Instant-Runoff Voting is a voting method where voters rank candidates, who are then eliminated in a series of simulated runoff elections. It’s also known as “Ranked-Choice Voting” in the US, “Preferential Voting” in Australia, and “The Alternative Vote” in the UK (though there are many other preferential/ranked-choice voting systems, so I’ll use “IRV” here to avoid confusion).

On a ranked-choice ballot, voters rank each candidate from favorite to least favorite [CC BY-SA]

It’s the most commonly-proposed reform in the US (the only reform that many have heard of, in fact), with the promise that it will eliminate the spoiler effect, promote consensus candidates, etc. Unfortunately, these claims are exaggerated, and IRV doesn’t really fix these…

It looks like Instant-Runoff Voting, a type of ranked-choice voting, is going to be on the ballot in NYC.

Unfortunately, IRV is a poorly-designed plurality-runoff system, which works fine when there are only one or two strong candidates, but can fail whenever there are three or more, causing it to elect unrepresentative candidates.

Here’s an example of IRV electing a Republican in a left-leaning NYC district:

A 3-candidate IRV election in New York City [using the voteline simulator]

Here the Democrat (Blue) and Republican (Red) are equally-spaced away from an absolute “centrist” position (gray dotted line). The electorate (the bell curve) is left of center, and there’s a farther-left Progressive candidate (Green).

When discussing voting method reform, we often talk about concepts like the majority criterion, which requires that “If one candidate is ranked first by a majority (more than 50%) of voters, then that candidate must win”.

This seems like an obviously desirable quality, if you grew up with “democracy” being treated as a synonym for “majority rule”, but some people (like me) believe that it’s possible to do better than majority rule, which means that “failing” the majority criterion can actually be a good thing.

Majoritarian voting methods try to find the outcome that best pleases the majority, even if…

In seemingly every discussion thread about American politics, the same conversation happens again and again:

“Man, both political parties suck.”

“Yeah, we really need a third party.”

“But any third party entering the race acts as a spoiler, so nobody votes for them.”

“That’s why we need Ranked Choice Voting! It eliminates the spoiler effect and makes it safe to vote honestly, ending the two-party system! Check out this CGP Grey video!”

Others then watch the video, get excited, and pass it on, perpetuating the cycle, yet everyone seems to have missed what the video says at 2:58, about First…


*slaps roof of FPTP* this bad boy can fit so little democracy in it

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