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We need ranked-choice voting at the national level

Tim Penny
MinnCANTim Penny

Washington, D.C., is more partisan, polarized and broken than ever, and new polls show that an overwhelming 78 percent of Americans think our country is headed in the wrong direction.

But contrast the frustrating state of affairs in Washington with our upcoming election for Minneapolis mayor — a civil, positive, issue-oriented campaign that encourages candidates to work towards having the support of the broadest base of voters possible. The winning candidate will be the one who most successfully reaches beyond his or her narrow base and who will take office beholden to a majority.

That’s all thanks to ranked-choice voting (RCV) — a fairer, modern, and more accessible election system that we’re proud to support. Ranked-choice voting rewards candidates who represent a broad majority, instead of ideologues beholden to a narrow, fanatical “base.” Minnesotans — and Americans across the nation — are so fed up with negative campaigns, attack ads, and hyper-partisan gridlock, that we can barely stomach watching the news or paying attention to politics anymore.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Now, more than ever, it is clear: We need ranked-choice voting at the national level.

The upcoming Minneapolis elections are set to be one of ranked-choice voting’s biggest tests yet. Minneapolis (and neighboring St. Paul, which also utilizes ranked voting) has an incredible opportunity this year to show just how valuable and important RCV is to our democracy. It’s not the only solution needed, but it’s one of the most critical, and it’s up to all of us to make sure that happens.

By ensuring majority outcomes in a single high turnout November election, ranked-choice voting opens up the field to a diverse group of voices, gives voters actual choices in their elections and encourages candidates to reach beyond their narrow base to appeal to a broad majority of voters.

The truth is, that’s just not how our political system should operate. Voters should have the chance to hear from a diverse group of voices engaging in real, honest debates about the important issues affecting our communities — and, ultimately, the winning candidate should have the trust and mandate of a majority of the electorate, not just a narrow base of voters,

Have you noticed how much more positive and respectful this election cycle has been? It’s refreshing to see candidates focused on what is best for the people of Minneapolis, and not just attacking their opponents until you can’t stand any of the candidates in the race.

Sen. Dave DurenbergerPhoto by Andrea SalazarDave Durenberger

Even better, ranked-choice voting is as simple as 1, 2, 3. When voters in Minneapolis go to the polls and cast their votes Nov. 5, they’ll have the option on their ballot to rank their first, second, and third choice candidates — a system that gives you as a voter real choices and the power to decide your next mayor.  That’s all there is to it.

With ranked-choice voting, there’s also no fear about a wasted vote — you can go cast your ballot for your first, second, and third choices confidently, knowing that your vote will be counted and will matter.

Minneapolis is leading the way and setting an outstanding example for the rest of our nation. It’s a stark and refreshing contrast from the do-nothing attitude of many in Washington, and we have every confidence that Minneapolis voters will prove this year — once and for all — how valuable ranked-choice voting is, and why we need to implement it on a national scale.

So, remember: Rank your vote on Nov. 5! In a nation yearning for less gridlock and more respect and teamwork, Minneapolis’ ranked-choice voting system is a shining example of success. Together, we’re leading the way toward a new day in American politics.

Tim Penny is a former Minnesota congressman, and David Durenberger served as a U.S. senator from Minnesota.


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Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/21/2013 - 09:07 am.

    “But contrast the frustrating state of affairs in Washington with our upcoming election for Minneapolis mayor — a civil, positive, issue-oriented campaign that encourages candidates to work towards having the support of the broadest base of voters possible. The winning candidate will be the one who most successfully reaches beyond his or her narrow base and who will take office beholden to a majority.”

    This reflects the basic contradiction RCV suffers from. On the one had, it is supposed to favor majoritarian results. On the other hand, it empowers factions.

    Well, which result do we want?

    • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 10/21/2013 - 03:53 pm.

      This contradiction is illusory.

      “This reflects the basic contradiction RCV suffers from. On the one hand, it is supposed to favor majoritarian results. On the other hand, it empowers factions.”

      There is no contradiction here. The present system of counting creates the illusion of majoritarian rule by effectively making third parties unelectable. RCV is a step in the direction of making them electable. (The next step is to enlarge all legislative districts so that each is represented by five or more delegates, and to elect these delegates using a proportional system of counting, such as RCV.)

      If our political system allowed only one political party to be electable, the government would operate under the illusion of consensus, but not real consensus. Our political system is a little better than that: It allows two parties to be electable. But this creates only the illusion of majority rule, not real majority rule. Millions of US-Americans feel rightly that they are poorly represented by a system of vote counting that allows them to choose only Coke or Pepsi, but punishes them by discarding their ballots if they dare to vote for a third party. That is not the way a republic is supposed to work – and there’s no reason why our republic has to work that way.

      The advocates of RCV are right to point out that multiparty elections work better to foster co-operation than two-party elections. This happens because with three or more electable parties, none is likely to gain more than 50% of the seats in a legislature. This requires two or more parties to form a coalition with each other in order to create a majority.

      Contrast this effect with our bipartisan system, which creates almost exclusively single-party majorities. A single-party majority is never motivated to co-operate with the party that is out of power. So to correct this problem, we apply the Senate filibuster rule as a gimmicky, ad-hoc solution (which cannot be found in the Constitution, by the way). But this cure is worse than the disease; requiring a super-majority to pass any legislation at all makes it hard to change the law and easy for a minority of Senators to perpetuate laws that should have been changed long ago.

      Let’s design our electoral system to foster multi-party elections rather than two-party elections. This will make multi-party rule the norm and end the perpetual duopoly of Coke and Pepsi. It will require co-operation between parties to create legislative majorities. And it will not require super-majorities, as the Senate filibuster does; it will foster bipartisan co-operation merely as a necessary part of creating simple majority support for legislation.

  2. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/21/2013 - 09:35 am.


    You can keep saying it, but RCV does not ensure majority outcomes.

    • Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 10/21/2013 - 11:16 am.

      I’m with Dan on this one…

      Like the phony “Voter ID” amendment, RCV is the solution to a problem Minnesota doesn’t have.

    • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 10/21/2013 - 03:15 pm.

      You can keep saying it, too.

      RCV doesn’t ensure that the winner of an electoral contest of three or more candidates will enjoy an absolute majority of the votes cast – including those that are discarded. You can say that as often as you like, and I will still prefer RCV.

      Why? Because with RCV, fewer votes are discarded. If even a few people who cast votes in an electoral contest using RCV take advantage of the option of ranking their choices, fewer votes will be discarded and more counted. Therefore, under RCV, the winner of an electoral contest of three or more candidates is virtually guaranteed to have more voter support than under the present system of vote counting. It may not always be an absolute majority of support, but it will be a bigger plurality of support, at the very least.

      • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/21/2013 - 03:35 pm.


        My point is only that the claims of RCV advocates that RCV ensures majorities are false. You seem to agree with that.

        As to your point that RCV creates bigger pluralities, I am not aware of any evidence that supports that claim.

        • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 10/21/2013 - 09:38 pm.

          I do agree … but …

          It’s purely a matter of statistical likelihood that in a contest of three or more candidates, RCV will result in fewer discarded votes than the traditional system of counting. In Minnesota, like it or not, there are three political parties, not two. Actually, I like the fact that we have three parties, because that means we have more choices. I would welcome even more parties than three.

          But when we have three parties, the problem of plurality rule instead of majority rule emerges. It is possible, for example, in a three-way race, for one candidate to win with 34% of the vote while the other two candidates get 33% each. It is by no means guaranteed that the winner of a three-way race will get 50% plus one vote, or even close to that share of voter support. But if we insist on using the traditional method of vote counting, we will have to accept, in every three-way race, the possibility of a candidate winning an election with only a little more than one third of the vote. In a four-way race, of course, this problem could be even worse, with a candidate possibly taking only a little more than one-quarter of the vote and still being declared the winner.

          RCV doesn’t eliminate this problem, but it reduces it, again for reasons of pure statistical probability. In an RCV election, if candidates A, B, and C get 35%, 34%, and 31% of the vote, respectively – considering only the voters’ first choices – the election is not finished, but enters the instant-runoff phase. The first candidate to be eliminated is C, but if any voters for C indicated a second choice, their votes are not discarded, as they would be under the traditional method of vote counting, but transfered to either A or B. This means that when either A or B wins the election, it will be with a bigger plurality than 35% of the vote – that is, with a bigger plurality than the traditional method of vote-counting would have produced.

          • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/22/2013 - 10:35 am.


            We need to clarify what discarded votes means. I am talking about valid ballots, and under the traditional system, none of these are discarded. They all count. Under RCV, valid ballots are discarded in order to get the so-called RCV majority. Under RCV, if you didn’t use any of your votes on the top candidates, it is as if you didn’t even show up to vote.

            Your premise about more choices leading to bigger pluralities is probably true in the absence of a primary. But with a primary trimming down the field of candidates, the tradional system probably fares better. The old Minnespolis system – a non-partisan run-off that reduced the field to two – guaranteed a majority winner. The adoption of RCV took that away.

            • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/22/2013 - 12:52 pm.

              Not clarification at all – this is TOTALLY misleading

              In fact, there are NO “discarded votes” in RCV – NONE AT ALL, unless you want to claim that in a traditional election, votes for the loser are “discarded”, which would at least be consistent. This is a ridiculous argument, one that sows confusion, rather than clarity.

              In every round of RCV’s tabulation, EVERY ballot with an ongoing meaningful contribution to the end result, with any indications of choices #1, #2, or #3 who remain viable candidates, is counted as a contributor to the tabulation’s result.

              So when is the counting of a ballot discontinued, when is it a futile exercise ? When does it become pointless ?

              Answer: When it becomes clear that it is MATHEMATICALLY IMPOSSIBLE for a candidate(s) to win the election – considering ALL the #1, #2, and #3 preferences tallied for that candidate, THEN AND ONLY THEN, the candidate is considered “defeated”, which is exactly the real world situation. And so that candidate is treated as an already defeated candidate thenceforth.

              Likewise, in the legacy election system, when a winner is chosen, it becomes IMPOSSIBLE for the loser to win, and you might say ballots cast for that candidate are “exhausted”, just as in RCV.

              In Mr. Hintz’s world, votes for the loser in a legacy style election are “discarded”, too, and for the same reason. But he doesn’t want to say so, because he wants you to think the sin he puts forth weighs against RCV alone. This is disingenuos.

              Mr. Hintz here uses the dissemblance of the concept of a “discarded” vote – or, in other posts – he puts it this way, or close to it: your vote was thrown away because you didn’t vote for the right person.

              These kind of half-baked claims do not enhance understanding of the election system.

              And I’m not an RCV advocate, either – I’m merely exposing the fallacies in a false claim. I simply want better government. If RCV doesn’t advance us toward this goal, I’ll be ready to try another system that might have a chance of success – the “approval” system, for example.

              In the meantime, some of the commenters here are dedicated to creating mass confusion with a flood of red herring, a highly cynical undertaking.

              • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/26/2013 - 01:39 am.

                Um, no

                Steve, I am not sure if you are trying to deliberately misrepresent my arguments, or if you really just don’t get it.

                The discarding of votes into play when trying to claim a false majority in an RCV election. It doesn’t in traditional elections, because no one pretends there is a majority when there isn ‘t one.

                If a candidate wins with 40 percent of the vote in a traditional election, he or she is the winner but does not have a majority. The other 60 percent of the votes did not go to the winner, but they still count.

                In an RCV election, a candidate may win with 40 percent, but some RCV advocates will claim he or she is majority winner by discarding the votes that did not go to the finalists. They throw out 25 percent that went to weaker candidates, and only count the votes that went to the candidates with 40 and 35 percent. Out of those two candidates, the winner has a majority. But that majority only comes from discarding votes.

                A vote for a losing candidate is not a discarded vote. A discarded vote is a valid vote that is not counted to achieve a fake RCV majority.

      • Submitted by Walt Cygan on 10/21/2013 - 04:29 pm.


        What is the fascination with the mythical majority concept? As critics of RCV have pointed out, there is no guarantee that a winner will get a majority of the total ballots cast. As RCV supporters point out, the winner will get the majority of non-exhausted votes.

        Who cares? Was Pawlenty (or Dayton or Carlson) not our governor because he didn’t get a majority? Would he (they) have been any different as governor if he had gotten a majority (however it is defined)? I don’t understand how I would feel any different about any of the current crop of candidates for mayor, if they were elected with a RCV “majority” or a majority after a runoff, or a plurality as in a statewide race. I just don’t see that as very important.

        There also is a large criticism about the low-turnout primaries we had before RCV. Would I have liked a higher turnout? Sure, but every voter had the right to vote in the primary. The fact that they chose not to participate is not necessarily a problem with the primary, but with the candidates’ ability to motivate their voters to get to the primary.

        My proposal is that if there are 6 or more candidates in a race, we would have an RCV primary to reduce the number to 4. Then we would have an RCV runoff. Motivated voters would be able to vote to reduce the pool to a manageable number, and then the number of choices in the runoff would be simpler for people to research.

        I think most voters are capable of making a reasoned choice in a 35-candidate field, but I think many will not find it worth the effort if they perceive the candidates as basically the same.

        Currently, I am likely to leave the mayor’s race blank. This whole election has very little interest for me and the “debates” have really not provided much differentiation.

        • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/21/2013 - 05:30 pm.


          RCV advocates see the lack of majorities in traditional elections as a problem, and RCV as the answer. The problem with this is that RCV elections do not ensure majorities. Well, not unless you redefine majorities to only count the top candidates and to dicard the votes that went to other candidates.

      • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/21/2013 - 11:43 pm.


        I overlooked this the first time I read it but your claim that RCV results in fewer discarded votes is wrong. That is because the traditional system does not discard ANY valid votes, while RCV may have to in order to achieve an RCV “majority.”

  3. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/21/2013 - 09:50 am.

    And just once

    I would like to see RCV advocates honestly address why a number of municipalities have repealed RCV after trying it and why others are in the process of doing so. If RCV is such a panacea, why is this happening?

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/21/2013 - 02:28 pm.

      OK, Dan – what’s the “number” which have repealed RCV…

      …and make it an EXACT number, within the last 10 years please, and cite your references. (author edited originally stated 5 years to a more reasonable 10 years)

      And EXACTLY which “others” are in this putative massive groundswell to overthrow RCV ?

      And while you’re at it, why don’t you tell us about the repeal efforts that have failed ? Or aren’t those worth mentioning ?

      I’m supposing you’d rather keep it vague, as you do when you repeat these same lines, over and over. Your claims have been refuted elsewhere in these posts, for example, when the losers of an election blame it on RCV and then ATTEMPT to repeal it. This is not an honest example of RCV failure, but perhaps a good example of sore losing.

      In your own words, “I don’t dispute the people who opposed RCV led the efforts, or that candidates who lost under RCV but would have won otherwise pushed for repeal.”

      You’ve repeated other refrains, such as yet another dogged repetition in this same comment section of the dissemblance: “…RCV does not ensure majority outcomes.” Most mindful observers of this debate realize by this time that there is more than one definition of majority, yet you pretend that your favorite is the one and only. This is not intellectually honest.

      Since you’re asking for advocates to “honestly address” issues, don’t you think the same should apply to you ?

      • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/21/2013 - 03:28 pm.

        Fair enough

        By my count, there have been four jurisdictions that have repealed RCV during that time frame: Burlington, Vermont; Aspen, Colorado; Pierce County, Washington; and North Carolina for its judicial elections.

        As far as ongoing repeal efforts, San Francisco and Oakland have counsel members actively pushing repeal. Last year the SF counsel voted 6-5 against putting the repeal on the ballot. I expect that those numbers will change after another round of the extremely negative and nasty elections RCV has produced.

        I am of the believe that there is only one definition of majority – having more than half the voted cast. If your definition of majority involves discarding valid votes to get a “majority” for the winner, you haven’t made it.

        • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/21/2013 - 09:24 pm.

          Here’s what you left out of your report…

          …culled from a readily available Wikipedia link which is thoroughly documented with links to local newspapers,

          I am spelling out much of the facts there to show that your initial question,

          “…why a number of municipalities have repealed RCV after trying it and why others are in the process of doing so. If RCV is such a panacea, why is this happening?”

          …has a unique answer in each jurisdiction !! There is no evidence of a widespread dissatisfaction with RCV, even in the places that have repealed it !! Furthermore, there are a number of OTHER jurisdictions with very interesting facts regarding RCV that you don’t mention – I encourage readers to see this WikiPedia page and follow its links to get a more robust picture of what’s happening with RCV in a variety of states.

          But back to Dan’s 4 examples. Read on…

          BURLINTON, VT….In the 2009 RCV mayoral election, one candidate (Wright) had a plurality advantage after the first round but did not win the election. One of his opponents (Kiss) won by the RCV rules. “The results caused a post-election controversy regarding the IRV method, mostly from supporters of Wright.”

          It was repealed IN SPITE OF the fact “Had the 2009 election occurred under these rules, Kiss and Wright would have advanced to the runoff. If the same voters had participated in the runoff as in the first election and not changed their preferences, Kiss would have won the runoff.”

          Could there be a more clear example of a repeal effort championed by a loser ?

          ASPEN, CO….”Aspen voters got rid of the runoff system partly because in the four municipal elections in which it was used, the candidate who received the most votes in the first round won the runoff every time, making the extra month of campaigning seem like a money-sucking, brain damage-inducing waste of time.” (

          They got the same results both ways !! It’s easy to see that if it made no difference, the shorter & cheapest election method was preferred. This is a much smaller jurisdiction than here in Minneapolis.

          PIERCE COUNTY, WA…”The introduction of IRV was marked by controversies about costs and a Supreme Court ruling that restored Washington State’s “top two” election system passed statewide in 2004, but struck down by courts in 2005.”

          NORTH CAROLINA JUDICIAL and MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS…”That law was repealed by the General Assembly in 2013 as part of a sweeping ‘voter ID’ bill”. But the same law authorized municipalities to use IRV in a pilot program, and there were only a few cities who participated: “In 2009 Hendersonville again used IRV, while the Cary Town Council voted to use a traditional runoff method. Three candidates ran for mayor in Hendersonville in November 2009; five candidates ran for two seats on the city council using a multi-seat version of IRV. All seats were filled based on first choices without the need for instant runoffs. In 2011, Hendersonville’s city council unanaimously voted to use IRV a third time, although utltimately not enough candidates filed for office to trigger the need for the system.”

          RCV is apparently still alive and well in North Carolina.

          Dan, I have seen your opposition often framed as “the places with RCV are all throwing it out because they can’t stand it’, or words to that effect. The facts about the 4 examples you yourself gave show this is simply not the case.

          The San Francisco and Oakland cases are ongoing and not resolved.

          • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/21/2013 - 11:37 pm.

            I’m not sure what your point is

            Again, my point was that a number of municipalities have either repealed or are in the process of repealing IRV. The reasons for doing so may differ in each place, but the bottom line is that RCV has not been the panacea its proponents claimed it would be. I don’t know if that means they “can’t stand it” but they did go to the trouble (or are going through the trouble) of getting rid of it.

            • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/22/2013 - 11:48 am.

              A clear point

              Of the 4 examples of RCV repeal you’ve cited:

              1 was driven by the “poor loser” syndrome

              1 appeared to give no different results vs the legacy system & so was abandoned

              1 was driven by a state Supreme Court decision

              1 applied only to judicial elections, but the municipal RCV program was retained.

              Your comments – implying there is a groundswell of popular opposition to RCV, accompanied by vague “numbers” and references to “others” – is misleading, an intellectually dishonest argument.

              That’s my point, which you evade despite its clear statement.

              • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/22/2013 - 12:59 pm.


                Steve, even if I accepted your simplistic and incomplete explanations, all you have done is demonstrate that there are lots of reasons why RCV is flawed. I wish there was a groundswell against RCV. Unfortunately, people get sucked in by RCV’s false promises, and only figure out the truth after the damage is done.

                I do feel the need to address your sore loser argument. If this was just sore losers opposing RCV, how did they win? Wouldn’t the election winners have prevailed in the referendum? The answer is that they were only RCV, and that RCV thwarted the will of the electorate. When given the chance to fix things with an actual democratic election – the yes/no referendum – they did.

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/21/2013 - 11:37 am.

    An alternative to the alternative

    Blanket primaries.

  5. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/21/2013 - 11:52 am.

    Awwwwh, come on, folks

    The majority thing is a red herring; if we don’t have a winner with a majority of votes, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a reasonable mandate.

    What a plurality winner in a typical ranked choice voting election means is that a significant number of voters ranked candidates without much chance of winning. There are some very rare cases where you have outcomes that don’t reflect wide support of the electorate, but it is a whole lot better than what can happen when we do it the way we’ve been doing for most of our history.

    Still, there is a better way yet, and I don’t know that I should be surprised that Penny and Durenberger don’t mention it: Range or Score Voting.

    I support instant runoff voting wherever it is introduced, but now mostly because it prepares folks who don’t rate movies on Netflix or watch the judged events of the Olympics, to think about their vote a little differently.

    In score voting, you assign a number to those candidates you choose to score on a range, say 0 to 4 or 0 to 9 or an even larger range. Those candidates receiving ratings from half or more of those voting have them tallied and divided by the number of ballots and the one with the highest average, wins. It is essentially one vote for the field that lets the world know just how you feel about them.

    I like it because you can have a winner with a really, really low average and there is no way in hell that they can claim a mandate; they’ll know from day one that they have work to do to get the confidence of the people and that they must play nice with the other electeds (always in my view). I also like that those who would rate their candidate high and others very low, would pretty much cancel one another out unless everybody felt one way or the other.

    Would we have Tea Party folks in government with Score Voting? Maybe, but they probably would not have been able to shut down government. I like to think that could not win when folks have the opportunity to really express their true desire when voting and that is what happens when you use Score Voting.

  6. Submitted by Josh Lease on 10/21/2013 - 12:35 pm.


    It seems awfully silly to advocate for national RCV now based off the Mpls Mayoral election before the actual election itself. Let’s see how the actual balloting goes, right?

    And frankly, while the Mpls election has been nominally more civil than say our gubernatorial elections have been, don’t you think that more to do with the fact that the difference between the major candidates are so much more marginal? The consensus top three candidates are all members of the DFL.

    Moreover, with campaign finance limits the way they are for a municipal race, and the relatively insular nature of the race (I don’t see Minnetonka getting too fired up about the Minneapolis Mayor right now) you just don’t get the same amount of visibility and have the same resources to run extensive tv ads, etc.

    I’m not saying RCV couldn’t work, or couldn’t benefit us nationally. But there are also a lot of legitimate concerns that have been raised about it. The smart choice to see how things go through the election this cycle before trying to sell everyone on expanding it.

  7. Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 10/21/2013 - 01:34 pm.

    Civil Mayoral Campaign Not Linked to Ranked Choice Voting

    Ranked choice voting isn’t creating an atmosphere of “positive and respectful” as the authors claim. All of the major candidates for the office are DFL’ers with one exception (Crane Winton, a self-identified Republican and he’s running away from that label as fast and hard as he can).

    There are not a lot of policy differences between the major candidates and for quite a few voters, the Minneapolis mayoral election is more about style, experience, and expectations of the candidates. “Going negative” simply doesn’t fit their personal style and the issues in this campaign aren’t terribly divisive to begin with. It’s unlikely that the respectful and civil tone of the campaign (so far) would be any different in a traditional, one choice campaign.

    I’ll be curious to see if voters will still want to use ranked choice voting if the eventual winner emerges despite not amassing a lot of first choice votes. Is putting someone in office who is a popular second or third choice really an improvement over someone who gets the most first choice votes?

  8. Submitted by linda higgins on 10/21/2013 - 05:14 pm.

    more votes are counted

    (1) Eric says: “Because with RCV, fewer votes are discarded. If even a few people who cast votes in an electoral contest using RCV take advantage of the option of ranking their choices, fewer votes will be discarded and more counted. Therefore, under RCV, the winner of an electoral contest of three or more candidates is virtually guaranteed to have more voter support than under the present system of vote counting.” And I say: But every vote is counted in a normal system and none is discarded unless it is a spoiled ballot. One person, one vote. Some people just believe that you throw away their vote by voting for someone who is not one of the frontrunners, so they’ve decided those votes don’t count. RCV lets some people, those who choose to rank, to vote up to three times. Where is the fairness there? (2) James Hamilton cites “blanket primaries.” That’s what we had before RCV was enacted. Here’s in MN, it’s called a nonpartisan primary and is used for local elections (city, county, etc.) but not legislative, in all localities except Minneapolis and St Paul. All candidates run in a primary and the top two vote-getters advance to the general. Much superior to this craziness.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/21/2013 - 11:03 pm.

      “Much superior” – but only for the two party system !!

      The two party system is the disease that has given us the abysmal government we have. What you praise is exactly what has produced the problem.

  9. Submitted by Clay Shentrup on 10/21/2013 - 09:40 pm.

    Common false IRV talking points

    I’m a co-founder of The Center for Election Science, a Berkeley-based 501(c)3 that studies electoral systems. We use Instant Runoff Voting (aka “Ranked Choice”) here in Berkeley, and in several cities in the San Francisco bay area. I have a great deal of experience with the system, and I’ve been studying this subject since 2006.

    This piece contains a number of common false pro-IRV talking points.

    > Ranked-choice voting rewards candidates who represent a broad majority, instead of ideologues beholden to a narrow, fanatical “base.”

    On the contrary, like traditional delayed runoffs, IRV has a tendency to “squeeze out” broadly appealing centrists who would beat all rivals by a head-to-head majority. Consider the 2009 mayoral race in Burlington, Vermont. The Progressive candidate won, even though voters preferred the Democrat to the Progressive by an 8-point margin, 56% to 44%.

    Warren Smith, a Princeton math PhD who is arguably the world’s top expert on election systems, did some mathematical analysis showing that IRV tends to elect “moderately extreme” candidates.

    > With ranked-choice voting, there’s also no fear about a wasted vote

    Absolutely false. In the Burlington example, the Republican voters were punished for ranking their favorite candidate in first place. If even a handful of them had, knowing the Republican had little hope of winning in liberal Burlington, insincerely ranked the Democrat in first place, then they would have gotten their second choice instead of their third choice. (This would be, in principle, like voting for Gore instead of Nader with the aim of not getting Bush.)

    > By ensuring majority outcomes in a single high turnout November election

    As I just showed, IRV does not ensure “majority outcomes”. In Burlington, the Democrat was favored by a majority to all rivals, but was eliminated because IRV *completely ignored* the fact that most Republican voters favored the Democrat to the Progressive. The system does not even register any of your rankings until the higher rankings have been eliminated. So it eliminated the wrong candidate, and produced a clearly wrong outcome.

    It is even theoretically possible for IRV to elect Candidate A even when Candidate B is preferred to A by a majority of voters, *and* Candidate B has more first-place votes than Candidate A.

    > ranked-choice voting opens up the field to a diverse group of voices, gives voters actual choices in their elections and encourages candidates to reach beyond their narrow base

    This claim is hand-wavey and unsubstantiated. I did a simple analysis of the effect of IRV in San Francisco, and found that it had no appreciable effect on diversity.

    > ranked-choice voting is as simple as 1, 2, 3.

    This is a highly misleading “sound bite” claim. The facts.

    – IRV has resulted in *seven times* as many spoiled ballots in San Francisco.

    – IRV cannot be counted in precincts, because it is not “additive”. The San Francisco city elections page once explained this as follows: “Due to the requirement that all ballots must be centrally tallied in City Hall and not at the polling places, the Department of Elections has not set a date for releasing any preliminary results using the ranked-choice voting method.”

    – A study by usability expert Dana Chisnell found that many voters find the process confusing, even after we’ve used it in the San Francisco area for nearly a decade.

    – I’m a software engineer, and lots of coworkers I’ve polled in San Francisco, who claim to vote, cannot accurately explain how the system works.

    See more of these complexity-related issues here:

    > you can go cast your ballot for your first, second, and third choices confidently, knowing that your vote will be counted and will matter.

    As the Burlington example shows, this is simply false. Those Republicans stated that they preferred the Democrat to the Progressive, but that information was completely discarded by the process. Here’s an example of how much voter preference IRV typically throws away. (The rankings in red are all discarded.)

    Clay Shentrup
    Berkeley, CA

  10. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 10/22/2013 - 03:50 pm.

    One and Two.

    1. In RCV elections, no vote can be counted more than once. Every vote is either counted or discarded, just as it is under the traditional method of counting. To be clear: when I use the word “discard,” I mean what happens to all legitimate votes that are cast for candidates who do not win. Under the traditional method of vote counting, in a three-way race, discarded votes are likely to be in the majority, and in a race between four or more candidates, discarded votes may be a very big majority. RCV is designed to alleviate this problem.

    When you agree to rank your choices rather than to vote for only one candidate, you must accept a risk. That is, you must accept that if your first-choice candidate loses, your vote will be transfered to your second-choice candidate, whether you like it or not. (Once your ballot is cast, you cannot change your mind.) Your vote is transfered, not counted twice. In order for your vote to be given to your second-choice candidate, it must first be taken away from your first-choice candidate (who lost the election anyway).

    If you cannot accept this risk, because you can tolerate only one candidate in the entire field of candidates, that’s okay; you can refuse to rank your choices – and this is an allowable and thoroughly rational choice under RCV rules. In this case, the risk that you must accept is that if your one-and-only choice of candidate loses, your vote will be discarded – as it would be under the traditional method of vote counting – rather than transfered.

    2. I support RCV for the flexibility it creates in elections of executives, such as the office of mayor or governor. I support it only conditionally for elections of chambers of delegates, such as city councils and legislatures. In other words, I support it under the condition that we someday soon develop it into a system of districts expanded so that five or more delegates are sent to represent each district. This would make elections more accurately represent the true political diversity that exists – and would also make gerrymandering obsolete. It would, stated simply and clearly, create proportional representation.

    Nonpartisan primaries, on the other hand, are not a step toward proportional representation, certainly not if only two candidates are allowed to participate in the general election. That effectively leaves us with the same duopoly of Coke and Pepsi that I would like to free us from. Moreover, nonpartisan primaries enable dishonest crossover voting; that is, they allow voters opposed to one party to choose a weaker candidate from that party in a primary, so as to make this candidate more likely to lose in the general election. It is in nobody’s interest for weaker candidates to win in primaries. Maybe nonpartisan primaries are okay in small towns, where the field of available candidates isn’t likely to be very big anyway. But in a big city such as Minneapolis or Saint Paul, it’s easy to see how nonpartisan primaries could be abused.

    Besides, RCV offers us a means to hold a primary election and a general election at the same time. That could save us a lot of money in gubernatorial elections. Why hold two elections when you can have a primary election and a runoff – or maybe several runoffs in a field of more than three candidates – all at once?

  11. Submitted by Dan Landherr on 10/22/2013 - 10:17 am.

    Ranked choice is not perfect

    I believe RCV can be effective if done properly. Minneapolis is not doing it correctly in this election.

    1) There are too many candidates and it is too easy to make the final ballot. I think the current process has opened up the eyes of every attention-seeking crackpot in the city and I fear the next mayoral ballot will have 200 names. There needs to be a primary to trim the ballot to a reasonable number of candidates. I’m not a human behavior researcher but 5 or 6 candidates seems like the most the brain can handle. The other option is requiring a large number of signatures to file or increasing the fee but that requires a clerk to verify signatures or potentially keeping out candidates due to poverty.

    2) Ranked choice voting only works if all choices are ranked; you can show this mathematically. This is only feasible if the list of candidate is trimmed. Balloting cannot take 20 minutes per ballot or you will never get everyone through the doors.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/22/2013 - 12:51 pm.

      Not possible

      You can’t force people to vote for someone, even if you rank them last. In a race where you find multiple candidates abhorrent, having to rank them means that your vote might count for them.

      A primary would help with the candidate pool size, but the lack of a primary is one of RCV’s main selling points.

      RCV is too flawed to fix and needs to be dumped.

      • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 10/23/2013 - 11:04 am.

        Not possible

        There is no way ranking a candidate last will count as a vote for someone. Eventually they get down to two candidates and your last choice won’t be one of them.

        If you leave a ballot blank past a certain point you’re letting other people choose the candidate. I’m not sure how that is preferable to holding your nose and supporting the least worst candidate after your top choices are exhausted.

        All methods of voting are flawed. RCV just has different flaws than what we’re used to.

        • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/26/2013 - 01:23 am.

          Read my comment again

          I understand that the last choice can ‘t count, which is why I was talking about multiple abhorrent candidates on a ballot. I don’t want my vote going giving a mandate to someone I can’t stand, even if someone else is actually worse.

          All methods may be flawed, but RCV is flawed beyond repair. Its a solution that is worse than the problem .

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