Monday, January 02, 2006

Ranked Choice Voting by Erne Lewis

Moderator's Note: Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) discussed in other posts is a special case of Ranked Choice Voting. The example cited below is IRV. Lewis' post describes how IRV works. If the reader is wants more information, see The Center for Voting and Democracy.

While Lewis does not state this, he seems to be recommending this for consideration by the Pierce County Charter Review Commission.

Tired of voting for the better of two bad choices? There is a solution. Ranked Choice Voting is being used in lots of places, and voters love it.

Here is how it works:
When you vote you choose from among all the candidates your first choice, the person you really believe is best, even if he or she has little chance of winning.
You then choose the candidate who would be your second choice, and then your third choice, and so on, if you wish, including of course, that politically strong candidate that you don’t want, but would prefer over that other creep who might actually win if you don’t help defeat him.

When the votes are counted, assuming there were several candidates, if someone doesn’t win more than 50% of the first choice votes then the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated and the votes are counted again.

If there isn’t a winner the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the process is repeated until only a few candidates—maybe only 2 or 3 or 4— remain, and someone has more than 50% of the total votes counted.
The winner will be first choice for many and second choice for others and perhaps third or fourth or even fifth choice for a lot of voters. But that winner will be someone who can truly say he has the most support and the most genuine support of all the candidates who ran.

The beauty of the system is that it allows people to vote for the person they really want as their first choice without fear that their vote will cause their worst choice to win. More important, they may truly expect that sometimes their underdog candidate—the person lots of people hoped could win, and wanted to win but couldn’t vote for because he or she just didn’t stand a chance—will win.

It’s a system that tears away the power politics and lets voters select the candidates that they really want.

It could even be used to replace the primary. We could go directly to the general elections without the cost and bother of the primary. If the political parties want to endorse one or more candidates that cost would not be borne by the taxpayers.

Erne Lewis, Gig Harbor


At 10:42 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

Here's one of the things I still don't get about IRV: if my first choice is the guy who gets the most or second most votes in the first round, why should my second choice be any less important than the second, third, fourth or even fifth choice of anyone else?

It seems to me that IRV eliminates the spoiler effect by weighting the second choice of some voters heavier than the second choice of others. That's neither right nor fair.

For what it's worth, I would not support rolling the primary and the general into one election.

When there are many candidates it is difficult for voters to know where each of them stand on the issues and is therefore more difficult for them to make informed decisions. In a poorly contested primary this may not be an issue, but when there are more than, say, a half-dozen candidates it becomes a problem.

The narrowing of the field that occurs in the primaries is a good thing, and I wouldn't want to see it eliminated.

At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Each voter only gets ONE vote.
You cannot count BOTH your 1st and 2nd choice for any type of single-winner U.S. election that I am aware of.

> why should my second choice be any less important than ...
> (that)of anyone else?...
(if your 1st choice is still in the running but theirs isn't)

At 4:39 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

That's the thing, though. Under IRV I could be left in a rather odd situation where it is mathematically impossible for my first choice to win the election, but where a majority of people still prefer my second choice over the eventual winner.

If my first choice is never eliminated that leaves me out of luck while the second, third, fourth or even fifth choices of other people decide the election. It's the spoiler effect in reverse.

At 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Under IRV I could be left in a rather odd situation where it is mathematically impossible for my first choice to win the election, but where a majority of people still prefer my second choice over the eventual winner."

This is one of the reasons why I advocate Condorcet methods, also known as ranked pair voting, instead of IRV.

The election works the same from the voter's perspective--you see a list of candidates, and you rank them from most favorite to least favorite--but the votes are counted using a mathematically sound method that looks at *all* voter preferences simultaneously, in order to satisfy as many voter preferences as possible.

At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is what the commission has to be prepared for.
Anti-reformers try to obscure the real purpose of ranked-voting by spewing these bizarre lies, because only 2% of citizens will take the time to understand the IRV process enough to realize that their allegations are entirely ridiculous.

In the final count, the ranked ballots would be the same no matter how they were counted, and the IRV/STV process simply proves who has the highest support of all, just like the theoretical "ranked pairs" distraction.

At 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please stop obsessing on the non-monotonic issue. Like I stated previously, it's an anomaly. Don't make it sound like it will wreck every election. It will not. But in the rare times it could happen -- those are the rules. We will live with it because with IRV we reap many more benefits than the current system.

With IRV or Ranked Choice Voting (Same system) the governors race could have played out very differently. Using the official tally, the Libertarian would have been eliminated, those voters second choices would be added to the remaining candidates first choices and, 30,000+ votes later, we could have had a majority winner.

With IRV would the Libertarian voters have decided the winner? No, the majority of voters would have. All voters are given the same choices on the ballot. (Were the majority of voters in the '04 governors race respectively a Republican / Libertarian or Democrat / Libertarian coalition?)

With the current system, especially during the recount, the Libertarian vote didn't matter at all. Is that right or fair?

Our old fashioned elections create political campaigns that are about saying as little as possible. And when issues arise, often it's negative campaigning. No wonder so many citizens are cynical about participating in democracy?

Voters need more choices. We can make informed choices. More choices are what Americans expect. IRV is smart and modern.

Primary elections cost Washington voters about $10 million a year. That's $100 million a decade. Over 60% of Washingtonians had something better to do than participate in last September's primary. Folding the primary into the general is a better value for taxpayers -- if not voters themselves.

Voters will benefit from IRV. IRV will save tax dollars, shorten the election season and provide more real choices.

At 12:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don’t think there’s any issue more important to this country…and county (thinking globally and actually locally), than issues concerning how we elect our representatives in government. I thin k we could make a very good start by implementing the Ranked Choice Voting (IRV – Instant Runoff Voting ) that Crist Noacelic wrote about.

I first became aware of IRV when I sat and listened to one of my two Senators’ aides tell me that while what I proposed seemed logical and rational and acknowledged as favorable amongst a majority of domestic and international citizens…”but that the lobby was too strong” (and what Corporate and Special Interest Lobbyists want is typically a little-to a very-lot different from what the majorities want).

So I set about reading up on electoral reform – finding Steven Hill, author of Fixing Elections ( or . In my opinion, Ranked Choice Voting is a very good start to reforming this very basic aspect of what constitutes and maintains a healthy democracy. Additional to that I’d like to see Green Funding-only of campaigns – so as to extricate lobbyists’ dollars from our political process.

First, about Ranked Choice Voting. I see it as a very viable way to more actively engage the public – especially those who, like myself, see fewer and fewer differences between candidates who mostly are pandering to the “swing” voters and not discussing issues that are most meaningful to me. I see RCV, or IRV, as a way to break the atrophy of real values and inspire genuine debate about issues. In the present system, many candidates’ campaign on “negative” ads/big PR AGAINST their opponents. For eight months or more, we’re subjected to innumerable commercials, billboards, etc. that attempt to slander one candidate or another. We end up knowing more about how our candidates’ opponents SUPOEDLY feel//think than we do about how our favored candidates do. Also, there’s less and less REAL debates about issues…just “canned” statements written by speechwriters I want to SEE for myself how a candidate could do if engaged in meaningful discussion by other world leaders at events were he or she to be elected. RCV/IRV encourages candidates to speak to issues – and to be more centrist – because they’ll be hoping to pick up the votes of their opponents as the voting procedure runs its course and as various opponents fail to get majorities. (because RCV/IRV ensures a win by majority, rather than the current “winner takes all” even if that winner has only little more than a third of the vote.”

And that’s ANOTHER benefit of RCV/IRV – voters end up with a candidate that a MAJORITY of voters would be “okay” with – even if that person were not the voter’s first choice Under our present system, the winner – even with only little more than a third of the vote – “take’s) all” (which will end up either modified Montana that the voters rebelled against or Top Two, which is an even worse alternative in my opinion).

I find Ranked Choice Voting, or IRV, the BEST alternative to the poor choices we Washington voters have been saddled with since the eradication of our blanket primary. AND an extra benefit is that ultimately RCV/IRV could save us a lot of money, too, by serving as both primary and general elections. There are, to my understanding, softwares available that make RCV/IRV
tallying of votes as easy as 1.2.3.

The other electoral reform issue I’d like to AT LEAST see conversation about is Green Money in elections, or public-only financing/advertising of campaigns. More on that at later date.

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Nathan said...


If I appear to be obsessing over the non-monotonic aspect of IRV, it's only because I'm trying to explain a principle that's very important to me without apparent success. I'll give it one more go and then let it drop.

I believe very strongly that everyone's vote ought to have an equal amount of weight. That's not to say that every vote ought to have the same effect on the outcome--when you think about it there's always going to be a percentage of voters who vote for the loser over the winner, and at the end of the day none of their votes matter--only that your vote is the same as mine.

In the current system, for all its faults, this is the case. Each person's vote carries the same value, and if you choose to spend that value on a candidate who has little chance of winning you do so with your eyes wide open because you believe that making a statement or a principled stand is more important than preventing that candidate you really don't like from winning.

That isn't the case with IRV. Under IRV, if my first choice is the guy who winds up with the second most votes, my second choice is never counted in spite of the fact that my second choice may be prefered by a majority of voters over the candidate who actually won. In other words, my second choice wouldn't carry the same weight as someone else's.

The fact that this is an anomaly and that it doesn't happen often is irrelevent. That it can happen at all is a deal breaker for me. Either everyone's second choice counts, or no one's does.

I'm not opposed in theory to some sort of ranked choice voting system, but there you have my pass/fail criteria.

Also, I remain adamant about a two tier election cycle of some sort. I maintain that the benefits provided by allowing the voters to focus on a smaller number of candidates in the general election while still having a larger choice in the primary is worth the cost to the taxpayer (i.e. me). Yes I know how much it costs. I can live with that.

At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, give it up.
You only get ONE vote per ballot, even with IRV.
No legal system will give you two.

However, if you convince your wife or parents to register absentee, you may be able to fill out their ballot and get your 2nd AND 1st choice to both be counted at once anyway. It's called voting against youself, canceling yourself out, or whatever.

Holy moly, don't you have anything better to do with your time?

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

"Holy moly, don't you have anything better to do with your time?" said the pot to the kettle.


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