Lomax's criticism of Rob Richie's "proof" of the flawed nature of range voting and superiority of IRV

What you and the range voting crew are missing is that [my] three criteria are spot-on for gauging the political viability of your proposed systems, whether the oddly quoted person thinks they are legitimate "social choice theory" standards or not.
— Rob Richie [founder of the CVD, a pro-instant-runoff-voting group]

Response to Richie by Abd ul-Rahman Lomax. (Another response.)

As I read this, Richie is arguing that his three criteria are necessary for "political viability" of an election system. It is not entirely clear what this means. "Political viability" is something that can vary drastically with the state of understanding of the electorate and other players (such as media). It's not a trait of election systems, per se. However, certainly, election systems can have characteristics which affect political viability under certain conditions. Let's see if we can find some of that here:

Richie's Criterion 1: "Does the system meet the common sense principle of majority rule? In an election with two candidates, the candidate preferred by a majority should always win."

Now, Richie is claiming that IRV satisfies this while Range and Approval do not. However, in a two-candidate election, Range and Approval both satisfy this criterion (with Range, a qualification must be added). Where's the beef?

Approval satisfies this criterion. Range, however, allows voters to cast weak votes. A clear way of looking at this is to consider a Range election with a 10-point scale to be an Approval election, only every voter gets up to ten votes to cast for each candidate. It is as if the voter (every voter) is ten voters, each with one vote. If a majority of the total voters (i.e., the number of actual voters multiplied by ten) vote a preference for a candidate, that candidate cannot fail to win. Range essentially allows voters an additional degree of freedom. Voters may indeed exercise this freedom in such a way as to cause their preference to be more weakly considered, and thus the "preference of the majority" can fail to win – but only if the voters allow this to happen.

The alleged failure of the Majority Criterion by Range and Approval only comes legitimately into play when there are more than two candidates. And it is clear that Approval, especially, violates the Majority Criterion only in a technical sense, because, with Approval, more than one candidate may win a majority of votes. Once again, Approval allows voters to express something more sophisticated than a simple preference. This freedom allows them collectively to pass over a candidate who is the first choice of a majority in favor of a candidate who is equally chosen by more than that majority. By assuming that enough of these voters, the ones who approved the winner, actually preferred the other candidate, one may claim that the first preference of a majority failed to win. However, the failure only happens if that majority allows it to happen. If they solely vote their top preference, that preference cannot fail to win.

Thus Range and Approval, in substance, satisfy the intention of the majority criterion, which is majority rule. A majority has absolute control over the outcome of any of these election methods. Someone other than the first preference of a majority can win only if there is no majority which strictly expresses that. And no method can guarantee a winner based on information not expressed by the voters!

As to "political viability," the basis of the claim would presumably be that simply mentioning that a majority preference can fail to win will blow everybody's minds and kill the whole idea. Yet it is easy to show that the "majority preference" can, in any multiple choice decision being made by a group of people, easily fail to be the best winner. I give the pizza example, and it is often rejected by people on the basis that candidates aren't pizzas. Brilliant argument! Of course, "pizza" is just a generic object of choice. Are candidates an object of choice?

Anyway, the argument goes, a group of people, let's say there are three of them to make it very simple, want to buy a pizza and split it. The pizza parlor, quixotically, will only allow them to choose one kind of pizza. Two of the three prefer pepperoni, but the third is an observant Jew, and cannot eat pepperoni, but, we'll say, would have no problem with cheese or any vegetarian pizza. Now, if, for some reason, the two pepperoni fans must have their pepperoni, they certainly can get it. They might have some problems, though. The Jew might balk at paying for it! Suppose that the pepperoni fans, though, can agree that a mushroom pizza would be just fine, almost as good as pepperoni. And that just happens to be the favorite of the Jew.

Please give a cogent argument why the first preference of the majority should win.

Sure, politicians aren't pizzas. Rather, they are more important. Please give a cogent reason why this argument breaks down with important things. I'd argue, in fact, that it becomes more crucial with important things. The "preference of a majority" can cause a civil war, if it neglects the needs of a minority.

Absolutely, the majority has the right of decision; any other position reduces to minority rule under some conditions. But that right should be quite carefully exercised, and Approval and Range methods preserve the right of the majority to decide, while allowing it more sophistication in allowing something other than first preference of the majority to win under some conditions – essentially, only if the majority consents.

This consent can be made explicit, by the way, in which case, the Majority Criterion holds absolutely.

Richie's Criterion 2: "Does the system meet the common sense principle of requiring a minimum level of core support? A winner should be at least one voter's first choice."

This seems to be a made-up criterion, and largely irrelevant. Does the first choice of one voter really matter if there are ten million voters? Should a candidate win or fail because of one vote, of this kind? I.e, say there is a Range election and there is a very clear range winner with a rating of, say, 80%, with the closest behind having, say, 40%. Yet, for some very odd reason, nobody rated that winner as the highest. Not even his mother. So we should choose a clearly inferior candidate, according to the collective judgement, because the guy's mother was irritated with him that day?

The criterion is just plain silly, because in any real election, it is going to be satisfied. Period. One might consider it odd that this argument, which depends on setting up a totally unrealistic election scenario to make any sense, is advanced for IRV, when the same IRV proponents criticize arguments against IRV based on theoretical scenarios far more likely to actually take place than this one, as rejectable because "they are only theoretical." But I don't consider it odd at all: This is the argumentation style of the desperate, those who simply want to think of everything and the kitchen sink that they can throw.

In the pizza example (obviously I prefer talking about pizzas to talking about politicians), suppose Mushroom was not the first preference of the Jew. Should therefore pepperoni win? No, the second choice of the majority, provided that it was also acceptable to the Jew, should win. Or possibly some other mutually acceptable choice. And if there was no mutually acceptable choice, then the majority might make whatever choice it wants in a difficult situation. If the Jew isn't going to eat any pizza acceptable to the majority, then the majority might as well have its pepperoni. And this all is exactly what would happen with Range and Approval voting.

Approval-voting elections aim at unanimity, in fact, and I've seen it work that way in a highly polarized situation, with people expressing what seemed to be tenacious preferences (more like demands, actually). What, I wonder, does "United" mean in "United States?" Does it mean "coerced to remain subject to the first preference of the majority – or plurality?" Yes, too often it has and does mean that. But this is hardly preferable to true unity, and it is true unity which is truly powerful.

Approval is a very simple change: "Just Count All the Votes!" It does not require ballot or counting system changes. It does not preclude further changes, such as adding ranks (Condorcet or other ranked methods including ones of the same nature as IRV) or ratings (Range). It simply solves the immediate spoiler effect problem. It would not change everything radically. The two-party system would not suddenly collapse. Most voters would still vote for one candidate; the only effect, really, is that supporters of a third party can both express support for that party while still participating in the true pairwise election, thus the spoiler effect is largely gone, and without a complicated ballot, without complicated and defective rules, the kind that allows so many nightmare scenarios to be generated with IRV, just by striking out a few words in the election code – the ones which disenfranchise any voter who dares to vote for more than one. Only one vote from this voter gets counted (in the end) to create a winner, at most (just like IRV); overvotes are not unfair.

That CVD does not get behind Approval Voting as, at least, a simple option, shows me that CVD is not interested in true reform, it is interested in one specific cause that it has allowed itself to be nailed to. Absolutely, Approval isn't perfect. But it is a huge improvement with practically no cost. Any reformer whose goal wasn't political, that is, with a goal that was not about personal position and influence, would see this.

Richie's Criterion 3: "Does the system meet the common sense principle of rewards for sincere voting? A voter should not likely be punished for voting sincerely under the system's rules."

And, of course, Range and Approval satisfy this, and IRV does not. But that's not what you will hear from Richie. Instead you will hear that "sincere Range voters" can be, allegedly, "punished" for voting sincerely, allowing the exaggerating strict preference voters – called "strategic" voters – to win. But what he won't mention is that this can only happen if these sincere voters allow it to happen, that is, they are willing to accept the choice of the strategic voters. IRV, on the other hand, can actually require that voters reverse their sincere preferences in order to gain an acceptable outcome, which is a far worse violation of Criterion 3 than what we've just discussed about Range or Approval.

But, note, the subjective word "likely" has been inserted into Criterion 3 by Richie. This is why biased people should not be allowed to write "voting method criteria." He's designed the Criterion to fit his argument, which would then be that IRV is not "likely" to punish a sincere voter. And that is very far from clear. Quite simply, "likely" is an undefined term, and you don't use undefined terms to create clear criteria. From what we have seen, IRV would fail what is generally called Favorite Betrayal under reasonably likely conditions, certainly more than a few percent of elections.

Richie will claim "harm" or "punishment" to sincere voters under Range or Approval, when, in fact, these voters, if in the majority, gain an acceptable winner, something which cannot be guaranteed under IRV. I don't consider that harm at all, it is gain and benefit.

Yes, lame arguments.

Are these arguments nevertheless valid from the point of view of "political viability?" Criterion One has some shot at it. The "majority" argument will surely be used against Range or Approval, though with Approval, there is clear precedent for considering that it won't. Approval is essentially used already in public elections when there are two conflicting referenda. The rule is that if both pass (i.e., both have a majority of Yes votes vs. No votes), then the referendum with the most Yes votes wins and is implemented. This is, precisely, Approval Voting. And it is quite possible that the other referendum was the first choice of a majority, if they had been presented as a choice. If Richie were correct, surely this "failure" would have been eliminated as unjust.

Besides, people do understand about buying pizzas. They are not as stupid as Richie thinks.

As to Criterion two, it is so totally lame that few voters would be swayed by it. Sure, it sounds reasonable, like a lot of things that can sound reasonable when first heard. I mean, do you really think that anyone could win an election without being the first choice of at least one person? Let's put it this way: we could run elections until the sun grows cold and not see a large election, whether by IRV or Range or Approval, that does not satisfy this criterion.

And Criterion Three, people have tolerated total violation of this one for so long that I don't think it would prevent them from continuing to tolerate it in greatly reduced effect.

If Richie is arguing relative political viability, and claiming that people will choose IRV over Range or Approval, maybe he is right. But that argument doesn't make sense in context. It would reduce to "My method is Bigger than your method, so give up!" The legitimate political viability argument would be "Your method, if presented alone to the electorate, would be rejected because it violates that criterion."

And this is obviously nonsense, given that rejecting an Approval initiative, for example, would mean continuing to tolerate egregious violation of that Criterion. Voting for your favorite, if it happens to be, say, Nader or Badnarik, causes you to be as severely punished as possible under present conditions: your vote is thereby totally discarded. Approval would completely stop this. Your participation in the major contest becomes an option you can exercise without betraying your favorite.

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