Wednesday, July 16, 2008

IRV (Instant Runoff Voting)

A charter amendment for Instant Runoff Voting will be on the ballot here in Memphis this fall. Under IRV when you vote you select your first second and third choices. In an IRV system voters would be allowed to rank candidates in order of preference "1", "2","3","4",..etc If a candidate gets a majority of the 1st place votes then he or she wins. If not then the candidate with the fewest 1st place votes is eliminated. 1st place votes for that candidate are then redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the 2nd place votes. If there is a candidate with a majority, he/she wins.

This will solve some of our election problems here in the city. Under our current system the candidate with a plurality of votes wins. This allows a candidate who has no chance of winning to enter the election and split the vote of the most popular candidate and act as a spoiler. IRV will prevent the Nader effect from plaguing our elections in the future. If you live in Memphis please encourage your friends to vote for this ballot item.


Eric Johnson said...

Great post -- instant runoff voting is an exciting idea.

To get a sense of why we adopted it with nearly 70% of the vote in Oakland, check out the 2006 campaign website, showing support from Congresswoman Barbara Lee and a great array of community groups. It's been archived here:

There's also some good info at and

Larry Geater said...

Thanks for the links.

Anonymous said...

In order to have IRV statewide or nationally, you would have to get rid of most contests on the ballot, and you would need to have your ballots counted in one central location.

Why is IRV hard to count? Unlike most other voting methods, IRV is not additive.

There is no such thing as a "subtotal" in IRV. In IRV every single vote may have to be sent individually to the central agency (1,000,000·N numbers, i.e. 1000 times more communication). [Actually there are clever ways to reduce this, but it is still bad.] If the central agency then computes the winner, and then some location sends a correction, that may require redoing almost the whole computation over again. There could easily be 100 such corrections and so you'd have to redo everything 100 times.

Combine this scenario with a near-tie and legal and extra-legal battle like in Bush-Gore Florida 2000 over the validity of every vote, and this adds up to a complete nightmare for the election administrators.

As for the spoiler effect, expect Greens to rank Nader first and Libertarians or GOP to rank Bob Barr first, and in a tight election the spoiler effect is still there.

And what presidential election hasn't been close?

As well, there's no guarantee that the third party voters would rank a 2nd or 3rd candidate, since in the US we don't force voters to vote.

IRV is fine as an academic excercse, but logistically it is a nightmare.


Larry Geater said...

Anonymous (if that is your real name)

1. This is about a measure for our local elections in memphis.

2. The nightmare you describe is not supported by the evidence in places where IRV has been implemented. They have had lower election costs and higher participation since it was adopted.

Anonymous said...

I share your enthusiasm for instant runoff voting. However, there is one problem. A lot of people don’t know what it is or how it works. I am trying to solve this problem with a website called the voting site
. TheVotingSite is a place where users can create and share content. Basically, users create surveys and elections. Other users vote in these surveys and are able to watch the instant runoff voting results in action. I think this is a great way to educate the Youtube and Facebook generation about instant runoff voting. I hope you check out my site.