermont on instant runoff voting, with half of the time involved with lobbying the legislature on legislation to establish instant runoff voting
for congressional offices.

And FairVote's 2005 990

FairVote engaged in a limited amount of direct lobbying - a total of less than $6,000 --in several circumstances detailed as follows:

More than half of the year's direct lobbying related to enacting instant runoff voting in Burlington, Vermont. First, instant runoff voting was on the ballot as a charter amendment in the city in March 2005. We donated $2,000 to the Voters' Choice Coalition that worked to pass the amendment and paid $300 to part-time consultant Terry Bouricius to assist the campaign. The legislature then needed to approve the city's charter change. We used $500 to pay two consultants (Terry Bouricius and Jesse Rosado) to lobby successfully for the bill's passage.

Instant runoff voting also was placed on the November 2005 ballot by the city council of Takoma Park, where our organization is based. Our executive director spent time making the case for instant runoff voting and for a proposal to count ballots with paper ballots to the city council and was joined by staff members David Moon and Ryan O'Donnell and program associate Adam Johnson in putting a limited amount of time into assisting the local campaign committee.. FairVote also donated $200 directly to the local campaign committee.

FairVote supported several congressional bills on its website, and put a limited time into lobbying on behalf of proposed constitutional amendments HJR 28 and H$ 36. ...California consultant Chris Jerdonek spent a limited time lobbying the Alameda County Council to allow the City of Berkely to implement instant runoff voting.

What happens when money is spent equally on providing pros and cons of this type of voting method?

In British Columbia, the government funded both the pro and anti STV groups, and - and the majority of voters said no to STV.

Single Transferrable Vote Defeated Fair and Square in BC - Pro and Con Groups Funded by Provincial Govt Equally June 9, 2009 ...The provincial government gave $500,000 to two groups, British Columbians for BC-STV (aka Fair Voting B.C.) and No STV, which ran the official “yes” and “no” campaigns for this year’s referendum.

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bogonflux said...

I don't mind that a non profit like FairVote lobbies for local electoral changes. I just mind that they lobby for BAD local electoral changes. If a national group was lobbying in local elections for good changes (election integrity improvements, good single winner election methods such as approval voting or low granularity range voting) I would view this as a good thing.

CIRV said...

As the organizer and initiator for the IRV campaign in Sarasota, I can say that our effort was largely grassroots. While Fairvote spent a significant amount on the get out the vote, local activists did the heavy lifting for 2 years prior to the election, and it would have passed without Fairvote's support, quite frankly. After all, we got the highest percentage of any community in the nation so far (>77%). We also had record turnout for a local special election (28%; the average is 13% for the last two countywide special elections).

There is a reason that some advocates like approval voting: It leads to the same outcome as plurality and still has some strategic voting elements in it. For instance, if I don't like Obama or McCain much, though I prefer Obama, and I really want Nader or McKinney, if I want to maximize Nader/McKinney's chances, well then I have to only select them in an approval voting election. If I vote for both, I am helping Obama beat my favorite. That is a terrible system, and there is a reason no government I am aware of in the entire nation uses it.

Range voting at least has more merit as i can weigh my vote more and rate Obama as less. It is too bad range voting adherents spend 99% of their time attacking IRV instead of working to implement range voting in just one jurisdiction so we can analyze how it works in real world elections. If they did put that kind of energy into implementing it, they would have more credibility in my eyes.

broken ladder said...


Some of your points are valid, but the idea that Approval Voting behaves like plurality voting is actually quite backwards. As this page explains, that is the problem with IRV, not Approval Voting.

With Approval Voting, a strategic voter starts by voting for his favorite front-runner, and then can safely continue voting for every candidate he likes even better.

But with IRV, the voter's basic strategy is to top-rank his favorite front-runner, which prevents him from supporting his sincere favorite candidate(s).

A great example is Burlington's debut IRV mayoral election, in 2008. With Approval Voting, a Burlington Republican who preferred the Democrat over the Progressive would want to start by voting for the Democrat, to help ensure that the Democrat defeats the Progressive. Then he could also vote for his sincere favorite, the Republican.

The argument that Approval behaves like Plurality is based on the notion that a voter won't want to vote for any candidate but their first choice, since that could cause their first choice candidate to lose to a lesser-liked candidate. But if that were true, we would expect Plurality voting to be free from strategy, which IRV proponents themselves claim isn't the case.

With IRV, that same tactical voter would simply want to top-rank the Democrat, which would force him to "bury" the Republican on his ballot ranking. Once most voters pick up on this strategy, IRV behaves almost identically to plurality voting. In fact the Burlington election featured a bloc of voters who could have gotten the Democrat instead of the Progressive if they had insincerely ranked the Democrat first instead of the Republican, so it shouldn't take voters long to learn their lesson.

IRV proponents counter that such a tactic requires too much knowledge and calculation by voters, and is too likely to "backfire".

A) That just isn't true. If your favorite candidate isn't one of the front-runners, then this burial strategy can almost never hurt you, but plausibly can help you (like in the case of Burlington). So it's a generally safe bet. The thinking is: "I know that it does me no good to help the Republican into the final round, since he will almost certainly lose to either the Democrat or the Progressive in the final round, here in liberal Burlington. Therefore I might as well just top-rank the Democrat, in the hopes that it might help the Democrat get into that final round instead of the Progressive, which is an improvement for me."

B) Voters who use ranked voting methods seem to fall into a pattern of "naive exaggeration" where they just push the front-runners apart, even though it's not necessarily a tactical move. This clearly happens in Australia, where they've been using IRV since 1918.

I wrote a pretty extensive page on this subject here:

It is telling that this has been pointed out to many IRV proponents numerous times, and yet they still repeat this myth about Approval Voting degrading to Plurality voting.

broken ladder said...


I have to continue a bit here. It is just astonishing that you would seemingly praise IRV, yet call Approval Voting a "terrible system".

Approval Voting is objectively better than IRV in essentially every way.

* More resistant to tactical voting (don't have to betray your favorite candidate(s) to achieve maximum tactical effect).

* Achieves better Bayesian Regret with any number of tactical voters.

* Much much easier/cheaper to use and tabulate. (Can be done on ordinary plurality voting machines with no upgrades, unlike IRV in many areas that just have dumb totaling plurality machines.)

* Can be sub-totaled in precincts, and thus much easier to audit and better for election integrity. IRV is pretty terrible for election integrity, as it must be centrally tabulated.

* Results in fewer spoiled ballots, whereas IRV typically increases them.

* As a form of Score Voting, allows for a feasible fragmenting of two-party domination, and a path forward to proportional representation, whereas IRV maintains two-party domination, and probably will never lead to PR in Congress (since it is federally illegal, and a duopolistic Congress will certainly never change that).

If you love two-party domination and all those other problems, but just want something that is a little better than ordinary plurality voting, then IRV is great. But if you actually want to not have two-party domination, and if you actually want to make a big improvement to democracy instead of a small one, then Score Voting and Approval Voting are both far superior to IRV. In quantitative objective ways that cannot be denied.