Criticisms of Range Voting

Many criticisms have been made of range voting (and of its simpler variant approval voting), but most are just consequences of misunderstanding – for example, worries about Range Voting's constitutionality, simplicity, or voting-machine compatibility; or the Bullet voting bugaboo; or mistaken beliefs about competing voting systems.

Here are several examples of such criticisms of range voting, written by

  1. Anthony J. Lorenzo of the Florida-based Coalition for Instant Runoff Voting
  2. Rob Richie of the instant-runoff voting (IRV) advocacy group
  3. Richie tries again to criticize approval voting, and falls on his face.
  4. Retired psychologist and League of Women Voters member Jeanne W. Eisenstadt with a psychology-based criticism which appears largely invalid although initially it may sound plausible.
  5. Somewhat related criticism by M.Balinski & R.Laraki based on "measurement theory." We completely destroy it.

However, there are a few genuine criticisms of range voting. They all seem to be related to strategic voters. Range voting actually reacts very pleasantly if all the voters act strategically; one can prove Range Voting maximizes pleasant surprise and elects "beats-all" winners whenever they would exist with honest voters (both under plausible assumptions about how the strategic voters behave). And range voters in 3-candidate elections can always be "semi-honest" (i.e. never say A>B if they believe B>A) without ever sacrificing any strategic oomph; and range voters can avoid ever rating their true favorite below somebody else – again without ever sacrificing any strategic oomph. We're unaware of any comparable package of theorems showing nice behavior with strategic voters for any non-range voting system.

Also, strategy in range voting is simple compared to in many other systems; see puzzle 40 for a theorem showing that that the best strategy for group of co-feeling voters can fail to be "all vote the same way" in Approval, Borda, Schulze-Condorcet, and IRV voting, whereas with range voting the best strategy for the group is always simply to pick the best vote, and then everybody casts it.

So what, then, is the criticism? The problems for Range Voting arise when either

  1. Not all of the Range Voters – only some – vote strategically; and in a way correlated to their politics. If for example, voters preferring A over B express intense opinions, but those preferring B over A express mild opinions, then A can win the election, thus "penalizing" the B-voters for their "honesty." To this we reply that it is naive to believe that only one side will employ strategic exaggeration in votes; if one does, the other will too. Further, even if that did happen, it would tend to be self-correcting over time. Further, the mild-opinioned voters have little basis for complaining, since their preferences were only mild and since they voluntarily chose to express them. (The more mild their opinions, the more likely such a strategy will work against them – but the less it matters!) Here is a succinct statement by Professor T.N.Tideman of the criticism, and responses by Kok and Lomax, and finally a response based on ongoing computer simulations, which seem to prove that (surprisingly) this whole concern is actually not a concern; even if the worst fears of the critic here come true, then range still is superior to IRV, Condorcet methods, etc. Also see the other set of computer simulations.
  2. Or when the "plausible assumptions" we alluded to above are violated – because the voters try to be strategic but do not have enough knowledge to do so intelligently enough. Chris Benham has given a nasty example illustrating how range voters (by trying to be strategic without enough understanding of the situation) can backfire badly. Fortunately, computer simulations of Bayesian Regret indicate that Benham-type scenarios arise rarely enough, and/or are not severe enough often enough, so that Range Voting still seems to be the best method among all common proposals on average. Also, in our detailed discussion of the Benham example we explain why it depended on ill-informed voters, and show that if those voters had been a little better-informed, they would not have fallen into Benham's strategic-voting trap. An even-nastier trap is, however, stated which is not so easily escaped, but it is more complicated than, and presumably a lot rarer than, Benham's example.

Finally, one can argue (with at least some validity) that range voting helps naive too-honest voters more than it victimizes them.

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