Saturday, October 27, 2012

Quick Note: Donate to CES

The Center for Election Science, the premier advocacy group for approval voting, is now a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Which means donations are now tax-deductible.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Jill Stein is Shooting Herself in the Foot with Instant Runoff Voting

Green party presidential candidate Jill Stein recently gave an interview where she was asked, among other things (you should read the whole thing!) to talk about instant runoff voting. Her response parroted many of the incorrect claims we hear about IRV, but it's a more disappointing to hear it from Stein, since she is trying so hard, has so much against her and her party, and has so much to gain from picking a more-effective voting reform. Doctor Stein, this one's for you:

[If] you really wanted to vote for me, but you weren't sure I was going to win, it lets you go ahead and do that[.] Because it lets you vote for me as number one, if that's what you want to do, and it lets you vote your fallback, maybe your lesser evil choice, as number two. And what it does is set things up so if I don't win, your vote gets reassigned to your number two choice.

It's a win-win. It ensures there will be no splitting of the vote, that your vote might have unintended consequences, all these things that people are told to be afraid of[.] Instant runoff voting [...] ensures that the candidate that gets elected is the one that the most people can actually support.

The first paragraph contains a fair description of how IRV works, but every claim from the second one about the implications of IRV is false. An example similar to one I've used frequently:

  • 45%: Romney > Obama > Stein
  • 10%: Obama > Romney > Stein
  • 15%: Obama > Stein > Romney
  • 30%: Stein > Obama > Romney

This example (I hope obviously) doesn't reflect a likely outcome, I'd just like to use names, instead of bland identifiers (like A, B, C) to highlight what's going on here. First, let's take note that, in the example, 55% prefer Obama over Romney, and 70% prefer Obama over Stein; so, the candidate that "most people can actually support" is Obama. Second, note that the winner, by IRV's rules, is Romney. However, if Stein would have withdrawn from the race, then Obama would have won instead. That means there was a "splitting of the vote" (between Obama and Stein) which had "unintended consequences" (electing Romney).

I understand how Dr. Stein is able to come to these erroneous conclusions. If a third-party is small (as our third parties are now) and remains small (as our third parties do now) then under IRV it will always be eliminated from the election, well before it is able to act as a spoiler. That makes it easy—although incorrect—to conclude that they would never be spoilers. But, Dr. Stein, wouldn't it be nice if your party were to grow? And wouldn't it be nice if growing meant it could eventually win? That won't happen under IRV though, because if it grows, it will eventually become a spoiler, and the voters hate spoilers. Even the accusation of being a spoiler (I don't want to start a Nader/Gore argument) is enough to ruin a party's votes in subsequent elections for years.

A better voting reform target for the Green party (and indeed, all third-parties) is approval voting. With approval voting, there really are no split votes, no spoilers, and parties can grow, and grow until they win.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Untied Alternatives

C. G. P. Grey has another election-themed video out and, like the last one, I have one tiny nitpick from the very end of the video. First, the video:

Right near the end, Grey suggests using a preferential vote as a way to avoid the ridiculous series of ties and tie-breakers he discusses, and by preferential vote I presume (since he made a video arguing in favor of it) the "alternative vote," AKA, instant runoff voting.

The problem I have is that IRV is actually more likely to run into problems with ties than most other voting systems; including plurality. This is because each elimination done under IRV, even the ones far down the list who received very few first place votes, could potentially be a tie, and effect the final winner. As always, a quick example:

  • 45%: A > (others)
  • 25%: B > C > (others)
  • 15%: C > A > (others)
  • 15%: D > C > (others)

Candidates A and B lead, but candidates C and D tie for third place. But how you break that tie determines who wins the election. If you eliminate C first, then A wins, while if you eliminate D first, then C wins. And it can get much worse; if A and B were instead at 40% and 30%, then after the first tie-breaker, we could have had another tie. Since each tie—or near tie— result can require a recount and potentially a series of lawsuits, IRV has the potential to be a total nightmare as the elimination of each minimally-supported candidates is fought out in court (supported by whichever candidate up the chain benefits.)

This is all, of course, extremely unlikely. A near-tie in a Presidential election has only gone to the Supreme Court for review once (in 2000) and that hopefully won't happen again anytime soon. But we can say, thanks to computer simulation, that IRV elections are about 1.8 times more likely to have a results-effecting tie than plurality elections, even with just three candidates.

So yes, the electoral college is kind of silly, and the tie-breakers for it even more so. But IRV wouldn't help with that.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

CES Interviews Dr. Kenneth Arrow

Hey folks, I've got a treat for you. Nobel-prize winning economist Dr. Kenneth Arrow, after who Arrow's impossibility theorem is named (and on which much of my writing has been based) has been interviewed by the Center for Election Science.

You can read the transcript, or listen or download here: