2009 elections demonstrate flaws in voting methods

Press Release – the Center for Range Voting – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 2 November 2009. This press release is available as a web page, with many hyperlinks, at the following URL: /Nov09PR.html.

Of the four most-important-for-the-US elections in 2009 (the three most-examined elections in the USA plus the Afghan Presidential election) three clearly exhibited major flaws. The problems in the two US elections are traceable to the flawed voting method, "plurality," employed. In contrast, score voting (also called "range voting") and approval voting both would have behaved reasonably. But Instant Runoff Voting (IRV; lately called by its US advocates "ranked choice voting" in an attempt to mislead people into wrongly thinking there is only one ranked-ballot voting method instead of an infinity) still would have yielded clearly undemocratic behavior.

The fraudulent Afghan election, if they'd foolishly employed IRV, would have been even more vulnerable to the fraud with even less chance of correcting and detecting it. For Afghanistan we recommend approval and Simmons asset voting.

What went wrong:

New Jersey Governor race:
All three candidates had approximately equal quality in the collective opinion of the voters – with Daggett having the most approval and greatest average score in score-voting and approval-style polls. It also is probable Daggett would have defeated every rival in head-to-head races. This truth was massively distorted by plurality voting ("must not 'waste' vote" strategic imperative amplified by media and cash) which caused Daggett to finish far behind in last place. Second, a Corzine victory (if it had occurred) quite likely would have been due to Daggett's "spoiler" effect. IRV would have cured the second problem but not the first.
New York district-23 congress special election:
The pre-election polls before Scozzafava dropped out (after, they oscillated wildly) seemed fairly clearly to indicate that all three candidates again were seen by voters as having approximately equal quality, and make it probable that Scozzafava would have defeated every rival in head-to-head races. But again the massive built-in undemocratic distortion of plurality voting caused the outfunded Scozzafava to fall far behind her two rivals in plurality-style polls, to the extent where she actually felt it best (as she was urged) to drop out of the race to avoid possible "spoiler" and "vote-splitting" problems. With approval and score voting, spoilers and vote-splits do not exist – and the nonsense that a perfectly good candidate dropping out constitutes an "improvement" of democracy, is abolished. Our data based on approval and score-style polling [as well as subsequent developments, such as Scozzafava endorsing Owens(D)] suggests the whole fear of a Republican-Conservative "vote split" actually may have been misguided. With IRV, this whole pathology still would have occurred. IRV only works well in "two-and-a-half candidate" races, not in genuine 3-way races like this one.
it is worth noting that IRV has inherent properties making fraud harder to stop and detect, and also harming ballot privacy (e.g. any attempt to publish IRV-style ballots in Afghanistan's 41-candidate race would have instantly identified voters, enabling vote-buying and coercion).

Take-home lesson:

More details:


Dr. Warren D. Smith    warren.wds AT gmail.com (prefer email)    Phone: 631-675-6128    co-founder, Center for Range Voting

Dr. Rob LeGrand    rob AT approvalvoting.org    Assistant Prof. Dept. Computer Science, Angelo State University;   rlegrand AT angelo.edu

Prof. Steven J. Brams    NYU Politics Dept.    steven.brams AT nyu.edu Phone: (212) 998-8510 FAX: (212) 995-4184

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