It's time for instant-runoff voting

At the Oregonian's editorial blog, The Stump, they've posted an op-ed from Blair Bobier advocating for an instant-runoff voting system.

Noting that Jeff Merkley did not win 50% of vote, Bobier writes:

That result is not at all unusual. That's because Oregon does not require a majority vote for a candidate to win an election. Candidates need to win only a plurality of the vote -- that is, more votes than any other candidate. At first blush, plurality voting might seem fair -- until you consider situations in which more people are voting for losing candidates than for a winner.

Oregonians are fortunate that a solution to this problem already exists and is, in fact, enshrined in the constitution. Article II, Section 16 of the Oregon Constitution allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Instead of voting for just one candidate, voters can indicate their first, second and third choices. If a candidate wins a majority of first-choice rankings, that candidate is elected. If, on the other hand, no candidate receives an initial majority of first-choice rankings, the candidate with the fewest first-choice rankings is eliminated from the contest and that candidate's supporters now have their votes count for their second choice. Because this election method conducts a nearly simultaneous runoff election, it's often referred to as instant-runoff voting (and is also known as preference voting or ranked-choice voting).

If used in the Smith-Merkley-Brownlow race, an instant runoff would have produced a majority winner, which would not only resolve any questions about Brownlow's effect on the outcome -- which might be argued either way -- but would have eliminated any possibility of Brownlow being seen as a "spoiler." Instant-runoff voting is politically neutral: In some races it might help elect a conservative, while in others, a liberal. Its allegiance is only to the majority will of the voters.

Unlike Measure 65, the "top two" election system that Oregonians overwhelmingly rejected at the polls this week, instant-runoff voting has a track record of success and was used most recently in Pierce County (Tacoma) in Washington to elect the county executive and other officeholders. Instant-runoff voting has broad support among political scientists and across the political spectrum, from Barack Obama to John McCain.

Because a number of Oregon municipalities use runoff elections, instant runoffs have another advantage as well: saving local government's money. By combining two elections -- a general election and a runoff -- into one, taxpayers are spared the expense of paying for a second, unnecessary election.

Read the rest. Discuss.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    From what I hear the DPO's Election Integrity Caucus may be discussing this at their December 7th meeting.

  • James X. (unverified)
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    My only concern is that IRV ballots could prove confusing for some. Presumably optical scanners won't be expected to distinguish hand-written numbers, so will there be three ovals next to each name, one for each rank? Would the Portland mayor's race, with 13 candidates plus a write-in option, have 42 ovals? Or would it be 48 ovals with a second and third write-in option? I can imagine some elderly voters having trouble processing the three-votes-per-office setup.

    I'm not opposed to IRV, but perhaps old-fashioned runoff elections, despite their expense, would be better. Or fusion voting, though I would find it annoying that the candidate would get to choose my second-place choice.

  • LT (unverified)
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    "Because a number of Oregon municipalities use runoff elections, instant runoffs have another advantage as well: saving local government's money"

    Does that mean "the mayoral candidate only got 48% so there will be a runoff"? Does it mean "the mayoral candidate got 52%, therefore only that candidate will appear on the general election ballot?

    Which municipalities use which systems?

    Thank you James X for asking intelligent questions!

    What if the candidates are seen as good vs. evil (Hanten Day vs. Kevin Cameron, or Howe vs Esquivel, for instance?

    You folks may think IRV or whatever is an excellent process. But to pass the legislature it would take 31 votes in the House and 16 in the Senate--are there really that many votes for "yeah, that's a great idea--no need to hold hearings and discuss the details, let's just pass it"?

    IRV advocates should start talking details, and not just here. Could any IRV advocate visit their legislator's office (or talk face to face with their legislator) and answer any questions asked?

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)
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    I'm getting real tired of seeing proposed solutions to problems that are not defined - if the problem exists at all.

  • (Show?)

    The elections and rules committee adopted IRV for local elections as a committee bill a few weeks ago at the request of SOS-elect, Kate Brown.

    There is also a bill being drafted to have cross-nominations printed on the ballots, and the working families party has a great ballot title for a fusion voting ballot measure.

  • (Show?)

    Steve - There is nothing ill-defined about the problem IRV is intended to address. The goal of IRV is to elect the candidate whose views most accurately represent the preferences of largest segment of the voting population.

    Blair's point is that in the Oregon Senate race, and I suppose in the US Presidential races in 1992 and 2000, that the actual result of the races did not accurately reflect the views of the majority.

    It's not my preferred election system, but it's not all that difficult to understand the goal.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Sal, I hope you will share bill # / links for this as soon as available

    "The elections and rules committee adopted IRV for local elections as a committee bill a few weeks ago at the request of SOS-elect, Kate Brown.

    There is also a bill being drafted to have cross-nominations printed on the ballots, and the working families party has a great ballot title for a fusion voting ballot measure."

    And then there is this question. You said, "The goal of IRV is to elect the candidate whose views most accurately represent the preferences of largest segment of the voting population. "

    It seems to me that the largest segment of the voting population is too busy with their own lives to pay attention to discussions like this.

    My point, and I believe Steve's point, is that ordinary folks (the ones who might not know or care what this means: "The elections and rules committee adopted IRV for local elections as a committee bill a few weeks ago at the request of SOS-elect, Kate Brown.") deserve to have it explained to them--in neighborhood groups, city clubs, citizenship events in church basements, Rotary, etc. and any questions answered. Why should someone who likes the current system support a different system---because young activists think it is a good idea, therefore they should think so too?

    My perception is that the IRV advocates think they can just talk about it here and not have to talk face to face with actual voters who don't think there is anything wrong with the current system of voting.

    Let's see the IRV advocates do some of those face to face events with ordinary voters, and then report back on the questions they were asked and how they answered the questions.

  • Dr. FactCheck (unverified)
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    "Article II, Section 16 of the Oregon Constitution allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference."

    Clarification:

    Article II, Section 16 of the Oregon Constitution allows the Legislature (or an initiative) to implement IRV without necessitating a Constitutional amendment. In itself, it does not allow voters to rank candidates.

  • Tom Cox (unverified)
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    IRV has a lot to be said for it, particularly at the local level, I believe. A good summary of IRV is here: Wikipedia entry on IRV

    A summary of all the different types of voting systems and their trade-offs is here: Wikipedia entry on voting systems

  • (Show?)

    Here are my thoughts on IRV:

    1) It eliminates the conundrum of building support for a third-party. No longer do your party members have to choose a candidate they don't like (as their top pick) to keep a candidate they hate off the ballot. (Pro.)

    2) It eliminates the ability for most candidates or parties to run as a spoiler - that is to say, for insufficiently adhering to some ideology. (Pro? - Hmmm.)

    3) It at least a little confusing to low-info voters. (Con. - But not bad.)

    All in all, I kind of like it. But I still like Fusion Voting even better. The two can be combined, of course, but with IRV, the effect that Fusion Voting is significantly diluted. But being moderate myself, maybe that isn't a bad thing.

  • (Show?)

    The lack of IRV in Oregon has penalized Rs in particular. Barbara Roberts won the governorship in 1990 by less than half of the votes case for admitted right-winger Al Mobley's 13% was more than double the D's margin of victory. And, of course, Libertarian Tom Cox (is he the commentor above?) received 4.5% of the vote for Governor, while Ted K. won by 3% over Kevin Mannix.

    Yes, fusion and IRV can work together, thus allowing minor parties not only to run their own, exclusive candidates (with no possibility of "spoilage") but also to create multi-party coalitions behind individual candidates.

    One key test of a voting system is whether it allows voters to accurately express their beliefs and positions on public issues. Another is that the outcome of the election reflects those beliefs and positions. IRV is far better than the current system in both ways.

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    I was intrigued by IRV when I first heard of it, but now I'm not so sure. It seems to me the main issue it tries to address is the "spoiler" effect of minor parties under our current system.

    So, a voter can cast a vote for a minor party without hurting the major party it might be closest to.

    That might be nice for the voter's conscience, and it might have an effect on elections (like throwing them to Republicans, as Dan Meek suggests above).

    But what real world problem does it solve? Does it actually get minor party candidates elected to office? If so, or if not, what's the result -- does it chip away at the overly-simplistic two party system? It's hard for me to see these dominoes fall, and harder for me to see how it's a benefit.

    I think our civic discourse is enhanced by the existence of minor parties. Also, I think it would be nice if our system did not force us into binary choices that might or might not map well onto reality.

    But how IRV leads to results that are beneficial, in a real and practical sense, is something that eludes me. I'm open to persuasion, but the arguments advanced in this blog post don't move me. In the example listed, IRV would have resulted in a very bad candidate winning reelection. I fail to see what benefit could outweigh that.

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    Just to put a finer point on my question -- when it's claimed that IRV has been used "successfully" in places like Tacoma and Australia -- what is the yardstick for success? And what is the argument that the same conditions would hold in Oregon?

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    San Francisco has had IRV or what we call Rank Choice Voting, because there is nothing instant about it, now for three or four election cycles and while I have only had one race that was directly effected by this system I think it is unfair and undemocratic. The reason for a run-off is to allow voters the chance to compare two candidates after a crowded election. IRV does not allow for this comparison. Many people blame the election of a corrupt supervisor, who was a corrupt candidate, on this system. Because he never went through the rigors of an actual run off election he was able to sneak through with 2nd place votes and was never truly vetted. Six months later he was caught demanding bribes.

    My other reason for disliking this system is that it stifles debate at a time when I believe we need more debate. The out come of the election is decided by formula not ideas. If you like college football's BCS system then you'll like IRV. If you think winners and losers should be determined on the playing field then you won't like this system.

  • Cedwyn (unverified)
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    good questions, pete. i'm still trying to wrap my brain around this one:

    until you consider situations in which more people are voting for losing candidates than for a winner.

    more votes = winner

    maybe i just haven't had enough coffee, but i don't get it.

  • (Show?)

    Uh, gang - to underscore what Dan Meek said: If we'd had IRV this election Gordon Smith would almost certainly still be our Senator come January.

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    LT - I have a copy of the committee bill for IRV. I have not read it through yet, but I believe that it basically allows IRV for local elections. The councils and commissions themselves would have to adopt the measure, which would only happen as the result of significant grassroots activism like some folks tried in Ashland a few years back.

    That said, it's not-at-all clear to me why this measure is necessary, save to provide a specific set of rules that communities may use as a template, since both IRV and proportional representation appear to be allowed in the Oregon Constitution.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Jim Ross -- if this is indeed how it works, thanks for the workin' man's version, easily comprehensible.

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    Welcome, Jim. I found your post highly persuasive, and have decided I don't like the "Instant" part of IRV.

    Instead, if I could just wave a magic wand, I think this would be the system that would work the best:

    1) Voting works exactly as they do right now, except that ballots come in prepaid envelopes, and the last date to mail your ballot in Oregon is printed on the ballot. (Any postmark on or before the mail cut-off will be accepted.) 2) In primaries, voters have up until election day to register with the party of their choice. For security purposes, late registration of entirely new voters must be done in person. 3) Registered voters may, on their primary ballot, reregister to change their party. If they do this during a primary, they get to vote in the primary of their choice. 4) Qualification to the general election is given to all primary winners, and any candidate who submits the same signatures (under the same rules) as qualifying a minor party. (With a sore-loser caveat, see below.) 5) Minor parties may choose anyone as their nominee, including members of other parties, who may be on the general ballot. 6) A candidate may "decline" to be a minor party's nominee, in which case they do not appear on the ballot under that party. 7) The "sore loser" law is modified so that losers in a primary may run as minor party nominee - SO LONG as that minor party existed and selected the candidate as their (fusion) nominee at least one month prior to the primary. Sore losers do not get to start minor parties or petition drives after the primary is over. (The one month restriction is so that voters in a major party may use the candidate's status as a fusion nominee when considering their vote in the primary.) 8) In the general election, candidates must achieve a full majority to win. By removing winning-by-plurality, voters can be assured that voting for a minor party candidate will not help a candidate they loathe to win. 9) If no candidate receives a majority of votes, a "non-instant" run off election is held 4 weeks after the general election between the top two finishers. 10) Minor parties whose candidate failed to achieve a top-two status, may endorse a candidate (subject to that candidate's acceptance) in the run off. This will appear under their party name in the general ballot. (For printing purposes, they have a 1 week deadline to inform the SoS of this decision.)

    ...well there it is, my strawman proposal, fixing everything I consider to be a legitimate beef with the current system. Have at it, boys and girls. Target practice.

  • (Show?)

    Thank you Dan.

    I really really heart IRV because unlike Mr. Bobier, I'm pretty clear that if we'd just had IRV this time, Gordon would be going back to DC right now, Clinton would have lost his first race, and so on. We wouldn't want a guy like Jeff going back to represent us under such unfair circumstances, would we?

    I'm way more interested in abstract fair play than I am in retaining the progressive majority, that we've finally achieved after forty damned years in the wilderness.

  • (Show?)

    Geez Steve, you said that top-two was confusing. :)

    My own goals are much less ambitious. I'd like to see cross-nominations of minor political parties to be printed on the ballot and in the voter's pamphlet.

    If someone moves this fusion initiative forward, I will step onto that train and help them make the ballot and pass the measure:

  • (Show?)

    we don't need a single fix to our election process; we need a variety of fixes.

    • we need to deal with the money problem which gets worse every election cycle.
    • we need to deal with a voter registration deadline that is undemocratic and unnecessary.
    • we need to deal with the inability of minor parties to grow electorally among voters who might support them.
    • we need to express the full, not the partial, will of the voters.
    • we need ballots designed by people who know how to design effective forms, not by bureaucrats and technicians who are just trying to make a machine work better.

    i believe IRV (some variant thereof) and voter-owned elections can be major elements in improving Oregon's elections (which, btw, are already superior to almost anywhere else in the nation; let's not forget that). i hope to see the DPO and the Legislature push for election reform and to be the leaders in this cause. this would be a great time for Dems to push for reforms: having won such significant victories, to demonstrate allegiance to democracy and not elections would give great credibility to the Party and its activists. otherwise we face the possibility that next time, voters will pass "reform" that is even worse than Kiesling's ridiculous non-solution.

    (ps, not holding elections in cold, rainy, dark November — on a Tuesday, of all things — would be good, too. a full weekend in May or June would truly democratize that part of the process, but that's a national debate we need to hold.)

  • (Show?)

    The simpler explanation of my proposal is this: it's the best of New York (Fusion), Georgia (non-instant run off), and Oregon's current system. Plus a few tweaks to the Oregon system to make it more accessible.

    It's fair to all sides. Minor party voters would not feel forced to abandon their party just to keep another major party candidate from winning (what IRV fixes). Major parties still have to open up their primaries to all their voters. Non-affiliated voters get a fair say in how major parties are run, but aren't considered full party members, unless they declare it.

    But yes, I'm proposing at least 5 major reforms in one package, so it's a fair cop to call it confusing.

  • (Show?)

    TA - A few points...

    I have found a great deal of goodwill among both parties in the legislature to work on reasonable election reform -- printing cross-nominations on the ballot, for instance.

    Membership in minor parties has more than doubled during the last year from 30000 to 70,000.

    Steve - I don't see anyone moving that entire slate forward as a single package. I've been tracking this pretty closely, and so far as I can tell, this is what is likely to be on the table in the 2009 legislature and/or in the 2010 election cycle.

    1) IRV for local elections, committee bill introduced by Kate Brown.

    2) Printing of cross-nominations on ballot, introduced by Buckley, Berger, Monroe.

    3) Fusion voting ballot measure, sponsored by Working Families Party.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ Jim Ross: You mean there's never been a politician demanding bribes elected under a two-round runoff? WOW -- who knew?

    Also, SF adopted IRV because they were spending millions to hold runoffs in December where they would only get a few percent of voters to turn out. Moreover, the exhausted candidates who advanced to the runoff round then had to turn around and raise more money, which made them even more beholden to the corporados.

    Elimination of spoilers is not the only benefit of IRV. The ultimate beneficiary is the voter, who no longer needs to even think in strategic voting terms.

    As for "IRV bad because it would have elected a Republican," that's a piss poor way to choose an election system. IRV is a pro-voter method that is neutral in how it treats parties -- including minor parties, who are helped a lot more by IRV than fusion (which simply lets minor parties cross-endorse, rather than put forward their own candidates). In Alaska, the lack of IRV helped elect Tony Knowles, hurting the GOP. In Washington, Slade Gorton was defeated because they didn't have IRV. But in other states, Democrats have been hurt by the lack of IRV, where Green voters who would have preferred a Dem as a second choice allowed a Republican to win. But that's all results-oriented anyway, which is no way to pick a system.

    If the Democratic rhetoric (seen on this site and many others) about wanting a healthy opposition and wanting a return to sanity among Republicans means anything, it must mean making fair reforms that empower voters, rather than insisting on preserving a deficient system because it happens to work in our favor at this particular time in this particular place.

    Another benefit not mentioned -- but very salient right now -- is that IRV punishes negative campaigning because candidates pay a penalty for attacks: it's hard to ask for people's second choice rankings if you've trashed their first choice. Thus, IRV creates an incentive for candidates to identify areas of agreement, so that they can say "OK, even if Sally is your first choice, you can see that I'd make a good second choice here because Sally and I share these positions ...." If you've called Sally a terrorist appeaser (or "radical environmentalist" or ...) then you can't expect many of Sally's backers to support you with their second choices.

    In other words, IRV actually delivers (as documented in stories about how IRV is working in SF) what M65 claimed to offer -- an inducement to moderation.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Sal, you said you would have voted for Vicki had you lived in the district, or something like that.

    You said this: "2) Printing of cross-nominations on ballot, introduced by Buckley, Berger, Monroe".

    If it is being presession filed, when will we know the bill number?

    If Berger really wants this to pass, she should hold town hall meetings--either in the district or at night in a vacant room at the capitol, as our state senators did one year--and explain the bill. She could do it alone or with Buckley and Monroe---that would be an interesting meeting! People who actually live in Dist. 20 have been angry at how few town hall meetings she has ever held. Maybe you could come to the town hall meeting as well.

    That would be a face to face encounter with ordinary people, and this could be discussed face to face instead of just on blogs. Would the folks at the town hall think it as excellent an idea as some folks here, or would they have the sort of common sense questions about the process none of the advocates had considered? For instance, how would it have applied in Dist. 19, 20, 23 in 2008?

    Personally, I like the idea of non-instant runoff, like what Saxby Chambliss now has to endure in Georgia.

  • Cedwyn (unverified)
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    But that's all results-oriented anyway, which is no way to pick a system.

    aren't all election systems "results-oriented," though?

    status quo: affects outcome this way

    IRV: affects outcome that way

    pros and cons, blahblahblah, etc. also.

    you do make a fascinating point about the push to moderation.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ Cedwyn: "results oriented" means choosing a process by whether you like the product, rather than by whether the process has the necessary attributes.

    It is to IRV's credit that it doesn't favor a particular ideology (product) -- it's a neutral improvement that helps all voters because it almost entirely eliminates the possibility of having a winner whom the majority voted against. (If a lot of people "bullet vote" -- only pick one choice -- then it's still possible to have a majority winner (the candidate with the majority of votes in the end) who did not wind up with majority support of all voters (if you look at the percentage of votes cast in the first round.)

    To go back to the results oriented thing, if we're going to dis IRV because it might have helped Gordo stay in office, then we should also note that Al Franken, Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, and Harry Reid all wish Minnesota used IRV right now.

    (In fact, both Obama and McCain have endorsed IRV.)

  • LT (unverified)
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    George, we are talking about specific proposals here in Oregon.

    If you like IRV that much, contact Kate Brown, Berger, Buckley, Monroe and ask what you can do to help pass the legislation mentioned above.

    If you truly want IRV and not just argument, do the actual work required to make it happen.

    Be prepared to answer questions if someone asks you in person about the concerns James X has expressed here.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ LT: Excuse me, I was responding to the post by Cedwyn above.

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    "Uh, gang - to underscore what Dan Meek said: If we'd had IRV this election Gordon Smith would almost certainly still be our Senator come January."

    First of all, as George S mentions, this is a LOUSY way to determine public policy--ie, whatever's best for Democrats is best for the system. Second of all, I don't see how this claim is substantiated, and in fact I think logic suggests the opposite is true. Because people who really favored Brownlow may have been afraid to vote for him lest Merkley (their 3rd choice) get the win, they voted for Smith in order to prevent spoiling.

    With IRV, that voter would have put Brownlow first, Smith second and Merkley third. This has the effect of increasing Brownlow's number and reducing Smith's. While Smith may gain relative to Merkley as far as gaining more 2nds than 3rds in that scenario, two things are important to remember: 1) Instead of Smith getting a #1 vote, now Brownlow does, which is good for Merkley, and 2) under IRV there would have been a much stronger likelihood of a comparative "left" candidate who would have put Merkley 2nd and Smith third, balancing the process further.

    And there's another reasonable prospect: because Brownlow was firmly against BOTH wars, he may have drawn some far left votes---which would have likely given Merkley more 2nd place votes.

    I'm not sure I understand Jim Ross' point, much as I respect his experience in politics. Why is a runoff needed to "vet" any candidate? That process is supposed to occur BEFORE the runoff, and any failure on the voters' part to consider all tenable candidates is their own, not that of the system. The charge that IRV leads to unknown, corrupt candidates winning seems spurious to me.

    I have no idea what LT is talking about. It's a Legislature; they consider bills and vote on them. They also have hearings on them beforehand. If every issue went through a series of town halls before the vote--iyee. I especially find it curious to espouse kowtowing to people who (by LT's admission) "don't care" about the process, really. If they don't care, that's their problem. If they care, they can avail themselves of the information and lobby their representative as necessary. That's how it works.

    Steve Maurer has some good ideas, but I see two difficulties. First, you can't declare your party on a primary ballot, because you wouldn't have the right ballot in the first place. As a NAV, I get a different ballot entirely than Dems or Rs. It would be impossible to declare myself a Democrat and vote a Dem ballot, with the NAV ballot being the one I was issued.

    I also don't think requiring the minor party to have already nominated a losing major party candidate is workable--can you tell WFP when to hold their nominations? Telling a party they have to hold their general election nomination before April of the election year strikes me as wholly unfair. I would agree that there should be a Lieberman clause that prevents you from FORMING a party after the primary for the purposes of running in a race you have lost. But to be already nominated? Not so much. Of course, the simplest thing is plainly just to ban a losing candidate for running in the same race under any other auspices, period. If you run in the primary stage, you need to win or you're out.

    I don't think fusion dilutes IRV, because it adds the notion of coalition to the process. Fusion's primary value in the current system isn't so much spoiler prevention--giving the voter a more thorough expression of her preferences among ALL candidates in the race--as it is in showing the candidates where their support lies. If Merkley had been on the WFP line and won, he would have known that X% of his victory was due precisely to those who favor kitchen table issues as most important. A GOP winner might take votes from the Constitutuion Party and gauge how much of his support is focused on social issues like abortion, gun rights and abolition of the IRS. ;)

  • (Show?)

    Addendum--I'm not a NAV anymore, but assume I am for the example.

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    I support IRV, because it enables voters to convey their wishes much more accurately than the present system. Yes, in Oregon, the absence of IRV seems to have benefitted the D Party over the past 18 years and appears to have significantly assisted in the election of 2 D Governors and 1 D Senator (Jeff). But it could just as easily have been the other way around, if the third candidates had been on the liberal or progressive side.

    It is interesting how this ties into the other thread about the alleged death of the R Party in Oregon. A candidate of a dead party would not have gotten within 3% of winning the Senate race, particularly when he had to overcome the 5.2% of the vote earned by the Constitution Party candidate. Smith's last campaign ad ("Dave Brownlow . . . just too liberal") was an astute attempt to have Brownlow candidacy draw votes from Merkley instead of Smith. I tend to doubt that it worked, so I think most Brownlow votes were those of conservatives.

  • Bob Richard (unverified)
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    I'm responding to Peter Forsyth and others who ask, "What problem does IRV solve?" It's called vote splitting. It's a very real problem that sometimes causes the wrong candidate to win. "Wrong" in the sense that a solid majority coalition wants somebody else.

    I know that this is a Democratic Party forum and the current Senate race is an uncomfortable example. But, just for a minute, let's be small-d democrats rather than large-D partisans. Believe me, the shoe will be on the other foot as often as not. If the second choices of Brownlow's supporters had been recorded, it would almost certainly be apparent that Merkley was the wrong winner because a (in this case very tiny) majority prefer Smith to Merkley. It's just that a (in this case tiny) fraction of that majority coalition like Brownlow even better than Smith and were willing to say so. In short, Smith is a fairer -- more (small-d) democratic -- outcome than Merkley.

    Candidates like Brownlow are often called "spoilers". Does anyone remember the uproar over Nader in 2000? Yes, the shoe is often on the other foot. But these candidates don't actually spoil elections. Elections are spoiled by the winner-take-all, plurality voting method, which penalizes voters for stating their true first choice.

    IRV implements majority rule better than delayed runoffs at a lot less cost. The cost of runoffs is not just the cost to the government to run a second election. It also includes the cost to the candidates and financial backers to run a second campaign, cost to the voters to have to listen to the commercials all over again and cast another ballots, and cost to the democratic process when turnout is dramatically lower in one round than the other.

  • Bob Richard (unverified)
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    Fusion is a valuable reform. In fact, it is a right that political parties ought to have. The Supreme Court was wrong to decide that states can take that right away. Hopefully that decision will be reversed someday.

    Combined with IRV or delayed runoff, fusion gives small parties important flexibility. But in the absence of a majority-rule voting procedure, it is not a solution to the problem of vote splitting, unless by "solution" you mean, "OK, fine, you can run our candidate without the penalty of the spoiler role, but we're not going to let you run one of your own".

    Also, how does fusion help voters whose first choice candidate is an independent, unaffiliated with any party?

  • LT (unverified)
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    My point is this:

    I have gotten emails (been on multiple emails from legislators) saying "Come to a town hall meeting on the bill to...." when a legislator was pushing a bill important to them. I hadn't realized anyone considered that an odd strategy. Sounds intelligent to me--good way to build a grass roots lobbying force for a bill which otherwise might not get much support or publicity.

    I said I live in a district where the number of town hall meetings (general interest or any topic) that our state rep. has had could be counted probably on the fingers of one hand. The number of "Come, ask me anything" town hall meetings with only the state rep. at the front of the room engaging in dialogue with ordinary citizens (the way Wyden does in each county once a year) has been ZERO. State Rep. gives a good impression of not caring about constituents, but where did I say ordinary people don't care about the process?

    If people have work and family responsibilities which preclude going to legislative hearings (hopefully in the future if a bill is scheduled to be heard at 4pm on Tuesday the 3rd, it will be held then, not rescheduled at the last minute, and progressive chairs would allow those who have come from a ways away to testify before those in the building every day), does that mean they "don't care" or does it mean there is more in their lives than politics?

    Maybe TJ thinks Vicki plays the game the way the game is supposed to be played--town hall meetings with constitutents are less important than inside games with people who are in the capitol every day. Why have an open public process when it is so much easier to only talk to the people in the capitol every day!

    But I don't think that is what founders of the Progressive movement, or the folks who got so much good legislation passed in Oregon in past decades think is how the system should work.

    I believe a legislator who considers a bill important should try to "sell " it too the public, not just campaign for it among legislators and "stakeholders". If that makes me strange or old fashioned, so be it.

    If IRV is to be a crusade, not just the subject of a debating society, the supporters will hold many hearings and town hall meetings on any IRV measure before it is passed--and hopefully some night hearings / hearings outside the capitol building as well.

    Are there really 31 votes for this in the House and 16 in the Senate? We will find out.

    How many legislators see this as a top priority item?

    Someday, we will have a bill number for this bill and be able to read the text. And be able to contact legislators and say "I agree/ disagree with the language of HB 1234, esp. this section....".

    Some of our state rep. races were close. If those who won by small margins start hearing from constituents that the bill is too esoteric given the problems facing Oregon in 2009, how will those legislators react? The definition of esoteric I am using is "understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest". If they get one comment on IRV and hundreds on budget or other issues, which issues will they make a priority?

    My experience as a Salem resident watching the legislature goes back decades. I have helped lobby bills friends were supporting. I once testified in committee. I do understand the process, regardless of what some may think.

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    To those who are making a "good government" argument in favor of IRV, let me just offer this from Mark Schmitt, now editor of American Prospect:

    There is and always has been a good-government strain of progressive politics that looks at the integrity of the system as somehow an end in itself, without regard to the basic issues of distributional justice that are the reason for politics in the first place. Good-government politics not only doesn't achieve the goals of justice, it also cannot possibly command a majority, especially not a majority of working people of all races who need much more from government than just internal integrity.

    That "much more" is why we work to elect progressives in the first place. Right?

  • LT (unverified)
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    Thanks, Dan. There are lots of things a legislature does which impact everyday life in Oregon (parents of infants glad that when the bill to outlaw disposable diapers was introduce it wasn't passed---there were legislators who were parents of infants and opposed the bill, not to mention family leave and a whole host of other legislation) a lot more than voting systems.

    This bill "IRV for local elections, committee bill introduced by Kate Brown." would be more likely to succeed than the others, IMO.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    "Article II, Section 16 of the Oregon Constitution allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Instead of voting for just one candidate, voters can indicate their first, second and third choices. If a candidate wins a majority of first-choice rankings, that candidate is elected. If, on the other hand, no candidate receives an initial majority of first-choice rankings, the candidate with the fewest first-choice rankings is eliminated from the contest and that candidate's supporters now have their votes count for their second choice"

    Sounds too much and/or simular to College Football's BCS crap to determine thier national football champion. That makes IRV an automatic no in my book. Public office is a more real human thing than a sports championship, and downgrading an election to the level of a suspect, amalgamated series of subjected polls is just making it too confusing and crazy.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Thank you Eric Parker!

    I emailed a Democratic legislator today on this subject, and mentioned this BO topic. I mentioned my concerns about the possible legislation, and the items I thought were of higher priority.

    I would urge anyone with strong feelings on this issue to do the same thing--more powerful than just blogging.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    ALthough I like the idea of instant runoff, the whole business of framing the argument in terms of so-called spoiler candidates is bogus, because it implicitly buys into the argument that only "major" candidates are legitimate.

  • Jack (unverified)
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    Let me correct some misleading points about San Francisco and make a couple additional comments.

    Jim writes: San Francisco has had IRV or what we call Ranked Choice Voting, because there is nothing instant about it.... any people blame the election of a corrupt supervisor, who was a corrupt candidate, on this system. Because he never went through the rigors of an actual run off election he was able to sneak through with 2nd place votes and was never truly vetted. Six months later he was caught demanding bribes.

    Jim neglects to mention that this candidate was by far the most popular Asian American candidate in an Asian American majority district. He also was the leader after the count of first choices and would have won in a traditional plurality election. He also would have very likely won in a traditional runoff against the second-place candidate, a non-Asian candidate.

    Can IRV prevent the election of candidates who are ultimately disappointing? Of course not! But what is true is that this week's SF elections again elected very progressive candidates who didn't need to worry about splitting the vote -- and there was plenty of vigorous debate.

    Jim also suggests IRV isn't instant because the city has to wait on absentee ballots, just as they do in ala western states. But Burlington (VT) had its results within a couple hours of polls closing in its mayoral election in 2006 (in a race where a third party candidate won against a disappointing, corporate-type Democrat and a Republican). For the voters, of course, it's instant in how they vote -- one reason they overwhelmingly prefer IRV to their old system according to local exit polls, including by a whopping 8 to one margin among young voters under 30.

    LT writes (and others echo in one form or another): "Personally, I like the idea of non-instant runoff, like what Saxby Chambliss now has to endure in Georgia."

    Well... turnout in Georgia is going to plummet - disproportionately among working class and younger people. The candidates are going to spend millions. Special interest money will soar. Sorry, that's not better in my book.

    Earlier LT writes: "My perception is that the IRV advocates think they can just talk about it here and not have to talk face to face with actual voters who don't think there is anything wrong with the current system of voting."

    Huh> Instant runoff voting has been passed by voters in something like 15 ballot measures around the country, including major cities like Memphis this week (71%), Oakland, Minneapolis, Pierce County (WA), etc, etc. Using it for Congress got through the Vermont legislature after years of work and was vetoed by a craven Republican governor who knows it might hurt his party. Laws to help cities use IRV passed two states this year, and as has been pointed out, a similar bill moved in Oregon. IRV advocates aren't just holding debating clubs.

    As one example of how deeply it's sunk into the political culture of Minnesota (where 14 of the last 20 statewide races have been won by less than 50% and this year's senate race has two candidates tied with less than 42%), google "instant runoff" and "franken" and see what you get.

    Finally, for those focused on the partisan angle in this year's Senate race, you really can't say what would have happened. Up in Pierce County right now, say, the right-wing independent's votes are going more to one of the Democrats in the county executive race than the Republican -- and that's a key reason IRV is vaulting her from second to first ahead of the Republican who has a plurality of first choices. All we can say for sure is that with IRV voters could have voted more freely and there would be clarity that a candidate isn't taking office over the clear will of the majority.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ Dan P.: Yes, IRV does not address the "much more" issues of distributional justice. It also doesn't cure cancer, acne, or dry, cracked skin.

    What IRV does do is provide a big step towards fixing a major cause of dissatisfaction with politics, which is a brain-dead plurality system, a system that regularly produces pathological results when more than two candidates contest for a seat. It provides a way for minor parties and their closest major party cousin to occupy the same space without need for the vicious competition that occurs today whenever a solid individual chooses to line up under a minor party banner (which has the perverse effect of threatening their closest major party cousin while benefiting their most distant one).

    As for whether helping reduce that dissatisfaction with politics is itself a progressive step, my notion is yes, it is. Frustration with an unreliable system for choosing elected officials -- a system that often produces downright backfiring results, and that makes wary voters have to think and vote strategically -- is itself a cause of cynicism about government, which is an anti-progressive phenomenon. The fact is, when we get a minority winner despite clear majority opposition, we are hitting a majority of voters in the face and telling them that their votes didn't count and their participation meant nothing -- even though they had the majority! Many voters conclude that the system is rigged and designed for the benefit of officeholders rather than voters -- and in this instance, they're right. But the poisonous feelings that stem from that insult aren't limited to just a dumb election system. Instead, they leak out to all actions of government, which is a problem if you want government to be able to take effective action.

    @ Erik P: Really? IRV resembles BCS??

    Actually, IRV is much more like a true playoff than the BCS -- only instead of needing multiple weeks and multiple rounds, IRV gets the job done in one efficient step.

    With a ranked choice ballot, every voter gets to pick their true favorite, without regard for what other voters do.

    They then have the chance to say "If no one gets a majority and wins outright (equivalent to going undefeated through the season), and if my true favorite doesn't have much support (has lost the most games during the season), then instead of discarding my vote entirely and only letting other voters decide, add my vote to those cast for this other team here (the second choice).

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    The reason I like IRV in principle is because it would increase the role of smaller parties in getting ideas onto the public agenda in a way that I just don't think fusion by itself does.

    The public would need to be persuaded it was a good idea, IMO, and that would take some work in crafting clear explanations, as well as various forms of engagement.

    However, LT, that is no reason not to discuss it on blogs. That's simply a red herring.

    Joel, I think you mistake the point of the "spoiler" argument. For me it is not that small party candidates are illegitimate, but that IRV would a) remove the grounds of accusation by those who say they are (think how many electrons could have been saved in blog debates over Nader 2000 if there'd been IRV), and b) create a situation in which substantial numbers of voters would no longer be faced with a choice between casting a vote that has the same practical effect as abstention in order to support someone whose views are closer to what they'd like to see, or voting for someone who really is a second choice in order to get the preference for that person over a third or lower choice expressed.

    It still would be possible to bullet vote -- have only a first preference.

    Consider Nader in 2000. If IRV had been in place I think it is likely that his support would have been in the 10% range and possibly higher. The phony excuses for excluding him from debates would have been much harder to sustain, so that shared elements between the DP and RP establishments would have faced different challenges and been more likely to have been followed up in the media.

    A chunk of that support would have been people like me who voted for Gore rather than abstain (to me the least of three evils, with a Nader abstention worse than Gore vote along with a Bush vote worse than a Gore vote). We could have made Gore a second choice.

    Possibly all the Nader voters would have voted only Nader because they were opposed in principle to voting for either Ds or Rs. More likely, however, some of them would have made Gore a second choice, if their motive was to express their true preference, but not necessarily opposition in principle to ever voting D or R. Some would still have bullet-voted.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Chris, I did not say "don't discuss on blogs", I said that anyone who really wants IRV has to go beyond blogs and actually get involved in making it happen.

    Your comment is very intersting. You said "The reason I like IRV in principle is because it would increase the role of smaller parties in getting ideas onto the public agenda in a way that I just don't think fusion by itself does. "

    That's fine--discuss principle all you want.

    But if you actually want IRV to happen, you have to go from principle to practice. For instance, if a state legislator arrives at the capitol in January with 5 priorities, and IRV is not one of them, discussing IRV in principle is not going to make that legislator put IRV on the priority list. That was my point.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Jack, this is interesting information. " Instant runoff voting has been passed by voters in something like 15 ballot measures around the country,"

    But Oregonians are not required to support IRV just because other jurisdictions have. Voters in their wisdom voted down M. 65--maybe it was because they like the voting system the way it is. If not convinced IRV will make improvements in the current system, they can just as easily vote down IRV.

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    I'm just not convinced that IRV is the solution.

    However, I do like Fusion Voting. And I like a lot of what Steve Maurer said above.

    I know I'll certainly be down in Salem pushing for same day voter registration. It's something I've been working on for a while, and I know it's something that State Rep. Cannon has been working on as well. I look forward to continuing to work on this with him. SOS Bradbury had been on board at previous hearings, and I hope to see SOS Brown there as well.

    I think something that needs to added to the list of improvements to make is to increase the number of locations that voters have to drop off their ballots.

    For instance, did you know there are only four locations east of I-205 in Multnomah County to drop off your ballot? There's the 122nd Street library, Gresham Library, Rockwood Library, and Fairview-Columbia Library. That's it.

    That area makes up a third of the county's voters, yet has less than 20% of the county's drop locations.

    People seem to forget that there's a lot of Multnomah County east of I-205. I-205 runs right about 90th or so, and I live all the way out at 257th. You have to go down I-84 another 24 miles from where I'm at to reach the county line. And we have only four drop locations?!?

    I'm sure there are similar problems in other counties.

    We have to make it easier for people to be able to drop off their ballots. And here in Multnomah County - especially east county - we need more locations, a good number of which should be a very quick walk from a frequent service line or MAX.

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    I know that this is a Democratic Party forum and the current Senate race is an uncomfortable example. But, just for a minute, let's be small-d democrats rather than large-D partisans. Believe me, the shoe will be on the other foot as often as not.

    If it makes you more comfortable, then put it in context of the Senate race in Minnesota - where it is crystal clear that 58% of the voters want nothing to do with Norm Coleman, and yet the presence of Dean Barkley means that the anti-Coleman vote was split, leading to the (possible) re-election of Coleman.

    For all those who are trying to understand the point, it's really very simple: If you think Dean Barkley would make a great Senator, and you're convinced that Norm Coleman is a disaster, then you should be able to vote for Barkley with a clear conscience, without worrying that by doing so you're re-electing Coleman.

    Put another way, every voter should be able to vote based on their own preferences - and without being forced to estimate, speculate, or imagine what other voters think. Amateur game theory should not be required to vote.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Thank you Jenni! I believe the issues you raise are more important to ordinary folks than IRV.

    George, if you believe this: "What IRV does do is provide a big step towards fixing a major cause of dissatisfaction with politics, which is a brain-dead plurality system, " you talk to much different people than I do.

    The folks I know rely on people they know to get voting information "Would you email me all the numbers for the Sizemore and Mannix measures so I will know which ones to vote against?" "If you know both candidates (yes, seldom a 3rd party candidate here) and say one is a lot better for that county job than the other one, I will take your word for it, and thank you for the input".

    We live near County Elections, so that is where we drop off ballots. They only have inside service there--the drive up service is downtown on a wide street alongside the courthouse. That sort of thing is more important to people I know than the system of voting.

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    They only have inside service there--the drive up service is downtown on a wide street alongside the courthouse. That sort of thing is more important to people I know than the system of voting.

    That's the biggest non-sequitor of all time.

    Seriously, LT, if we promise you that you can still drop off your ballots exactly the same way you do now, will you consider IRV on the merits?

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)
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    I don't have a problem with Fusion voting. As for IRV being some kind of an improvement, voters get to chose from anybody on the ballot or write someone in. There is no institutional block to voting for whom you wish. A srategic vote is the voter's choice.

    Let's leave Brownlow off the ballot for a second, so Smith becomes my #2 choice? Why? I like my damn dog more. Am I supposed to research the Constitutional Party and the Libertarians to see if I like them more than Smith? On a scale of honesty - yes, policy - no. I might find it in me vote Republican, but those two scare the snot out of me and I'm supposed to figure out which one scares me less? To be sure, a Green or Family doesn't automatically scare me, and maybe if they ran somebody I liked I'd vote for them. But I have that choice now.

    If I'm so unhappy with a Democrat that I'd vote for somebody else, I obviously don't very much care if the Dem wins or not, so why do I need a 2 or 8 for him?

    Had GWB not won 2 elections and the Rs a bunch of Congressional elections the Obama election may well not have occurred, sometimes it is important to have people screw the works up and get banished for awhile. Would the D Party of today look like it does without some time in the wilderness? Maybe the Rs don't need to be #2, maybe they need to go away and have a new party/ies. IRV would almost guarantee that wouldn't happen. A crap party can stay viable by being #2 choice for its nearest voters.

    I use the Rs because they are currently in the doghouse. Why aren't there Whigs around, today? Why would the Rs smarten up if they're not losing elections due to (x) votes, if they get the 'oh well' vote as well?

    There are unintended consquences to this kind of mucking about, the will of the voters is important but so is pushing them into making clear decisions and this muddies the waters, a lot.

    If you think I'm pushing a (D)agenda, just replace the (R) in my examples. I have gone against the (D) for good reasons and I'm satisfied that for the time being they've learned something. I want them to face that stark reality, that we could easily send them to the dog house and giving them a #2 because the (R) is farther away isn't going to do that job.

    If you think this has something to do with the will of the voters, get your initiative drive going, I'll vote no, but I'll enjoy your campaign a lot more than Sizemore's and you'll get thumped at the polls. You keep thinking you're fixing something the voters don't think is broken.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ LT: I did not mean to suggest that people necessarily understood that plurality is one of the causes of their dissatisfaction.

    In fact, I hazard a guess that most Americans are totally uneducated about the fact that there even is any "other way" to vote--that's been my common experience in talking to people about alternatives. Fish can't see the water. Or to take another metaphor, people whose thyroid quits functioning often complain about a huge array of ailments -- but they all are rooted in a simple failure of a small organ. They discuss and complain about their perceived problems -- which they don't even know could possibly have a common cause.

    So too with voters and plurality. Voters in the main, don't even think that plurality is a choice. If they think about voting methods at all, they think that the way they learned to run elections in grade school is simply "how you vote." Every other system is then way behind simply because they are perceived as "alternatives" to the way God intended us to vote.

    So, no, I'm not claiming that voters understand the problem. But, I am claiming from experience that when voters become aware of plurality's shortcomings -- when their consciousness is raised, as it were -- and when they know that there is a very simple change, proven system, invented in America, that eliminates those problems, they become VERY interested in the solution. For example, Minnesota is having a LOT of discussion about IRV right now.

    The only place that used IRV and then dropped it was Ann Arbor, Michigan, and that was because it worked precisely as intended in 1975, allowing the voters for the Human Rights Party to have their second choices count for a Democratic candidate rather than elect the Republican (which is why the GOP brought -- and lost -- a suit to get rid of IRV, so they then simply dropped the figleaf of concern about what voters wanted and used their council majority to eliminate it, so that the Democrats would start losing elections again thanks to splitting up the non-GOP vote in a majority liberal city.)

    Is it really necessary to wait until we suffer a painful loss caused by the plurality system to address the problem that Kari succinctly identified? Must we really continue living in a minefield that regularly causes an unnecessary loss (election of a candidate opposed by a majority of voters)?

    M.65 proposed one way to deal with this problem--reduce voters choices to an arbitrary number, two -- which is only one more choice than we got in places like the Soviet Union.

    The problem is that reducing voter choice (in addition to being theoretically unpalatable) also has the problem that voters don't like it. US experience at every level shows a uniform result: the more viable candidates there are on the ballot, the more voters are inclined to pay attention and participate.

    I (and many others) argue that elections in which more people participate are better for a democracy, as they produce outcomes that more people have endorsed (the process, even if they opposed the eventual winner).

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ Chuck Butcher and Jenni Simonis: I think we can (and do) agree that fusion is a good idea.

    But fusion only serves as a kind of ventilator for minor parties -- it keeps them alive, but still trapped in the nursing home. Because the ability to cross-nominate only helps a minor party that does not have a strong nominee to run. So while it can provide useful information to the public when a "fused" candidate is elected, and it does let voters express important information about their preferences (voting for the fused candidate on the minor party line tells us something about the electorate's views that we don't get if the voters have to take their lumps and vote for one major party candidate just to avoid helping elect one that they like even less).

    But fusion is irrelevant to healthy minor parties that field their own candidates, because major parties don't cross-nominate. Thus, fusion helps keep minor parties going, but if they get well enough to try to get out of bed (run their own slate of candidates), they're right back where they started, and their closest cousin major party is right back where we are now, with vicious infighting between people who ought to be aligned with each other to defeat the other major. That's why you need some method of eliminating the vote-splitting problem, and that's what IRV does.

    Obviously, if I like Sally and both the Dems and the Greens endorse her, then I get a nice benefit by being able to vote for Sally on whichever line I prefer the most, and the system gains something from knowing how many Sally voters like the Democratic Party platform and how many like the Green Party platform.

    But even -- and this is most important -- if I prefer Indira the Independent most, but then Sally the Democratic/Green fused candidate, and both of them to Gordon to GOPster, without IRV I have a real problem. If I vote for my true favorite, Indira, I may well be helping elect Gordon the Gopster, fusion or not. What I need is a way to vote for Indira without helping Gordon, and IRV does that -- I vote (1) Indira, (2) Sally (on whichever party line I prefer) and then skip voting for Gordon entirely.

    Thus, Sally can come talk to Indira's voters and, instead of threatening them with things like,"You know, you're just helping Gordon," she can say things like "If you like Indira best, then compare my overlap with her positions and Gordon's overlap, and it's clear that I should be your second choice." Respectful and friendly, in other words, rather than negative and hostile.

    Fusion doesn't get us there. IRV does.

  • Terry Bouricius (unverified)
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    IRV is an important pro-democracy reform. My own city of Burlington (VT) has used it since 2006, and it works great. In our first IRV election for mayor we had higher voter turnout than recent elections, and voters had no difficulty -- fully 99.9% of ballots cast in the IRV race were valid. Also, exit polls showed voters overwhelmingly preferred IRV to the old system. By eliminating the "spoiler" issue from that campaign, voters simply voted their conscience without worrying about inadvertently helping elect the candidate they liked least (think Gore/Bush/Nader). You can find lots about it at Burlington's city election web site

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    Chuck wrote... Let's leave Brownlow off the ballot for a second, so Smith becomes my #2 choice?

    No, no, no. In a two-person race, you wouldn't have a second choice. In a two-person race, the candidate with the most #1 choices would win an outright majority. In a two-person race, there is no difference - NONE! - between IRV and what we have now.

    IRV only matters in 3+ candidate races.

    Look at it this way: John Frohnmayer got out of the Senate race because he said he didn't want to be a spoiler.

    But with IRV, that would not have mattered. And for those who thought that Frohnmayer's positions were the best, they could vote for him #1 and Merkley #2. They would no longer have to fear that voting for Frohnmayer would elect Smith.

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    @Kari -- that's not what John Frohnmayer said. He actually said he'd wear the title of "spoiler" proudly if he were able to run competitively, but happened to lose. He expressed contempt for the view that he should withdraw simply because he might "spoil" the race for a candidate like Merkley.(http://www.ivotejohn.com/) I think that Ben Westlund, in the 2006 gubernatorial race, did say something in much closer alignment with your point, so that example would serve well.

    @Chuck -- as for learning about the "lesser evils" of the Constitution Party, Libertarian Party etc. -- I think simply leaving them off your list is the way to go.

    The point of IRV is that it allows you to vote exactly as you do now (by choosing only your top choice, and declining to rank the others); but it gives you the additional option of ranking candidates. In practice, if you're going to vote for a D or an R, it doesn't make much difference; but if you have the desire to assert that a minor party candidate is the best choice, without hurting the major party candidate who's closer to your views, that's where IRV offers you a benefit.

    But, all those strategic things take a bit of understanding, and if they can't be presented in a way that most voters understand the significance of ranking or not-ranking, I'd say that's a pretty big problem. One of several problems that keeps me skeptical about IRV.

    @Bob Richard -- You repeat arguments I've heard before. I'm pretty familiar with Nader, Cox, Westlund, Brownlow, Starrett etc. But you present two premises; I don't take the second one at face value. I'm convinced that vote-splitting causes the "wrong" candidate to be elected; I suppose maybe that happens sometimes, though it requires some careful analysis and some untestable assumptions to assert it in any specific case. But I'm not convinced that IRV fixes it, where it is a problem.

    @Dan Meek -- You suggest the hypothesis that more progressive candidates could act as spoilers, like Nader in 2000. But is it mere fortune that this hasn't occurred? Or is it a sign of the strength of the progressive movement? In recent history, Westlund and Frohnmayer both declined to run, while Cox, Starrett, and Brownlow forged ahead. As the Republican and so-called "conservative" world dives deeper into its identity crisis and struggles to identify core issues and leaders, is there any reason to think their candidates will become more strategic in their races? I think not.

    @Steve Maurer -- I find little to quarrel with in your list. I think it would be a significant improvement; but the idea of all taxpayers funding primary elections that exclude massive numbers of registered voters. Same-day registration mitigates that a bit, but it does not come close to solving the problem.

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    Posted by: Dan Petegorsky | Nov 8, 2008 8:02:06 AM

    Uh, gang - to underscore what Dan Meek said: If we'd had IRV this election Gordon Smith would almost certainly still be our Senator come January.

    Dan, not sure what the problem is. The goal of election reform is to assure that the election system most accurately reflects the preferences of the voters, not to assure the victory of one or another political party.

    IRV is demonstrably superior to first past the post on these grounds. First past the post is just about the most terrible election system yet devised, in terms of representativeness.

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    I think we've got different views about how elections work, Paul. No matter what system you devise, the winners will be those who can most effectively mobilize and deploy people and resources. Any system will either by intention or through unintended consequences build in advantages or disadvantages, and these can depend as much on the integrity (or manipulative intent, competence, etc.) of those implementing the system as anything. But I think it's pretty hard to maintain that the system itself is inherently better or worse, and will somehow guarantee a 'better' outcome.

    Many, for example, think that proportional representation offers a much fairer system - and indeed since we'll soon see the Senate revert to having zero black members (unless Jesse junior gets Obama's seat) it's an appealing idea. But I was just thinking this morning how ultimately catastrophic that system has proved to be in the Israeli Knesset, since it has given the minor ultra-Orthodox parties power to continue making/breaking governments for decades, giving no major party the lasting power it needs to negotiate and then implement peace agreements.

    I also think it's ironic to be having this discussion at just the point when we've seen - through the Obama campaign - what amounts to the largest community organizing campaign in history, having engaged literally millions of volunteers in giving of their time, money, etc. In that respect, the kinds of system reforms that strike me as most salient right now have much more to do with the fundamentally flawed systems of voter registration that are still prevalent, and that in many respects have been actually made worse under HAVA. Seems to me these have led to more widespread disenfranchisement that how voters do/don't select from among third party candidates. And here in Oregon the door is wide open to the idea of universal/automatic/permanent registration now that we’ve gotten rid of the double majority requirement. But that’s for another thread…

  • LT (unverified)
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    "Dan, not sure what the problem is. The goal of election reform is to assure that the election system most accurately reflects the preferences of the voters, not to assure the victory of one or another political party."

    Paul, Tom Cox did a great public service. He gave a link to Wikipedia on voting systems (an article much clearer than anything written here by IRV advocates).

    It seems to me that many people here are discussing what the article calls voting theory, while most ordinary citizens I know are more interested in voting logistics.

    From the Wikipedia article, it strikes me that I have seen or heard of some of these voting systems in organizational elections. A church where the Counting Committee is in charge of vote counting in an election of officers. It is a system where everyone is on the ballot the first time, the bottom 2 vote getters are then dropped off every round until there is a clear winner. The election can take a long time.

    In 1988, at the Platform Convention, the DNC members were elected by what I suspect is close to the IRV system advocated here. 3 women running for DNC. 2 very well known candidates and a third one. Very heated campaigning, including a friend saying "please vote for my candidate, even though you don't like her, and as 2nd place if you don't want to vote for her as first choice".

    The 3rd candidate giving the appearance of making some kind of deal with the first candidate. (Could something like that happen under IRV?) Conversations going on between delegates and candidates, some of them being conversations like "you haven't been very friendly in the past, but if you promise to be polite to me from now on, I'll vote for you as first choice as my friend asked me to".

    That sort of thing might work in organizational elections, but I wonder how it would work in regular elections. Every proposal is subject to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    It seems for me, for IRV to succeed, there would have to be acceptance if not advocacy from the county clerks. My county clerk is an old friend, and I think IRV would be a headache for him and for all the county clerks. County clerks were a force in vote by mail happening.

    Kari said, "Seriously, LT, if we promise you that you can still drop off your ballots exactly the same way you do now, will you consider IRV on the merits?"

    Seriously, Kari, if the advocates here can prove they have discussed this with county clerks, that would create more support than snide remarks. And if more of this sort of explanation is given by IRV advocates,

    "The point of IRV is that it allows you to vote exactly as you do now (by choosing only your top choice, and declining to rank the others); but it gives you the additional option of ranking candidates. " or "In a two-person race, there is no difference - NONE! - between IRV and what we have now."

    it would look like a more serious campaign in favor of an issue than what has appeared here so far.

    How long has BO been discussing IRV, and only NOW such details are being presented? What was the expectation, that the theory alone would impress people?

    As someone who has worked more years in sales than I care to remember, it seems that explanations of the assets and liabilities of various voting systems, along with discussion of logistical concerns, would have "sold" the idea of IRV a lot more effectively than what sounds like an attitude of "you are supposed to be impressed by our examples from other jurisdictions, and accept the premise of our voting theory without asking such detailed logistical questions".

    Jenni doesn't seem convinced. James X wisely says, "My only concern is that IRV ballots could prove confusing for some."

    Steve has the right to say he sees it as a solution in search of a problem.

    Does BO want to be a discussion "around the water cooler" as a general political blog? Or be ideologically pure on the subject that we have to change our voting system, and people who want to see a whole lot of detail before considering such wholesale change are not welcome?

    Many people are barely scraping by, worried about paying bills, unemployed or underemployed, some having to move in with relatives or do other things to get by which they could not have imagined doing a year or 2 ago.

    But that doesn't matter because progressives don't care about such issues affecting ordinary Oregonians nearly as much as they do about voting system theory?

    Folks, almost 20 years ago, Kevin Phillips made fun of people active at both ends of the political spectrum who were so lacking in common sense, so out of touch with ordinary Americans, so involved in the discussion of unworkable abstractions and out of touch with the lives of ordinary voters that he said they "couldn't park a bicycle straight".

    If it bothers you that I live out in the real world where academic discussions are rare or nonexistent, it bothers me that anyone here thinks IRV or fusion voting, or anything else can become a new part of Oregon's election procedure by law or ballot measure without the support of those from county clerks to ordinary voters.

    Go back to the process which led to the current all vote by mail system happened. I remember when postcard registration was a new idea -- not that many decades ago, a person had to appear in front of a registrar to register to vote. Read about all the hard work it took for the Bottle Bill, or the Beach Bill so Oregonians could go all the way down to the ocean.

    Or sit back and think blogs can change the world all by themselves.

    Personally, I am still almost in awe of what happened Tuesday night. Perhaps Andy Rooney said it best,

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/11/07/60minutes/rooney/main4581854.shtml?source=RSS&attr=_4581854 The fact that the citizens of this country, 80 percent of whom are white, freely chose to elect a black man as their leader simply because they thought he was the best choice makes me think that we have a right to be proud of ourselves.

    For all you IRV advocates, please post the bill number and link to any IRV legislation when it becomes available. If I happen to see any of the abovementioned sponsors and have a chance to talk with them face to face, I will ask them detailed questions about IRV legislation.

    But this seems like a peer pressure situation where some think all good people put IRV as one of their top legislative priorities---or else are using the newspaper guest opinion as a jumping off place to discuss something which most people aren't really focusing on the in early Nov. 2008.

    If it is a really popular idea, there will be at least one bill introduced and we can all read the text. There will be legislators writing guest opinions here or in newspapers about why it is a good idea. There will be extensive news coverage of the progress of the legislation. We're not there yet.

    One more thing, Dan. "Many, for example, think that proportional representation offers a much fairer system ".

    Some of the proportional representation systems I have heard of have a slate of legislators--if a party gets 55% of the vote they get 55% of the legislators or whatever. But are people voting for the party slate, or deciding on which individual will represent them? Are NAV just left out because everyone has to choose from slate A or slate B or slate C?

    If the latter, why is that better? In my state rep. district, there was a heated campaign between Vicki and Richard, and many people called them by first name. Short of a parliamentary system, if the candidates run on a slate, who chooses the slate? Why would the people who think there is too much "D team vs R team " now want to go to that system?

    The Public Comm. on the Legislature discussed nonpartisan legislature. We saw an example of that the year the state senate was 15-15. Unlike IRV or fusion or proportional representation, we have already seen how that works.

    I'm sure some people will call me a dangerous radical for the above, but my guess is there are some readers of BO who may say RIGHT ON!

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ Dan P:

    I think we've got different views about how elections work, Paul. No matter what system you devise, the winners will be those who can most effectively mobilize and deploy people and resources. Any system will either by intention or through unintended consequences build in advantages or disadvantages, and these can depend as much on the integrity (or manipulative intent, competence, etc.) of those implementing the system as anything. But I think it's pretty hard to maintain that the system itself is inherently better or worse, and will somehow guarantee a 'better' outcome.

    There is, indeed, no perfect system for translating group preferences to a single outcome, one that all people could agree trumps all other systems.

    There are, however, voting systems that reliably do a better job than others when measured against the criteria that most people find important. These could reasonably be called inherently better systems. Operating in the same electorate, they do a better job at translating the preferences of greater numbers of people into electoral choices.

    For a good, readable book on the subject of how voting systems work (and often fail), presented in an above-board, objective way, see

    "Behind the Ballot Box: A citizen's guide to voting systems" by Professor Douglas Amy. (http://is.gd/6R1T)

    As an aside, IRV is not relevant to a discussion of proportional representation systems because IRV does not attempt to improve the breadth of representation Rather, IRV is simply a better way to pick a single winner from a slate of multiple candidates. It's still winner-take-all, just like plurality. So IRV is the cleanest, simplest upgrade we can make to our system because it's essentially a modular change -- you swap out an inferior voting method and put in place a better one, but no other changes are needed. It doesn't require changing to multi-member districts, etc.

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    @LT:

    I'm glad that you found some of my words helpful, but I have to point something out: you and I have been part of discussions if IRV in the past, in which much substantive information has been presented. In fact, I directed you to exactly the same Wikipedia link that Tom did above, at least once, a couple years ago. Others, notably Kari, have done a good job explaining as well, at various times.

    You seem to be very intent on dividing the discussion up into "advocates" and "people to be persuaded." I'm not sure that's helpful. I think on some level, it's reasonable to expect anybody participating in the discussion to take a little responsibility for their own education on the subject matter.

    If I understand you right, your position seems to be "I don't want to discuss it until an advocate has given me information that I consider sufficient." I'm not sure that's reasonable, and it seems to set up a moving target. People have given you information about IRV in the past, and it's not fair for you to state that they haven't. If you didn't pursue and fully digest it, that's hardly anyone else's fault.

    I'm not an advocate of IRV, and I'm not opposed. Oregon's current electoral system has a number of significant problems, and I'd like to explore possible reforms, with the benefit of BlueOregon readers' perspectives -- and that includes you, because you often have very insightful things to say. But continual demands on how thoughts are presented put a damper on the conversation.

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    LT, specifically, you acknowledged the point I made above over two years ago. Surely you can understand that it gets a bit frustrating to hear now that you've never been told this?

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    On the topic that @Paul G, @Dan P, and @George S are discussing:

    My most recent thinking, somewhat reminiscent of a Magritte painting, goes about like this:

    • There is no way to accurately determine group preference, because such a thing probably doesn't exist.
    • It is essential for an electoral system to accurately track group preference.

    I'd say I'm most partial to Dan's position. I'm not sure I'd quite agree that it's impossible to say one system's better than another at tracking the electorate's intent, but I view any claim that one is better than another with a skeptical eye (per what George said).

    @George, I appreciate the book recommendation. I think it's the closest anyone has come to addressing my question about Tacoma, Australia, and yardsticks, far above, which remains my biggest point of contention. It would be nice if you could distill/summarize the relevant points, though if you don't have the time or inclination that's fine. But at a certain point, I find myself sympathizing with @LT -- if nobody's going to take the time in a discussion to get at this kind of stuff, I'm not likely to be persuaded.

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    Oh snap! Good work, Pete. That's one thing I love about a blog with permanent archives - people can't claim ignorance when they were part of the discussion before.

    Beyond that, I get the impression that LT thinks that BlueOregon is the entire sum total of political argument, discussion, and research in the entire universe.

    LT, if you've been confused about how IRV works lo these many years, why didn't you just go over to Wikipedia yourself?

    Do not assume that BlueOregon has all the answers for you. Also, do not assume that BlueOregon is written at a third-grade level for people who nothing about politics. This is a site for political junkies and insiders. It's perfectly reasonable to assume some basic prior knowledge -- or at least, that folks who have basic questions can find the answers somewhere.

    As always, do the google.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ Pete: I'm afraid I can't summarize the book because it's an hybrid academic book & workbook. That is, Amy is a political scientist whose specialty is psephology (study of voting systems, term derives from a word for stone, as would be used in a primitive voting system).

    What the book does is introduce the criteria that you judge a voting system on -- essentially, the mainly-common-sense ideas for what makes a voting method good. Things like "the system should not result in a winner whom most voters oppose," etc.

    Then it introduces most of the voting systems ever discussed in the world, tells a little bit about their strengths and weaknesses, and then tries to analyze them against the previously discussed criteria list.

    The theme of the book is that you shouldn't take Amy's word for it -- it's a "citizen's guide," meaning you are expected to actively follow along and make your own choices, deciding which criteria are most important to you and, therefore, in some sense, selecting your favorite voting methods (because they do best on the criteria you find most important).

    Of course the book introduces Arrow's Theorem, which is sort of the 2nd Law of voting systems, and (in lay terms) says that there is no perfect voting system (one that outperforms all other systems on all criteria). Arrow's proof of that theorem won him the Nobel Prize.

    So, no, I can't really reduce it.

    I can say, relevant to this discussion, that it's hard to find anyone, anywhere, who has studied voting methods for more than a few minutes who thinks plurality is worth a damn. While, per Arrow, there is no perfect system, there are clearly some systems that are superior to others, and plurality is one of the ones that falls behind.

    In fact, to find a real determined argument for sticking with plurality, you basically have to work backwards from the result you want (for plurality to "win") to figure out criteria that allow that to happen --- for plurality to "win" a selection of the best voting method, you have to go in saying things like "I don't want to rank my preferences." But on any neutral set of criteria (those not chosen to favor one or the other), IRV trumps plurality hands down.

    You could imagine the defense of plurality as done by Jon Stewart as a comedy routine on The Daily Show (in his NY street tough voice): "Yeah, da ting is, I want a system that turns my vote against me and helps elect the candidate I hate the most a lot of the time. Oh, and let's make sure that it causes lots of nasty fighting among the parties that are the closest on the issues . . . ; none of that sissy getting along stuff for me. And can we please have a system that only lets me vote for one candidate, no matter how many really good candidates there are on the ballot, so that my vote is discarded if this one candidate isn't too popular. Please, don't give me the option of a second choice."

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    @George, thanks very much for the review -- it sounds like a good book indeed. I will try to track it down someday.

  • John Abbe (unverified)
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    Pete Forsyth - you wrote: "what real world problem does it solve? Does it actually get minor party candidates elected to office? If so, or if not, what's the result -- does it chip away at the overly-simplistic two party system? ... I think our civic discourse is enhanced by the existence of minor parties."

    The biggest problem i see is that so few people participate. I know for me, and i presume for a substantial portion of voters and non-voters, that there is no major - or perhps even minor - party that reflects our views well. As far as i can see, our civic discourse currently pretty much ignores existing third parties. I would suggest that getting them into the media and the debates will require them winning seats, or at the very least regularly getting into double digits in elections. Under IRV, all of the people who currently would put third party candidates first will feel free to do so. This will raise their visibility, leading to more people being aware of them, and organizing and voting for them. So yes, even short of winning seats, this does "chip away at the overly-simplistic two party system"), and bring more people into politics.

    "I think it would be nice if our system did not force us into binary choices."

    IRV obviously solves this problem.

    Do you have other questions/concerns?

    (I'm in favor of far more radical changes than IRV, but will bite my tongue and stay on topics :-)

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    For anyone curious as to how to actually do this whole IRV thingy, the city of Burlington,VT (blasted progressives) have a great little FAQ page and a sample ballot for all to see:

    FAQ Sample ballot

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    Hi @John,

    Many IRV advocates state that the system has been "successful" in places like San Francisco, Tacoma, and Australia. I'd be interested to know what that means in real terms -- for instance, to use your frame, have the percentage of first-place picks for minor party candidates actually risen? How much, and how has that affected the politics and legislation in those places?

    One of your claims:

      Under IRV, all of the people who currently would put third party candidates first will feel free to do so.

    I would add to your criteria, "All of the people who also understand the ins-and-outs of IRV, and its strategic consequences, and take the time to evaluate their choices carefully." I'm not so confident that would lead to a similar number of voters.

    In the end, I'm not terribly concerned about parties; I don't necessarily see promoting third parties as a good unto itself. I think it's also worth trying to get the existing major parties to better reflect the public they aim to serve; and creating room for independent candidates (like Julius Meier and Ben Westlund) to enter into a race when the conditions demand it.

    So, I'm not opposed to something that gives minor parties a better way to get their message out and contribute to the debate, but I'm not strongly motivated by it, either. There are lots of people who aim to diversify the discourse without bothering with minor parties, as well, and those efforts are often more effective, in my experience.

    I'm off to bed, but will check back tomorrow night. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • John Abbe (unverified)
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    Chuck Butcher wrote, "If I'm so unhappy with a Democrat that I'd vote for somebody else, I obviously don't very much care if the Dem wins or not, so why do I need a 2 or 8 for him?"

    Wow, this is certainly not true for me. I would've voted McKinney, then Nader, then Obama. But i still far prefer Obama to McCain (notice i wouldn't even have voted for McCain).

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    I'm afraid this thread already risks having too many equine corpses strewn about, but re. John's The biggest problem i see is that so few people participate:

    Motivating and mobilizing nonvoters to vote is only about changing elections systems to the degree that people are legally or structurally disenfranchised. Otherwise it's about a candidate and/or a party convincing people that they have enough of a stake in the outcome and the process that it's worth their time, energy or money to do so.

    After that, it's all strategy and tactics - and, again, as we've just seen, some campaigns are structured to give people many more and much more meaningful opportunities to participate than others.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ Dan P:

    Motivating and mobilizing nonvoters to vote is only about changing elections systems to the degree that people are legally or structurally disenfranchised. Otherwise it's about a candidate and/or a party convincing people that they have enough of a stake in the outcome and the process that it's worth their time, energy or money to do so.

    And plurality makes it very, very difficult for minor parties to persuade people that it's worth their time and energy to vote rather than sit out the election.

    If you notice the sample ballot from Burlington, VT (thanks, Carl Fisher) IRV gives people the opportunity to write in their favorite candidate in the whole world as choice #1, then move on and rank the listed candidates as 2, 3, and so on.

    This is huge -- today we have a lot of people like Nader who talk about how we need pernicious non-candidates on the ballot (i.e., "None of the Above") -- and a write-in vote, except in the very rare case of an organized write-in campaign, is functionally equivalent to "none of the above," and it's a throwaway vote.

    But with IRV, the voter has the choice to register a complaint about the listed candidates (ranking a write-in as #1) but then continue to rank them so that their vote isn't wasted entirely.

    So, yes, it removes a barrier to participation --- the feeling captured by the bumper sticker you occasionally see that says "Don't vote, it just encourages them."

  • LT (unverified)
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    OK Fine, I get it. There is no larger priority in the world than understanding IRV. If someone is unemployed, or thinks the legislature should have other priorities than IRV, they aren't really welcome here because all good people should see it as their mission in life to study and understand IRV, to believe it is a perfect system which can't be "gamed" the way the current system can be. That it is such a good idea that of course there are already 31 votes for it in the House and 16 in the Senate because the people here have talked to legislators and discovered that.

    I just think you folks live in a different world than I do. Apparently in your world, a top priority issue is giving minor parties a fair shake.

    In my world, ordinary people put ordinary concerns first--job, family, watching how our newly elected officials will work to change this state and country.

    In my world, this email from a friend concerns me more than theory of voting systems and treatment of minor parties.

    "Did you hear that Toby Forsberg lost his race in Canby too? Between Eberle, Forsberg and Adamson FururePAC spent $1.5 million and lost all three of those seats. And, Adamson lost against Wingard who was convicted of beating his kid w/ a screwdriver! Dems picked up five seats but in this blue tide we should have picked up 7-9 seats. I think some poor decisions were made and FuturePAC squandered a great opportunity. Nobody is talking about the missed opportunity though, everyone is giddy w/ the five seats picked up.

    I'm curious to see which dem house member decides they have aspirations for higher office and want to make a name for themself by holding out on revenue bills. With only 36 votes any single dem can derail or force legislation to fit their own needs and desires. That's why we needed 38 or 39 seats. 36 is a good number but it will be difficult to manage if there are members that want to force issues to their adavntage. "

    This isn't just the concerns of one friend, it echoes a discussion which has gone on for years. So, yes, I do believe it is a more important concern than IRV. Call me "not a progressive" or any other name and I will still feel that way.

    I understand there are people here who would rather debate IRV than discuss whether FP made all the right decisions.

    I also remember the years when Democrats had more than a razor-thin majority and the dynamics which developed. Maybe the IRV advocates here aren't old enough to remember back that far, but I do.

    And when Dan Lavey et al were at the Portland City Club, one of them made a crack like "There are 36 Democratic seats but with Schaufler maybe there are only 35, who knows what he will do!".

    I think that was a reality-based comment. If I am in the capitol building and have a chance to talk to any legislators, I will say "I understand that IRV is a favorite issue with some bloggers, but I wonder where it is on your priority list". THAT is reality.

    And Pete, I love this:

    I would add to your criteria, "All of the people who also understand the ins-and-outs of IRV, and its strategic consequences, and take the time to evaluate their choices carefully." I'm not so confident that would lead to a similar number of voters.

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    And when Dan Lavey et al were at the Portland City Club, one of them made a crack like "There are 36 Democratic seats but with Schaufler maybe there are only 35, who knows what he will do!".

    Bingo! This is an ideal time for progressives to mount primary challenges with the Democratic Party.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ LT: I'm searching in vain for any post where any IRV proponent made any claim like "there's no larger priority in the world than understanding IRV."

    I certainly understand why someone could think that there are lots more important things to think about than IRV (though you send a mixed message by participating in threads about things that, if I understand you, aren't important.)

    My own take on it is that IRV is a pretty small potatoes reform. But important anyway.

    In fact, because of the small nature of the change in adopting IRV --- a simple replacement of an inferior election method for single-winner races with a better one --- that is itself a reason that we should be able to get a local-option IRV bill through and signed in 2009 (a bill that would give authority for any county, municipality, or special-purpose district to use IRV).

    The fact that IRV is a very small, neutral step towards a better election system, creates a test for Oregon Democrats in Salem: if you can't pass this, what can you do? If you're unwilling to pass a pro-voter reform just because it might help Republican voters as often as it helps Democratic voters (since the major party voters are even bigger beneficiaries of solving the spoiling/vote-splitting problem than minor parties are), then what reforms will you pass?

    IRV isn't about helping minor parties, or major parties. It's about helping eliminate a problem that voters of all stripes face: plurality delivers predictably pathological results a good percentage of the time when there are more than two candidates for any single-winner office. To avoid having their vote backfire on them, voters are required to estimate the likely votes of everyone else in the district to decide whether casting a vote for their preferred candidate could wind up helping elect the one they prefer the least. By getting rid of that problem, all voters are helped.

    Feel free to think that's unimportant. But if we can't rectify such a clear problem with such an easy solution available to us, then I have to wonder about our ability to tackle the "more important" problems where the "solutions," if any, are fiendishly difficult and require hitting a lot more people where they live.

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    LT breaks out the sarcasm: OK Fine, I get it. There is no larger priority in the world than understanding IRV.

    LT, did anyone say that?

    Or are you still hawking the view that BlueOregon is actually the legislature - and, as a result, we should only be discussing the most important stuff in the universe here?

    And besides, note that this thread started with a post at OregonLive. Go complain to them.

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    "I just think you folks live in a different world than I do. Apparently in your world, a top priority issue is giving minor parties a fair shake."

    As noted above, IRV creates more accurate representations of voter preference no matter whether the race is partisan or nonpartisan--so your world could use a correction.

    And yes, you do live in a different world--the one where made up, absurdist dichotomies of choice rule.

    As for FuturePAC, I agreed wholeheartedly that opportunities were missed in 2006 and that they failed to push the envelope on candidates who had a fighting chance if only they had the support.

    I totally disagree with LT and her email friend in 2008. The Kennemer, Wingard and Bruun races were going to be tough gets from the beginning, and I think FP deserves credit for pumping large sums into those races. Even with losses in all three, the benefits of having jumped into those districts and tried to persuade the electorate will accrue down the road, I promise. I think it's unfair of LT's email friend to damn if they don't (spend enough money in losing races), damn if they do (spend and lose anyway).

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    @LT

    I stopped reading your last comment at the point where I realized you weren't about to acknowledge your lack of diligence in this discussion.

    It's not a huge thing, but it's a thing that begs for acknowledgment. You have accused a bunch of us of not providing you information, when it isn't true; I took time that I could have used for something else, proving it wasn't true.

    For someone who accuses others of not playing fair as much as you do, I would hope you're willing to take responsibility for your own actions. I'm not saying this oversight was intentional, and I'm not saying it's the end of the world, but it will be much easier to deliberate with you as a partner in the future if we can be straight with each other about this sort of thing.

    By the way, it would be my preference to send a message like this in private, but I don't have that option. If you'd ever like to contact me offline, please shoot me an email. I'd be happy to protect your anonymity.

    http://peteforsyth.com/contact

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    The world I live in people discuss IRV, they discuss how best to combat the game masters evil creation with their twenty sided dice, they discuss how many licks it takes to get to the center of a lollypop, lots of them foolishy discussed how the cubs were going to win this year....and so on and so on.

    There's nothing wrong with coming from different places, but the desntination we all are presently at is this point, on this thread of the great vast continuum of the interwebs. Thank you blueoregon for being a place that so many people from so many different worlds, backgrounds, and viewpoints can come and discuss their differences.

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    Pete

    It is not accurate to state that it is impossible to determine a group preference.

    There is a way to accurately gauge group preferences. It is called pairwise voting, and the winner in a series of pairwise votes is often referred to as the Condorcet winner.

    The problem, as George pointed out, is that in round robin set of pairwise votes, it is possible to create a "cycle" whereby A>B>C>A.

    This is why all voting systems must "violate" in some ways the fundamental standards of "fairness" as laid out by Arrow. Boiled down to its essence, there must be SOME method of agenda control or limit on the number of choices.

    Some systems do a better job of getting us close to the Condorcet winner and some do worse. Plurality voting is the worst.

    Now there ARE arguments in favor of plurality voting--mainly majoritarian. Plurality systems produce governing majorities. They almost always create two party systems. And they almost always create majority winners, which some argue increases legitimacy.

    But in terms of mapping preferences into outcomes, plurality is the worst system out there.

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    Dan writes: Many, for example, think that proportional representation offers a much fairer system - and indeed since we'll soon see the Senate revert to having zero black members (unless Jesse junior gets Obama's seat) it's an appealing idea. But I was just thinking this morning how ultimately catastrophic that system has proved to be in the Israeli Knesset, since it has given the minor ultra-Orthodox parties power to continue making/breaking governments for decades, giving no major party the lasting power it needs to negotiate and then implement peace agreements.

    Dan this is an incomplete view of PR. Israel has an extremely proportional system, among the most proportional in the world.

    This is because a) they use the whole country as their "district" and b) they have a very low threshold for representation (2%).

    By simply getting 2% of the national vote, a party gains representation in the Knesset.

    The Israeli system is hyper-proportional, and the influence of fringe parties could be easily ameliorated by raising the threshold.

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    Sorry just one more. Pete wrote: I would add to your criteria, "All of the people who also understand the ins-and-outs of IRV, and its strategic consequences, and take the time to evaluate their choices carefully." I'm not so confident that would lead to a similar number of voters.

    Pete, this comment worries me (the teacher in me) because it signals to me that a smart person is getting this argument precisely wrong.

    IRV minimizes strategic voting. It is a system that lets voters express their SINCERE preference ordering. If you don't like strategic voting, then you must hate plurality systems, which are designed to maximize the impact of spoilers, make people vote for their second most preferred candidate, etc.

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    The problem, as George pointed out, is that in round robin set of pairwise votes, it is possible to create a "cycle" whereby A>B>C>A.

    While I agree that this scenario is mathematically or theoretically possible, I'm having trouble imagining a real-world scenario in politics where this could happen.

    Could you (or anyone) enlighten me with a real-world example of A>B>C>A?

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    I can if you can provide a real-world example of asking voters to rate candidates via pairwise preferences ... I don't know of any place that uses Condorcet voting.

    The endless cycle is a problem -- it's probably the main reason that Condorcet, a favorite of many voting wonks on theoretical grounds -- isn't used in public elections.

    If the cycle occurs, it doesn't just produce a dissatisfying answer, it produces no answer at all. Thus, you wind up having to create rules like "least loser" (since they all lose against one and beat one, the "winner" is the one who lost by the least in the comparisons).

    Imagine three closely matched candidates vying for something -- say, Obama asks Wyden to take over the federal Human Services department, and three strong Dems decide to go for that senate seat. I'll call them B, K, and W to pick three names, totally randomly. Say that B beats K, and K beats W (the woman candidate), but W has beaten B --- a circle, in other words.

    Of course it's possible to figure out the decision rule to break the cycle in advance, and it's possible to imagine asking voters to do these pairwise voting comparisons . . . but I would hate to be the one to try to explain it, much less sell it.

    And I would think that officeholders aren't crazy about the possibility of taking office under a least-loser rule. Not sure how the voters will feel about it either, despite its theoretical advantages. I think there's a good chance that having a Condorcet winner who actually won on the basis of the "least loser" rule is a recipe for real partisan bitterness and problems.

    Imagine if D edges R and R beats I, but I beats D. If R wins on least-loser, the D's will be VERY unhappy, because D beat R, but R gets the seat (and adds to the R strength in the caucus, potentially tipping redistricting etc.). I wins on least-loser, the R's will have that same problem. And if the D is seated, the I's will claim the system is rigged because we're seated a candidate who lost to an I.

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    Say that B beats K, and K beats W (the woman candidate), but W has beaten B --- a circle, in other words. ... Imagine if D edges R and R beats I, but I beats D.

    Yeah, I get the theory - and it doesn't matter which letters you use.

    I'm just trying to imagine a real-world set of three candidates where this might be the case.

    Maybe I wasn't clear before - I'm not looking for an actual time that this happened; just three names of real people where we might see this. Feel free to suggest any three names, across time and space even, that might fit the bill.

    Given that our political ideologies are generally arrayed one-dimensionally (left to right), it's hard to imagine an A>B>C>A scenario.

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    @Kari:

      Given that our political ideologies are generally arrayed one-dimensionally (left to right), it's hard to imagine an A>B>C>A scenario.

    The idea of everything being arranged neatly along a single dimension is one that, in my opinion, results largely from the two-party system we find ourselves in. (Or, at least, DID find ourselves in, back before the elephant died.) If electoral reform is a way to address underlying problems with how we think about our society and public policy, I think your question is based on a premise that is pretty questionable. (Unless you're literally just saying it's difficult to imagine -- which it would be tough to argue with.)

    @paul g:

      Pete, this comment worries me (the teacher in me) because it signals to me that a smart person is getting this argument precisely wrong.

    Thanks for the compliment, but how am I getting it wrong? John made a prediction about people's feelings about how they vote. I thought it was fairly uncontroversial for me to observe that their feelings would only change, to the degree that they understand the difference in the strategic consequences of their voting choices, vs. the current system. Am I missing something?

    As for group preference: I personally doubt that, of the 1.7 million people who cast ballots in the Secretary of State race, that the vast majority of them had a good idea who Rick Dancer or Kate Brown was -- to say nothing of Seth Wooley (no slight intended, Seth!) To talk of the "preference" of such a group as though there were uncontroversially a genuine thing to evaluate seems, to me, to be to make a mistake out of the gate.

    Please understand: I don't see any of this as a reason to oppose IRV. It's just the sort of thing I think about when I wonder how it would work out in practice.

    I'll leave that "analysis of other jurisdictions' experiences" horse alone, but one of these days, I'll do some googling along those lines.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    I can't provide the names for the example because plurality doesn't allow us to do pairwise comparisons and tends to create a two-party dominated system. But Condorcet would allow multiple parties to flourish.

    So our inability to imagine how a cycle occurs is kind of like our inability to "see" those hidden images in the optical illusion posters. You can't make out the image until, suddenly, your brain figures out the perceptual shift required. When we try using the names we know -- the names who have come to the forefront via the two-party dominated system that plurality produces, we fall into dismissing the phenomenon.

    I think it's easier to imagine with other preferences:

    For example, if we take the readership of BlueOregon, I bet we all have pie preferences, but they might well produce a cycle if we elect our favorite pie.

    So I can imagine apple beating pumpkin beating blueberry but blueberry beating apple ...

    Or do it with ice cream:

    Vanilla beats chocolate beats strawberry but strawberry beats vanilla. What's the favorite?

    Or pizza topping combos: pepperoni beats cheese which beats veggie but veggie beats pepperoni. Which is the favorite?

    The point is, where the "supply" of viable candidates isn't restricted by a systemic factor (like plurality elections), you're going to see more viable candidates more often. Condorcet means a greater diversity of viable candidates can emerge. greater diversity of viable candidates means that you will wind up with a cycle some fraction of the time.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    Even with all the gobbledygook explinations here, it still smacks of sports polling and the BCS. In addition, even if we have a preference in the beginning, why can't we change that preference before the '2nd tally' after you eliminate the last place preferred person?

    If it is not broke - why fix it? Why can't we just leave things alone? The reason there is a percieved 'problem' with the voting as it stands now is because those who lose using the current system are just sore losers who can not grasp the notion and definition of 'competition'. Just because you lose by the rules, does not entitle you to change those rules simply for your own narcassistic banefit.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ Eric: just curious, Eric, why would you need an opportunity to change your rankings if no one gets a majority of first-choice votes and the bottom candidate is dropped.

    If you ranked the candidates in the order you preferred them, then there's only two cases here. Either:

    (a) your top pick is still in the running (wasn't eliminated), in which case your vote is helping her stay that way and may help her win.

    (b) Or your top pick has been eliminated because she finished at the bottom, and so now your vote is being counted for your second-choice instead of being discarded entirely.

    What could there be about your top pick being eliminated would make you have to (or want to) reorder your picks in the lower positions?

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    If anyone's still reading in this thread, the League of Women Voters has an interesting election methods study out:

    http://www.lwvor.org/documents/ElectionMethods2008.pdf

  • LT (unverified)
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    George, thanks for the link. Much more informative than the BO discussions have been.

    Anyone who has ever been in sales knows that customers have questions: about the various features (whether it be details about hard goods or whether it be questions about the fabric in clothing) about how something works (computer, cleaning machine of some kind, appliance) why this would make their life better or solve a particular problem.

    "You should buy this--it is good" is a way to convince shoppers to walk away without buying.

    I've worked too many years of my life in sales (retail, product demonstrator, etc.) to accept any new idea without question.

    Here is what I found really interesting in the LMV report: criteria for evaluating voting systems, history of IRV and other systems, that range voting is what some Olympic sports use to judge events, one particular chart, example of IRV voting using the names of mystery writers, pros and cons of IRV.

    The attitude of the IRV advocates on Blue Oregon has been "it is your civic duty to spend your spare time educating yourself on IRV and then after you have learned about it, you will agree with us that it is the great voting system which will solve every problem currently existing".

    Why will that create a groundswell for IRV?

    No one says it will change the campaign finance situation. What would it do to the current practice of a caucus choosing to put a ton of money on a legislative candidate who still doesn't win, while ignoring candidates elsewhere in the state because some "professional" in Portland decided that district couldn't be won?

    Would it be a radical idea to suggest maybe better legislators were elected prior to the establishment of campaign fundraising legal entitities like Future Pac (est. 1993)? Why are donors contributing to groups like FP rather than to individual candidates---do they trust the caucus campaign arm staff with their money, or do they not want their names on individual C & E reports?

    Mandating IRV for every election in Oregon would not answer that question, but maybe some of the IRV supporters don't want that question asked.

    LMV voting system evaluation criteria included:

    Increase voter participation

    Easy to use and administer

    Prevent fraud and political manipulation

    Encouraging issue oriented campaigns

    Producing results seen as legitimate

    Reducing campaign spending

    Establishing close links between constituents and representatives

    Chart 1--- was very interesting, showing number of districts with only one candidate or with uncontested primaries. Why would IRV matter to voters in those districts?

    The LMV report mentions PCOL bill for nonpartisan legislature, and says Range Voting is what is used to judge some Olympic events. Interesting instructions they showed for IRV--I can just imagine what would happen in a recount. The instructions said you may make as many choices as you please, but do not put the same figure opposite more than one name.

    The report mentions one type of IRV where the ballot is the sort of answer sheet used on standardized tests, where voters fill in numbered ovals. Some teachers use the verb "bubble" to describe that process. On such answer sheets, there is always the problem of marking the wrong box (Gosh, I meant the answer to # 3 to be 1 and answer to #4 to be 2, but I lost my place.)

    There are people who live in districts like House Dist. 19 where there was an enthusiastic campaign against Kevin Cameron. Many people wanted Day to defeat Cameron, PERIOD! There was no way they would list a second choice. In such districts, people are glad to see 2 candidates on the ballot, and I'm not sure there have ever been 3 candidates in that district (there has been a 3rd party candidate if no Democrat was running).

    In the LMV example, it says the lowest candidate is eliminated and "her ballots are transferred to her supporter's second choices".

    What if a voter didn't want their 2nd choice votes distributed to others?

    "You just haven't studied this well enough, or you would understand that should not be a problem" (which seems to be the attitude of some IRV supporters) is not a responsive answer. And nothing wins elections (any candidate, any issue) if the perception is that the advocates are saying "quit asking so many questions and just support us!".

    Why would people in charge of counting votes want to deal with those IRV logistics? That is why I think IRV won't get anywhere until there are county clerks speaking in favor of it. They have a right to be heard on this issue.

    According to the report, Measure 20-51 on Sept. 2001 ballot in Eugene failed with a 66% no vote. Same as the 2008 no vote on Measure 65. Could it be that the general population is satisfied with the voting system we have?

    The report says Buckley's IRV bill passed out of committee but never reached the floor. Could it be there weren't enough elected legislators to support it? How many of the new legislators put IRV on their list of priorities? Does everyone who voted for that bill in committee or signed on as a co-sponsor still view it as a priority, now that there is a budget shortfall which will require a lot of legislator time and attention?

    On the list of pros and cons of IRV, there are 6 cons. Why are those never discussed on BO by those pushing IRV voting? Wouldn't it be a good strategy to take each of those in turn and say how it could be alleviated, or aren't voters supposed to care about those concerns?

    The report says IRV was invented in 1870 by a professor at MIT. Maybe that is why some of us think of this as a system beloved by math geeks.

    I was once a recount observer. Someone marked a candidate's name on the ballot and then wrote that candidate's name on the write-in line. There have been news stories about people circling a candidate's name when that was not what the instructions said. How would such problems be dealt with if IRV were in place. Would there be more such problems in the process of adjusting to a new system?

    Yes, I can understand why there are some people who believe the theory of IRV is something we should all believe in. But as the saying goes, that and a few bucks will buy you a latte.

    I think there is too much of the bad type of partisanship (which Gov. Jindal referred to as "no party is likely to win if their bumper sticker slogan is "vote for us because the other guys are worse") in elections.

    I don't think IRV is the answer to that. I thought Measure 65 might be the answer. It lost. That's the way the Oreo disintegrates.

    If there were ever a panel discussion on IRV vs. other voting systems held locally, and I was able to attend, I would find it interesting.

    But I have never been a voter who willingly followed people saying things like "you have read the report, therefore you agree with everything it says".

    Did the Public Comm. on the Legislature discuss this issue? Was that what former Gov. Roberts and former Speaker/ St. Sen. Kerans discussed at one PCOL meeting? If so, look it up here http://landru.leg.state.or.us/pcol and see what commissioners said about it. I don't recall as much support for that as for some of the other reforms discussed.

    If you know the bill number of Buckley's IRV bill, please post it on BO so that we can all read it. Then we can also look at the measure history.
    But be aware that if people like the current voting system, they are not going to change just because some math geeks and others on a blog think the system should be revamped.

    There may be some IRV advocates who slam me for not saying their idea is the best idea since sliced bread. That won't make me support it.

    But a serious discussion of the issues in the LMV report, the bill number of Buckley's bill, and other such concrete information would be better than "they use it in other jurisidictions" as if we are supposed to have it imposed on Oregon elections without intelligent debate.

    Whatever their disagreements, Oregonians have a history of making up their own minds, and not having someone's bright idea imposed on them.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    Report from Dems4IRV:

    From: Jim Robison <[email protected]> Date: Mon, Nov 24, 2008 at 1:39 AM Subject: [Dems4IRV] IRV moving ahead in Oregon To: [email protected] It's been a few years since I last reported anything to this email group, but there is definitely something to report now. The Democratic Party of Oregon has adopted IRV as a legislative agenda item. A bill supporting local option for IRV has already been pre-filed for the next legislative session (starts in January) by the Secretary of State-Elect. With strong Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature, and the incoming Secretary of State supporting it, it looks very likely that Oregon will pass a bill directing the Secretary of State to draft rules which will allow any local jurisdiction in Oregon to use IRV. One of the obstacles we had when I was pushing IRV a few years ago was that some counties still used punch card ballots which did not allow for easy adoption of IRV. Now that all counties in Oregon use optical scan ballots, it is possible for any of them to implement IRV. Portland's chapter of Alliance for Democracy has been working hard to make this happen.
  • LT (unverified)
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    OK, so now we have more details: The Democratic Party of Oregon has adopted IRV as a legislative agenda item. A bill supporting local option for IRV has already been pre-filed for the next legislative session (starts in January) by the Secretary of State-Elect. With strong Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature, and the incoming Secretary of State supporting it, it looks very likely that Oregon will pass a bill directing the Secretary of State to draft rules which will allow any local jurisdiction in Oregon to use IRV.

    1) IRV will be about local elections, not legislative or other elections previously mentioned.

    2) Someday, someone will post a bill # for the bill mentioned as being presession filed.

    3) Since it is a bill about IRV in local jurisdictions, advocates should be talking to their own county clerks a) to get their input b) to ask for their support

    4) This bill will need to gain committee support, so after the committees are named and the bill assigned to a committee, advocates will need to talk to their own legislators and others to advocate for early committee hearings. Assuming the bill gets passed out of committee, it will need 31 votes in the House and 16 votes in the Senate. I have already communicated with my own state rep. about IRV and got a response suggesting it wasn't a high priority and questioning whether IRV was really the best answer to any problems. George, is your state rep. going to be one of the advocates for the bill?

    5) Democratic party resolutions don't control legislators, and sometimes party activists openly oppose the actions of legislators. Anyone who has been called "not a real Democrat" for siding with sitting legislators rather than a majority of the state central committee on particular legislation knows this.

    Alliance for Democracy is a worthwhile group, but Portland's chapter will need to advocate with legislators from around the state to get the needed votes. Said another way, 5)does not change the reality of 4).

    George, you may think I am an opponent of IRV. Actually, I am a skeptic. Where I live, we seldom have more than 2 candidates for most offices. I see IRV as a solution in some jurisdictions but not necessarily where I live. And IRV seems more a crusade which supposedly "all good people should support" rather than an attempt to pass a bill by discussing concrete information.

    When I hear specific legislators speaking out in favor of a particular bill number, then I will be able to read the actual bill for myself and make a decision. No one is required to take IRV or any other bill on faith alone, regardless of what some advocates seem to expect from Blue Oregonians.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/35018964.html?elr=KArksc8P:Pc:UthPacyPE7iUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU David Durenberger: Avoid the agony of recounts, and more, with instant runoff With this well-tested procedure, we might get not only better elections but also better campaigns. By DAVID DURENBERGER Last update: November 24, 2008, Minneapolis Star Tribune We all were hoping that the bruising and expensive race for the U.S. Senate seat would end on Election Day. Instead, the $40 million-plus campaign continues to permeate our headlines and limit our forward momentum. The Coleman-Franken race is now in a contentious recount and is almost certainly headed to the courts from there. The recount and its aftermath will be a protracted and high-priced affair, and no matter the outcome, most voters will be left wondering if there is not a better way to express our preferences. Instant-runoff voting (IRV) would have produced an entirely different election. Under IRV, voters rank candidates in order of preference -- 1, 2, 3 -- knowing that if their first choice doesn't place among the top finishers, their vote will continue to count. The votes cast for the least popular candidate are not "wasted" but rather are redistributed to the more popular candidates, based on the voters' second choices, until one candidate emerges with a majority of votes. It's a runoff that happens in a single election, avoiding the need for separate, costly and low-turnout second election. How would IRV have made a difference? •It would have most likely produced a decisive winner on Election Day, with the affirmative support of a majority of the voters. •It would have encouraged candidates to broaden their bases and formulate issue-focused and positive campaigns. In plurality-take-all elections, candidates tend to engage in divisive politics in order to motivate their base. IRV counters that trend by giving candidates a tangible, vote-getting reason to moderate their attacks in order attract "second choice" support. •It would have leveled the playing field, giving all candidates a meaningful opportunity to influence the tone and substance of the race and capture votes. •It would have eliminated the "spoiler" and "wasted" vote problems and let people vote their true preferences without worrying about throwing their votes away or helping elect someone they didn't like. •The increased competitiveness and inclusiveness of IRV would have broadened and enriched the political discourse. I also speculate that IRV might help to lessen the influence of money in political campaigns, because the major parties would be encouraged to adopt positions closer to where the bulk of the voters are, in spite of the influence of money. Plurality elections are becoming the norm in Minnesota and elsewhere, a trend that highlights the weakness of our current system. This year alone, five Minnesota races -- in addition to the Senate race -- were decided by a minority of voters: the Third and Sixth Congressional District races; House Districts 41A and 51A, and Senate District 16, where a recount is also underway. In all, 14 statewide elections have been won with less than majority support since 1998, when Jesse Ventura won the governor's seat with just 37 percent of the vote. The democratic process is based on the principle of majority rule. In elections where only one candidate can win, IRV ensures that the winner is decided by the majority of voters. IRV is not new. It is a well-tested and popular system in use or planned for use in nearly two dozen jurisdictions around the United States and internationally in countries such as Ireland and Australia. Minneapolis voters approved its adoption 65-35 in 2006 and will be the first to demonstrate how IRV works in Minnesota in 2009. IRV will appear on the St. Paul ballot once a court challenge is settled, and there are emerging campaigns and interest in other jurisdictions around the state. Minnesota and its reputation for good government have taken some hits from the Senate brouhaha. It's too late to duck that punch or the ones we can expect in the weeks -- and maybe months -- yet to come. It's not too late, though, to make sure we don't get into this situation again. It's time for Minnesota to consider adopting IRV and preserve its tradition as a leader in electoral integrity and good governance.
  • LT (unverified)
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    George, yes, IRV may have made a difference had it been in place in Minnesota. But what if voters ranked Coleman first, Barkley second, Franken third?

    Or wouldn't that have mattered as long as we knew the results without a recount?

    The man who took Hubert Humphrey's Senate seat after Muriel Humphrey left (having held the seat after her husband's death) did some intelligent things and some stupid things.

    The latter is explained here: "Durenberger was unanimously denounced by the Senate on July 25, 1990 for unethical conduct relating to outside income."

    That story does not address why Oregonians should support IRV.

    Unless, of course, you want to say it should have been in place for the 1992 primary for US Senate. Had voters chosen Lonsdale as a first choice, Joe Wetzel as a second choice, and AuCoin as a third choice as a protest against the brainless AuCoin ads, that would have been interesting.

    But that is "what if" history.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ LT: If a majority of voters ranked Coleman ahead of Franken (first or second), then he would win the election (as he might anyway).

    I don't know what else to say -- IRV isn't a way to stack the deck to make sure my favorite or your favorite wins, it's a way to deal with the failure of the current system to cope with more than two candidates without producing winners who only have a plurality of support --- which tends to force voters to strategize about their vote and how it might backfire on them, rather than be able to vote with confidence that their vote for A won't wind up helping B win.

  • LT (unverified)
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    " it's a way to deal with the failure of the current system to cope with more than two candidates without producing winners who only have a plurality of support "

    Noble goal, George. But with regard to Oregon legislation, it has an uphill battle among those of us who live in jurisdictions where there are seldom more than 2 candidates.

    The situation in Minn. doesn't have any impact on why Oregonians living in such jurisdictions should be gung ho for IRV, esp. at a time when there are so many other pressing issues.

    Have you talked to your legislators about the issue?

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    @ LT: Yes, I have spoken to my legislators about IRV, and to the SoS candidates, and to the many people (including Leg Aides and others) who follow BlueOregon.

    As for the idea that we don't have the problem (multiple candidacies), that's a bit like saying that you don't need life insurance because you haven't ever died, or you don't need fire insurance because you've never had a fire loss.

    We can debate the relevancy of the many examples of spoiled races, where minor party candidates led to the election of a winner with only minority support (Begich in Alaska being only the latest), but I must say I'm having a hard time understanding why you discount the experience in other states.

    Whether you or I personally have multiple candidates on our ballots hardly seems dispositive when you're talking about a statewide reform that would provide local voters with the opportunity to use the system that their Constitution explicitly endorses. From the stance you have taken in your comments, one would think you would be the leading supporter of a local-option IRV bill, so that we can get the local Oregon experience you seem to suggest is so vital.

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    One more from Minnesota: about the SoS who is interested in IRV and supports same-day registration (and wishes they had vote-by-mail) --

    http://www.onthecommons.org/content.php?id=2292 The man in the middle of Minnesota’s Senate race recount is passionate about making sure every vote counts. 25 Nov 2008 / Onthecommons.org Editors Topics Filed Under: Politics and Government Tags: democracy; elections; Minnesota What happens or doesn’t happen in Washington over the next two years may depend on who wins the Minnesota senate race, in which Democrat challenger Al Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman are now separated by about 200 votes of 2.9 million cast. Democrats are just two seats shy of 60 in the Senate, which is the magic number at which they can shut down Republican filibusters against progressive legislation. America is still waiting for results in two races. One will be decided December 2 in a Senate run-off election in Georgia, and the other depends on the laborious and already controversial outcome of a hand-by-hand recount of ballots in Minnesota’s Franken-Coleman contest. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie finds himself smack in the middle of what pundits say is the fiercest election in state history, and certainly the most expensive. Coleman, who won in 2002 after his opponent Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash, is famous as a combative campaigner. Franken meanwhile is deeply determined to win back the seat once held by Wellstone, his close friend. Both camps are raising large sums of money to cover costs of monitoring the recount and whatever lawsuits may ensue. Coleman’s election night margin see-saws up and down with each day’s recount results. The race may be decided by what happens to challenged ballots that will be reviewed by Ritchie and the State Canvassing Board. It is Mark Ritchie’s challenge to ensure that every legitimate vote is counted in this hard-fought contest for which the whole country is waiting for the results. Already Ritchie voted into office in 2006 on the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) ticket, as Democrats are called in Minnesota has become a favorite target of right-wing commentators here and around the country. But he has also drawn complaints from the Franken camp for some of his decisions. Each day Ritchie faces phalanxes of lawyers and recount observers from both sides as he tries to ensure the election results are accurate, fair and above partisan reproach. To that end, he appointed judges with ties to Republicans and the state’s Independence Party (but none with apparent Democratic ties) to join him on the board that will oversee the recount’ final results. Minnesota Governor Pawlenty, a Republican, has stated his public support for Ritchie and for the process despite complaints from the right-wing of his party. Making sure that every vote counts is exactly the reason Mark Ritchie ran for Secretary of State. He realized the vulnerable nature of democracy in 2002 (not just in Florida, but in his home state) when Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash two weeks before election day. Ritchie, a former high-ranking official in the state’s agriculture department and founder of the Institute for Trade and Agriculture Policy, was shocked to learn that Minnesota’s then Republican Secretary of State tried to block people who had voted for Wellstone on absentee ballots from casting a new ballot for Walter Mondale, who succeeded Wellstone as the Democratic nominee in the race against Coleman. (Several years earlier, a Democratic Secretary of State had done just the opposite when a new Republican candidate for Minnesota governor was added to the ticket at the last minute after a sex scandal and went on to win a very narrow victory.) This struck Ritchie a longtime advocate for small farmers, sustainable agriculture, fair trade policies, and human rights as deeply unfair. It was not just that these absentee ballots could conceivably have made a difference in the election, but that citizens were to be denied the right to vote. (The Secretary of State ultimately allowed Minnesota voters to cast new absentee ballots.) Ritchie views voting as what he calls, “a civic commons, which is essential to good government and democracy itself. But that commons can be taken from us by measures that make it difficult for many people to vote.” In 2004, Ritchie took a leave of absence from the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy to lead National Voice, a non-partisan organization working to increase voter turnout across America in the 2004 election. (You may not know the organization but you might remember the “November 2” t-shirts seen everywhere in the weeks before election day that year.) Ritchie then made his successful run for Secretary of State in 2006, and did all he could to turn out voters for this year’s election. It ranked first in the nation as it had in 2004. “Not withstanding Garrison Keillor’s claim that we are all above average here, that’s not the reason we have higher vote totals than other states” he explains. “It’s that we have a system that encourages people to vote.” Central to that system is same-day registration, which means that you can register at the polling place on election day if you can prove you live in the precinct by showing an ID or even a utility bill. “Ten states have same-day registration or something very close,” Ritchie notes, “and most of them have among the highest voter turn-out.” Ritchie also champions voting by mail which is done in Oregon, most of Washington State and the city of Milwaukee as a “great way for some communities, especially in rural areas, to increase voter turnout.” He is interested to see how another new idea known as Instant Run-Off or Ranked Choice voting will work. This system, which has been adopted in a number of cities, including ten pilot locations in North Carolina and his hometown of Minneapolis, lets you vote for more than one candidate by ranking your choices in order of preference. The hope is that this system will bring fresh thinking into mainstream politics by making people feel more comfortable voting for third parties. It takes away the fear that voting for your favorite candidate (think Ralph Nader or Pat Buchanan in 2000) might help your second favorite candidate lose to an opponent (think George W. Bush or Al Gore) you really do not want to see in office. Under Instant Run-Off Voting all top-ranked votes are tabulated and if no candidate wins a majority then the second choices of people who voted for the candidate with the lowest overall totals are tabulated. This process continues until one office-seeker has a majority of votes. The Irish president, Australian House of Representatives, London mayor as well as the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives, are elected this way and the idea is gaining ground in places that do not use the proportional voting systems found in continental Europe and many other countries around the world. To increase voter turnout in Minnesota, Ritchie is working on automatically updating a person’s voting registration when they send a change-of-address form to the post office. He found ways to streamline voting for the 80,000 Minnesotans living abroad, including troops stationed in Iraq, by allowing them to receive ballots by email that were returned through a special arrangement with FedEx. He’s also launching a campaign to reinvigorate the teaching of civics in Minnesota schools so young people can learn about the electoral system and why voting is important. “Some people question efforts to expand the number of voters by saying democracy depends on the quality, not the quantity, of voters,” Ritchie says. “Both are important. Voters being informed is a very important element of the democracy commons.” In an election year when voter suppression bureaucratic hurdles to voting, especially for lower-income and first-time voters has become a major issue in campaign coverage, Ritchie is well aware of the power of Secretaries of State to either expand or constrict the number of people participating in the democratic process. “It’s part of my job to make it possible for everyone to go to the polls and make sure their vote counts. You make decisions morning, noon and night that help or hinder people in voting. “Helping people participate in elections is part of the historic process in America of extending voting rights,” he adds. “We expanded suffrage to women and Native Americans and, thanks to the civil rights movement, to all African-Americans and then to 18-year-olds. This is all part of a battle for enfranchisement that continues today. It’s an essential part of democracy and of the commons that everyone should be easily able to vote.”
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