If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.
Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.
Why Not Keep Doing What We've Always Done?
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
Do we want to keep getting what we always got? If your answer is "yes", thanks for stopping by. If not, please keep reading.
Under the current system with only 2 candidates, except in rare cases of a tie, one candidate wins with majority support which meets goal #1. What happens If there are more than two candidates? Could a candidate opposed by most voters win? Could two candidates be considered the "real" contenders with independent or other-party candidates considered "vote-stealing spoilers"? Remember Ralph Nader or Ross Perot? Could voters feel like a vote for one of the "other" candidates is wasted, or fear that the winner could be the candidate they want least? How does this help achieve the goals?
How do voter turnouts for runoff elections compare to turnouts in a general election? How much do runoff elections cost governments and candidates? If there were several candidates in the general election, could the two runoff candidates be polar opposites with no middle ground? How might voters feel about their voting choices? Is it possible that many or even most voters might prefer a candidate who didn't make it into the runoff? How does this help achieve the goals?
In multi-seat, at-large elections such as city councils, school boards, or county supervisors, could the largest interest group choose all the winners even if that group represents less than half the voters? How does this help achieve the goals?
Is there any downside to negative campaigns or attack ads? How does this help achieve the goals?
Why Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)?
Easy as 1-2-3
Runoff elections are about second choices. A general election asks "who is your preferred candidate?" A runoff election asks "If your first choice lost, who is your second choice?" IRV asks both questions in the same election: "who is your first choice?" and also "if your first choice loses, who is your second choice?" If there are more than 3 candidates, an IRV election could also ask for a third (or fourth or fifth) choice. That's the "instant" part of "instant runoff".
To help visualize the process, imagine that all voters and all candidates gather in one place.
Benefits of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)
An IRV ballot asks for voters' first choice, second choice, third choice, etc. Not ranking all the candidates is allowed but is like going home before the election is over. Just as you can only stand in one line at a time, you must give each candidate a different ranking and may use each ranking only once. Each voter gets one vote in every round and all votes count equally. Although this might seem unfamiliar in elections, surveys and polls may ask people to rate something on a scale of 1-10. Think of ranked voting like rating each candidate with the added restriction of not rating two candidates the same. The vote-counting computer follows a procedure similar to the visualization above.
Can IRV be Improved?
There are various ways to tally ranked votes and determine winners and losers in each round of vote counts, but they share a basic process: Voters express their preference for each candidate. IRV vote-counting is easy to understand. Once voting equipment supports ranked voting, and voters get used to the ranking process, details can be fine-tuned. IRV is a big step in the right direction and opens the door for further improvements that build on the basic idea of ranking all candidates.
Ranked Voting Paves the Way to Proportional Representation
Proportional representation is a fancy way of saying majority control with minority representation. Why encourage minority representation if you're in the majority? Because there may come a day when you're in the minority. Also to help meet Goals #1 and #2, to help guard against a complacent majority making quick decisions that could have unintended consequences, and to have a government that understands the needs of most citizens. A majority group of voters elects at least three members of a 5-member city council, but minority groups also get some representation by electing the remaining council members. The five council members together represent nearly all voters.
To help visualize this one, imagine all voters and candidates gathering in one place to elect five city council members.
Why set the minimum votes to win at 1/6 rather than 1/5 for 5 seats? Because we have at least six candidates. If there were only five candidates, they would all win automatically.
This achieves the goal of minority representation since any voter group including over 1/6 of the voters elects at least one council member, and the 5-member council represents over 5/6 of the voters. All the losers together got less than 1/6 of the total vote.
Another goal is majority control. That's why we close any line with just over 1/6 of the voters. If over 2/3 of the voters have the same first-choice candidate, that candidate wins easily. We expect a group including over 2/3 of the voters to elect four of the five council members since 2/3 is the same as 4/6, four times the 1/6 needed to win. A candidate with over 4/6 of the vote got 3/6 more than required to win. That extra 3/6 could elect three more candidates each meeting the 1/6 minimum and provide the 4 winners we expect from a 2/3 majority. The winner keeps the 1/6 minimum needed to win, and the extra 3/6 moves to the voters' second-choice, third-choice and fourth-choice candidates.
Casting ballots is like other ranked voting elections: Rank the candidates in order of preference. The vote-counting computer really earns its electrons with this one.
Is This for Real?
See a sample ballot
Read more about instant runoff/ranked voting throughout California at Californians for Electoral Reform.
Howard Dean speaks on Instant Runoff Voting as he votes in the March 2006 Burlington, Vermont IRV city elections.
Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) Information from The Center for Voting and Democracy
U.S. Governments Using Ranked Voting Now: