Published in the 29 Oct. 2005 Takoma Voice http://www.takoma.com/

Voting systems: advantages and disadvantages

Rob Richie recently wrote an opinion article in this newspaper advocating replacing the usual "plurality" voting system in Takoma Park, by "Instant Runoff Voting" (IRV). Richie is the founder of the Center for Voting and Democracy (CVD), a group advocating IRV. Although we believe IRV has advantages over plurality, considerably greater advantages can be achieved with greater simplicity and less cost by using a different system: range voting. We would both like to see Range implemented in a city such as Takoma Park, and for Richie to instead advocate it.

  • Plurality: your vote is the name of a single candidate. The most-named candidate wins.
  • IRV: your vote is a preference-ordering of the candidates, such as "Amy>Bob>Cal>Dee." The candidate top-ranked by the fewest voters is eliminated from the election and from all votes. (I.e. if Bob were eliminated, then this vote would become "Amy>Cal>Dee"; if Amy were eliminated it would become "Bob>Cal>Dee.") Then we do another round using the modified votes and reduced candidate set--and so on round by round, until only a single candidate remains.
  • Range: your vote is a score for each candidate in some fixed numerical range, for example 0-9. For example, you could vote Amy=9, Bob=9, Cal=4, Dee=0. We also recommend permitting voters to express "no opinion" about candidates by instead writing an X (intentional blank), e.g. Cal=X. The candidate with the highest average score wins.

There are many reasons why range voting is superior.

  • Expressivity: You can express not only who you prefer to whom, but also by how much. You can also rank candidates as equal. You can also express ignorance about a candidate ("X") to leave the scoring about them to other, hopefully better-informed voters. Or, you can give them 0. With plurality, you are forced to give the minimum possible amount of information in your vote, making it the worst possible voting system in this respect--while Range is more like the best possible.
  • Voting Machines: Range voting can be handled by any voting machine in the United States right now, with no modification required, because it can actually be treated as several artificial plurality-style elections. IRV cannot.
  • Spoiled ballots: With Plurality, an accidental "overvote" invalidates your ballot and it is discarded. With IRV, there are many more ways to spoil your ballot, for example by accidentally ranking two candidates the same. But with Range, every way to award candidates a single-digit score is legal, and there is no such thing as an overvote. And even if you do make an illegible score, it can be treated as an "X" in which case most of your vote still remains operational and undiscarded.
  • Tie-crises: With IRV, every single round gives an opportunity for a tie or near-tie, Florida-style crisis, increasing the likelihood of crises and major delays. With Range, in contrast, the chance of a tie is reduced, versus either Plurality or (especially) IRV.
  • Better results: Our computer simulation studies indicate range voting yields higher-quality winners, on average, than any other common voting system proposal, across a very wide variety of scenarios.
  • Simplicity & Familiarity: Who has not been asked to rate things on a scale of 1 to 10? Everybody is familiar with the system and has seen it on TV (the Olympics).
  • Nader: Richie went on at great length about how IRV solves the "Nader stigma" problem where voters who prefer Nader over Gore over Bush, by voting Nader, sadly cause both Nader and Gore to lose. (Similarly, Buchanan votes caused Bush to lose some states to Gore.) Voters therefore are motivated to "dishonestly" vote Gore, thus hurting Nader far more than he deserves and artificially perpetuating the United States' two-party domination stranglehold. But Richie's claim is only true sometimes: it is still possible in IRV that your vote Nader>Gore>Bush will cause both Nader & Gore to lose, whereas voting Gore>Nader>Bush would cause Gore to win. (Two example elections of that kind are on the CRV web site.) So you can still be motivated to vote dishonestly.
  • Clones: Finally, both IRV and Range totally solve the "cloning" problem where introducing a "clone" of some candidate into the race, causes them both to lose, even though either running alone would have won. With IRV or Range, candidates neither gain advantage nor lose it when clones enter (aside from the victory moving between the clones).

To find out more about range voting, check the Center for Range Voting web site: http://RangeVoting.org.

-- Warren D. Smith
Stony Brook, New York

Accompanying graphic sidebar (which they did not publish) "Strange Phenomena in Instant Runoff Voting"
Rob Richie's original pro-IRV editorial (which this responded to)
Originally submitted version (before they edited it)

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