Category Archives: singlewinner

insane election results? chalk it up to IRV

A great video about how instant runoff voting (IRV) works.
Be sure to watch through to the end so that you can see how it falls apart when a candidate convinces voters to vote in a manner that ought to improve that candidates results.


Teaching company voting methods video

A great video about various single winner voting methods can be found here:

The teaching company voting methods video.

A comparison chart of single winner election methods

Be sure to check out this helpful comparison chart of single winner election methods.

The page describes several election methods, describes several desirable properties of election methods and indicates whether each method passes or fails the method.

If readers wonder why I oppose instant runoff voting but like approval voting this page is a good start.

Kathy Dopp takes on IRV

Kathy Dopp (1) has written a scathing criticism of instant runoff voting (aka IRV 2).

It’s a list of many criticisms but it is rooted in Dopp’s election integrity and election auditing background. IRV is a disaster from an election integrity point of view – primarily because it is not ‘summable in precincts’.

I agree with much of what she has to say. However, I find her paper to be somewhat difficult to read since the latest version frequently switches tone and voice between her voice and that of Abd ul-Rahman Lomax (who posts profusely on the election methods’ email list and the range voting message board.) [Update: 6/17/08 – see correction in comments] .

Here is Dopp’s summary:

Instant runoff voting (IRV) is a method for counting “ranked choice” ballots where each voter ranks the candidates – first choice, second choice, etc. The IRV counting process proceeds in “rounds” where the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated in each round and that candidate’s votes are reassigned to the remaining candidates using voters’ choices. IRV sounds enticing to voters who can express their preferences, but according to the new report, IRV does not solve the problems it is promoted as solving and causes significant new problems.

According to Kathy Dopp, the report’s author, “Instant runoff voting is a threat to the fairness, accuracy, timeliness, and economy of U.S. elections. The U.S. needs to solve its existing voting system problems and then carefully consider the options before adopting new voting methods.”

The full report “Realities Mar Instant Runoff Voting – 17 Flaws and 3 Benefits” is found on-line at

One main point I disagree with her about:

The National Election Data Archive recommends restoring verifiable integrity to elections first before implementing alternative voting methods.

There are many problems and issues with our election system.

They include integrity, election methods, gerrymandering, representation via districts vs other options, the electoral college, voting on Tuesdays rather then more accessible times.

In my view, getting rid of lousy election methods is pretty important.
(aside: a very loosy-goosy attempt to compare the importance of various reforms (+ discussion))


Prisons Warp the Vote

Brett Blank just posted an interesting article discussing how districts that contain prisons get more political weight then those that do not have them:

Prisons Warp the Vote

…apportionment plans must be based on population and where voters reside should not affect the power of their vote. As a result, an industry or other economic interest can only exert political influence in proportion to the number of people that support it. The Reynolds case intended to permanently the settle the question of whether other interests besides population can be the basis of representative democracy.

Except it didn’t.

The Census Bureau counts people in prison where their bodies are located on census day, not where they come from and where they will return, on average, 34 months later. Forty-eight states bar prisoners from voting, and most states have constitutional clauses or election law statutes which explicitly declare that prisoner remains legal residents of their home addresses. When states draw districts based on the Census Bureau’s padded counts of prison locales, they give those districts extra representation just because the prison industry has a facility there.

Of the 12,594 people in the district containing the New Hampshire State Prison, 11 percent are incarcerated. As a result, every group of 89 residents in this prison district has the same political power as 100 residents elsewhere in the state.

The article references an advocacy site for this issue called Prisoners of the Census. That site has some good information about the issue including historical background for why the Census counts prisons in this way and arguments for why it is appropriate to change the way that prisoners are counted but not to change the way that college students are counted.

Our Voting System Is a Loser

An article featuring Range Voting is in the news. William Poundstone is interviewed by Mother Jones. This is also featured on Slashdot.

The basis for the coverage is Poundstone’s new book Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It)

From the MotherJones interview:

It’s heartening to know, as primary season begins, that ours may be the worst of all the voting systems in common use. That’s the takeaway from Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It), the latest of eleven books by William Poundstone, a professional skeptic who studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before he began pumping out nonfiction in 1982.

Poundstone became interested in voting theory after reading about Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, a 59-year-old paradox wherein economist Kenneth Arrow, now a professor emeritus at Stanford University, identified what he perceived as a fundamental flaw in our democracy: Put simply, he argued that devising a perfectly fair voting system is mathematically impossible.

Mother Jones: Is there a way around Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem?

William Poundstone: For decades, there was almost a kind of despair among voting theorists of getting any better system than we had. What’s interesting, though, is that the impossibility theorem doesn’t apply to systems where you score the candidates rather than rank them. With scoring, you’re essentially filling out a report card—if you think there are two candidates who deserve four stars you can give them both four stars—whereas with ranking you have to artificially give one a number one and one a number two. That turns out to be crucial.

MJ: And yet plurality voting—where a person can vote for only one candidate for a particular office—is the most common system in use. What’s wrong with it?

WP: Whenever you have two candidates whose support overlaps, that’s bad for both of those candidates, the obvious example being Nader and Gore in 2000. So a candidate can be a spoiler and cause the second most popular candidate to win. This is something that’s been appreciated at least going back to the 18th century, and people have tried to devise different ways of dealing with it, but for a very long time this was one of those unsolvable problems.

Continue reading

Article about single winner election methods from 2000

I have not seen many mainstream articles that discuss single winner election systems; a topic that is important to me.

This is one of the exceptions from November 2000.

When Votes Don’t Add Up By Lila Guterman:

When they approach the polls next week, supporters of Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan will face a quandary because of their candidates’ slim chances of winning the presidential election. Believing that a vote for either is wasted, the voters could support their second choice to try to influence the outcome of the tight race between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

The frustration of voters who feel forced to choose between conviction and strategy after they enter the voting booth reveals a flaw in our voting system, say several mathematicians and political scientists, who are using the close 2000 presidential election to emphasize the benefits of alternative scoring methods.

There are some mentions of approval voting, instant runoff voting, the Borda count, and Condorcet methods. I’m a fan of approval voting.

42% of the popular vote, but 0 of 17 seats awarded

An excellent example of the disenfranchisement that can be caused by using single winner districts to elect members to a legislature can be seen in the 1926 Canadian federal election for the province of Manitoba.

The province of Manitoba was entitled to 17 seats. The Conservative party had 42.2% of the popular vote within Manitoba but was unable to win any of the single winner districts.

Here is the data care of :

Political party % votes Number of seats % seats
Conservative 42.2% 0 0%
Liberal-Progressive 19.5% 7 41%
Liberal Party 18.4% 4 24%
Progressive 11.2% 4 24%
Labour 8.7% 2 12%

More information about the 1926 Manitoba election can also be found on wikipedia

filling up the house

There are two common types of elections that occur. Those in which a single winner is selected and those in which multiple winners are selected. Multi-winner elections would typically be used to select representatives for a body like a legislature.

In the US we generally do not use multi-winner elections to select representatives. Instead we use a districting approach where districts are drawn, single-winner elections are held in each district to choose a winner and those winners become representatives in the legislature.

What values does such a system endorse?

  • local representation – Voters have a representative that is local to them and whom they presumably can access

What values does such a system ignore?

  • representation for all of the population – in a close race only a minority of people in the district approve of and consider themselves to be represented by their representative. For example, a district might have 52% Republican party supporters and 48% percent Democratic party supports. This district might elect a Republican as it’s representative based on straight party-line voting. Thus 48% of the population of this district has been disenfranchised. They have a representative that does not represent their view points. It is true that other representatives from other districts may be elected who share this disenfranchised population’s viewpoints and that, in that sense, they may be represented. But this is unlikely to happen evenly. For example, if the population at large voted 60% for the Republican party and 40% for the Democratic party the distribution of voters within districts may be such that the legislature ends up with 80% Republicans and 20% Democrats.

One must ask whether the single-winner districted approach makes sense for a multi-winner election. Is the benefit of having a local representative worth the cost of having a large portion of society unrepresented? If your local representative does not actually represent much of the local population’s viewpoints, is there really a significant benefit to that population in the representative being local to them?

In future posts I will discuss voting methods for both single-winner elections and multi-winner elections as well as discuss more of the issues we face when we use a districted single-winner system for multi-winner elections.