Oscar Votes 123: Some Search For Perfect Election System

Friday, February 19, 2010

Some Search For Perfect Election System

There’s a good story in today’s Congress.org about IRV and the Academy Awards. It was a balanced article and I want to address some of the opposing comments. No election system is perfect, but that doesn’t stop critics from piling on IRV.

Anthony Gierzynski was quoted that with IRV;

"You start overwhelming voters and you start losing people at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale,"
I hope that doesn’t mean that Americans are stupider than Australians or the Irish? I don’t think so.

Look at the situation where I live in Washington’s 3rd Congressional district. There’s an open US House seat where there are currently nine candidates running. That could mean that SW Washingtonians have an overwhelming number of choices on the ballot. But at least they’ll get only one choice in the primary – and that could hopefully soothe any fractured psyches.

But hey, Washington State has a two-round majority voting system. This means that if your first choices loses the August primary, you the voter, get a second choice in the November general election.

And perverse results? With nine candidates in the race – so far – that means the threshold to get into the top-two runoff is 11 percent. A candidate seemingly not favored to win can get into the general. KKK leader David Duke has gotten into the runoff and even elected in the Louisiana top-two majority voting system. The separate runoff is supposed to act like a “safety valve” where an extremist candidate like Duke cannot win the election itself when squared against another candidate in the general.

But he did get elected. Elections produce winners and losers – just because you don’t like the winner doesn’t mean you should dog-pile criticisms on the election rules. It’s like IRV has to somehow be more than perfect.

Then there’s Joyce McCloy and her wrecking ball style of political activism. Indeed, no election system is perfect – but neither is McCloy’s reasoning. Here’s her quote;

There will be people that lack confidence in the outcome, because whoever gets the most first choice votes may not win," McCloy said. "Whichever movie is the most mediocre could win, because it could get the most second- or third-place votes

Oh brother! First, IRV makes results that overwhelms voters, and now the results are mediocre! These criticisms are much like a handful of boiled spaghetti – throw it at a wall and see what sticks. IRV is new to most voters and the goal of these critics is to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Instead of conjecture regarding primary / general election dynamics, let’s look at what a University of Washington study on IRV says;

"In summary, one criticism leveled against RCV / IRV – that candidates who do not obtain the most votes in the initial iteration of voting can go on to win the election outright – is also a function of a traditional primary and general election dynamics."

I put the emphasis in bold because it brings us back to the point I made in the example regarding the open seat in Washington’s 3rd CD. Would it be a big deal if the second place winner in the primary won the general election? And would any winner be mediocre? Perhaps to the many voters who will vote a second choice in the general election! And even if they were somehow mediocre - just like the article says – “whether or not that scenario is bad is a matter of opinion”

IRV is a majority voting system with similar characteristics as a two-round runoff. There was a need for IRV with the Academy Awards. And if voters think there’s a need for it in pubic elections, it will happen – as it does in places that use it. This is neither mediocre nor overwhelming, it just is.


  1. Thanks Kris. I take it as a compliment - my "wrecking ball" style activism.

    Sometimes this can be funny. You should have seen my daughters eyes when I told her "the dude from Nirvana just called me a wrecking ball on the internet."

    At least you spell correctly.
    I'm still reeling with pain after Rob Richie called me the "Captain Abab" who sailed the internet trying to kill all of the IRVs.
    Its Captain AHAB.

    Have a great day. :)
    Joyce McCloy, wrecking ball.

  2. Unfortunately, this author has, like so many others, misunderstood Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. Arrow's theorem applies only to ranked systems.

    IRV, as a ranking system, fails due to the theorem, of course. By neglecting to actually look at all the orderings, IRV overlooks winners that the majority may prefer. This is terrible for a ranking system. IRV may also hurt voters for ranking their candidate higher, crazy. Further, adding a candidate who doesn't even win can actually change the outcome among the other candidates.

    Range Voting (rate 0-10 or some scale, highest average wins), on the other hand, sidesteps Arrow's theorem as it is a cardinal system. Vote splitting? No way. A loser joins the race? Doesn't affect the outcome. A competitive loser joins the race? In range you're still fine. In a selection of the winner when there are more than two competitive candidates, range is essential.

    Learn more at: http://www.rangevoting.org/

  3. Range voting means your votes are counting at the same time for more than one candidate. Some people like that, but a lot of people won't. It means smart voters will game the system, and the candidate with 51% support can lose.

  4. It just said my vote was registered, so maybe I got in after the deadline? My choices were Avatar, Up In The Air, and A Serious Man. I didn't see the other movies, but I heard they were good.