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Now HERE Is a Bill by a Virginia Republican I Can Enthusiastically Support — Instant Runoff Voting


I don’t often agree with legislation sponsored by Virginia Republicans, but this bill by Del. Nicholas Freitas (R-30th), providing for “Instant Runoff Voting” (IRV) ” in elections for statewide offices, the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives, and the General Assembly” looks like a winner to me.

For an excellent explanation regarding why IRV “should be a thing,” see Dave Leichtman’s post from 2014. Here’s an excerpt:

Preference balloting enables what’s called an “Instant Runoff.” Normally, in a single-election election, if you require the winner to achieve a majority of votes (as opposed to the commonly used plurality) and nobody does, it’s necessary to call a second runoff election. Asking people to vote twice incurs more costs, more voter fatigue, and reduces turnout. But if you allow voters to specify who their vote would go to in the event of a runoff, you enable an instant runoff. You can determine who gets a majority by reallocating the second-preference votes for voters whose candidates were eliminated in earlier rounds of balloting.

This is, in essence, more “free and fair.” Asking that a winning candidate receive a majority (or at least, in this case, a majority of preference votes), helps unify voters behind that candidate through investiture. It also simply increases the number of people who produced the result – a critical component when you consider that in a place like Arlington, the Democratic primary is likely to decide the general election.

A “no brainer,” right? Seems like it to me. So…does anyone have a strong counterargument to IRV? If so, I’d be interested in hearing it — because I definitely haven’t heard it yet.

  • Warren Smith

    “Range voting” aka “score voting” is superior.
    http;//RangeVoting.org .

    Numerous problems with instant runoff shown via a simple
    election example:

    The most IRV-using country on the world by far, Australia,
    with 1000s of IRV elections held over the last 80 years,
    more than rest of world combined,
    wants to get rid of IRV, even if the only alternative is
    the same crappy “plurality” voting system the USA presently uses:

    One could go on and on. It is an embarrassment that voting so-called
    “reformers” in the USA believe in this snake oil, obviously having
    done zero research beforehand. The number of lies IRV proponents
    tell is astronomical…

    • http://www.fairvote.org/why-approval-voting-is-unworkable-in-contested-elections

      Approval voting is a method of voting to elect single winners that has adherents among some voting theorists, but is unworkable in contested elections in which voters have a stake in the outcome. Once aware of how approval voting works, strategic voters will always earn a significant advantage over less informed voters. This problem with strategic voting far outweighs any other factor when evaluating the potential use of approval voting in governmental elections.

      Other methods that should not be used in meaningfully contested elections include range voting, score voting, the Borda Count and Bucklin voting. They all share approval voting’s practical flaw of not allowing voters to support a second choice without potentially causing the defeat of their first choice. Such voting methods have their potential value, but only in elections where voters have no particular stake in the outcome.

      The only voting methods that should be weighed seriously for governmental elections are methods that do not violate this “later-no-harm” criterion (plurality voting and forms of runoff elections and instant runoff voting) or only do so indirectly (such as Condorcet voting methods)

      • Warren Smith

        Thanks for referring me to this latest batch of lies from “FairVote.”
        I’ll probably have to write yet another page refuting it.
        is a page about criticisms (both genuine and bullshit, mostly the latter) of range voting, including a link to two previous crticism-attempts by Rob Richie, the head of FairVote, and refuting those previous attempts. Richie evidently was undiscouraged by the fact that he was refuted, and thus continued on spewing more baloney, including
        recycling previously-refuted claims. Concerning the “later no harm” criterion Richie uses to con you, let “A hurts B” mean (for short)
        “in this voting system, there are elections where a voter, by honestly
        stating his Ath-choice and Bth-choice candidates, prevents
        the election of B – except that if A<B we shall not regard 'A wins" as
        'hurting' B, because this voter honestly prefers A winning."
        Then here is the situation:
        1 hurts1? no yes
        1 hurts 2? no yes
        2 hurts 1? yes no
        2 hurts 2? no yes
        Richie in the quote you gave, complains about the 3rd line
        of this table (which he calls "failure of the 'later-no-harm' criterion by approval voting). That table row makes IRV seem better than approval voting,. But he completely ignores the other 3 rows of the table, hoping you will not notice.
        Now that you have seen the full truth, decide for yourself
        how much Richie's partial truth matters, and what this information
        really tells you about the relative worth of approval and instant runoff voting.

      • ClayShentrup

        FairVote is deeply deceptive, particularly their Executive Director Rob Richie. You can see some examples here of him blatantly lying.

        Warren Smith, while cantankerous, is a brilliant Princeton math PhD whose groundbreaking work was the centerpiece of the William Poundstone book “Gaming the Vote”.

        Here’s a simple way to understand things. Suppose you’re a voter who honestly feels something like this:

        Green=10, independent=8, Democrat=7, Republican=0

        Under traditional choose-one voting rules, you vote Democrat.

        But under Approval Voting, you can keep going up and approving additional candidates, so you approve Democrat, independent, and Green. It’s mathematically proven that its always a good strategy to vote for your favorite candidate under Approval Voting.

        Whereas with Rob Richie’s favored Instant Runoff Voting system, your best strategy is to insincerely rank the Democrat in first place—which requires you to strategically bury the green and independent. I know IRV advocates have told you its safe to rank your favorite candidate in first place, but that’s a lie. Explained here by yet *another* math PhD, who did his thesis on voting methods.


        I give a deeper layman-friendly comparison here.


        Clay Shentrup
        Co-founder, The Center for Election Science
        Resident of Berkeley, CA, which uses Instant Runoff Voting

  • dave schutz

    I think of BlueVa as tending to favor the election of the leftiest possible Dems, and as many Dems as possible. My guess is that IRV at the general election would tend to favor more-centrist candidates in both parties, and probably would result in more, but more moderate, Dems in the legislature. Candidates from both parties would have to think how to be attractive to the central voter. Bad for Sideshow Bob. Probably would favor Northam over Periello. Probably bad for the leftiest of our elected Dems in the House of Delegates, too. So it gets you half of what you want.

    If used in party primaries, still probably moderating, as you end up with the Reep and the Dem most attractive to the central voter in the primary electorate for that party. Much of what I think about here is Arlington, because that’s where I live and vote. Kip Malinosky, the head of ACDC here in Arlington, has been pushing IRV for the Dem caucuses/primaries, and it’s enabled members of the various factions within Arlington Dems to run without fear that they were splitting their faction’s support and paving the way for a candidate they don’t like much. It’s also been his expressed view that it improves comity within the Dems, because candidates who want the number two vote behind someone else are less likely to think their success will be enabled by saying bad things about that other candidate.

    Also interesting is the question of using IRV (actually, its cousin, Single Transferable Vote) in local elections, and particularly in multi-candidate races. Couple years ago, the Post wrote about John Milliken and the Facilities Study committee, and quoted him: “We have the blessings of geography, a government system that lends itself to unity, excellent schools and a transportation system that is the envy of the rest of the country…” Mr. Milliken’s “government system that lends itself to unity” is the current first-past-the-post primary, then general election system with no districts, on staggered terms, county wide, and this has in the past followed very low participation candidate selection mechanisms, generally caucus or firehouse primary. The result for years was, generally, that the members were elected by the same fraction of the electorate, the same positions are attractive to that electorate from year to year. This system generally failed to recruit people not part of the ACDC inner circle into public office – and the historic Board majority was lulled by years of caucus/firehouse primary results into thinking they had voter support when what they in fact had was increasingly sullen voter acquiescence, and the caucus system didn’t get them the information which would have told them they had to make a course correction before acquiescence turned into rejection. Voter revolt against the Columbia Pike Trolley and the Long Bridge Natatorium and the million-dollar bus stop resulted in the current non-inner-circle Board.

    Arlington has just had a strikingly negative primary campaign from Erik Gutshall, who got a very large number of endorsements from current and former office holders of the old inner circle. Much more division and unhappiness than I am used to in the Dem party, his backers really pulled out all the stops. Result: 55% for Libby Garvey. I think on current trends we are in for years of negative campaigns, not a pleasant prospect, and if Dem primary voter sentiment does not shift there will be little electoral success for County Board candidates associated with the historic Board majority well into the future – that’s a bad outcome because it leaves 45% of local Dems feeling shut out and bitter.

    The current system of County-wide election for staggered terms for years resulted in each Board member securing election by pleasing the same group of voters, and discouraged members from competing with each other in serving the popular will. With this comment I want to suggest that Arlington’s political landscape has changed in recent years, has become much more like Cambridge, Mass, and that Single Transferable Vote/ Instant Runoff Vote as used in Cambridge (all candidates are elected at large for the city, simultaneously for two year terms, each voter ranks his preferred candidates #1, #2, #3, #4, etc. and a candidate wins when the total goes over, in a 9-person race, 1/9 +1 of the total number of votes cast) will better serve the electorate going forward. Cambridge is a lot like us, an overwhelmingly Dem town where the political action tends to be intra-Dem and Republicans win only if a lot of Dem voters think the City Council has really gone off the rails. Thirty years ago, I was a Cambridge voter, and I thought STV was very successful in ensuring that everyone had a good chance at having someone on the City Council who represented their views. Any sizeable faction in the Democratic Party can put someone on City Council. As well, used in general elections, IRV/single transferrable vote also would allow independents and even – gasp! – Republicans to have a real role in choosing County office holders, in proportion to their numbers. This would lose us the unity Mr Milliken prizes, but would ensure that all significant groups had a place at the table.

    • “I think of BlueVa as tending to favor the election of the leftiest possible Dems, and as many Dems as possible.”

      Part 2 of this sentence – to elect as many Dems as possible – is generally true, particularly given the extremism of today’s radical, reactionary Republican Party. Part 1 of this sentence – “the leftiest possible Dems” – is not at all true, at least in my case. For starters, I don’t even particularly consider myself to be “left” – certainly not hard left, which I abhor – but progressive in the Teddy Roosevelt sense. Second, at this point, I mostly want to see the election of sane, sensible people in this country, as opposed to revolutionaries (of the left or right) or reactionaries (again, of the left or right). Of course, given two equally electable candidates, both sane and sensible, I’d generally tend to support the more progressive one, as opposed to the more corporate-oriented or socially conservative one, and also the one who’s more committed to a rapid transition to clean energy and a sustainable economy. Of course environmental protection, solar and wind power, etc. should be neither “left” nor “right,” per se…

      As for which type of candidate IRV might favor, I refer you to FairVote’s page (http://archive.fairvote.org/?page=2474#question4), which asks (and answers) the question, ” Does IRV favor extremists?”

      No. Current plurality voting is far more likely to elect extremist candidates than is IRV. In a plurality election with several candidates, a candidate does not need any support beyond his or her ideological core supporters to get the “most” votes – even if that is a relatively small percentage of the voters. With IRV, a candidate must be able to garner both strong core support and broad appeal in order to win. With over 80 years of use in Australian elections for the House of Representatives, IRV has proven that extremists are not benefited by IRV.

      At the other extreme from plurality’s bias in favor of extremists, some alternative voting reform proposals (such as Condorcet, Approval, and others) do not strike IRV’s desirable balance of core and broad support, in the name of favoring “centrist” candidates. However, these methods do not necessarily favor “centrist” candidates, but may favor inoffensive and merely unknown candidates. They also allow a “compromise” candidate to be elected even if not a single voter considers him or her to be the best choice. These other methods allow a candidate who would not get a single vote under the current voting method, to win. For some offices, such as a club treasurer, this “compromise” bias may be desirable. But in high-stakes elections of political leaders, these methods may discourage candidates from revealing their stands on controversial issues, as they seek to avoid alienating any voters at all.

      By the way, I can’t even think of the last time the Democratic Party put forth an “extremist” for national or statewide political office in this country. In stark contrast, the Republican Party just put forth a whole bunch of extremists (Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, etc.) and won of them was nominated and elected (albeit he lost the popular vote by 2.9 million). So…clearly the problem of extremism is not to be found in the Democratic Party, but very much to be found in the Republican Party. If an IRV system would draw the Republican Party back to sanity and the center, that would all be to the good. I doubt that IRV would impact today’s Democratic Party much, as it’s already (I’d argue) the “centrist” party in this country…

      As for the “Single Transferable Vote” concept, I find it intriguing, although of course there are issues with it as with any other voting system. Still, seems worth exploring…

      • Warren Smith

        You’ve got to get used to the idea that everything “FairVote” says about IRV (instant runoff voting) is likely to be a lie. I’m sorry to say that, but that is the case. They are a biased propaganda organization of nonscientists pretending to have scientific backing. I.e. con men. In particular in your quote above from FairVote “Does IRV favor extremists? NO.” the correct answer was YES.
        And you can see the proof of that here, complete with a dataset
        of tens of thousands of elections backing it up:
        Meanwhile approval voting is either unbiased or pro-centrist biased
        depending on voter behavior, and range voting has little or
        no centrist/extremist bias, as is shown by the same experiments.

    • Warren Smith

      IRV has led to 2-party domination in the Australian House (elected by IRV
      for over 80 years) and that 2-party domination is approximately the same level of intensity as in the USA:
      So the first thing we know is IRV (unfortunately) will not get rid
      of the USA’s 2-party domination. On the other hand there is reason to suspect range voting would. In particular every country that ever used range or approval voting to elect its goevrnment, always either entirely avoided 2PD as far as we can tell, or suffered it both to a much lesser degree than USA now, and nonpermanently. Second, IRV does have a pronounced pro-extremist bias, as shown here:
      As far as whether IRV would favor democrats or republicans, I believe the
      alterations would be slight. Whichever party happens
      to suffer more vote-splitting with 3rd-party candidates that time, would with IRV be slightly less disadvantaged versus now. In particular it is clear that with IRV general election (either electoral or popular vote) the 2016 presidential winner would have been the same with IRV or plurality voting.
      With IRV used in the primaries, the Dem winner would again have been H.Clinton, and the Republican winner most likely either Trump or Walker.
      However, with range voting things would actually have changed
      and Trump would not have won the Republican nomination. A study
      backing those claims up is here:

      Incidentally as also is addressed there,
      it appears that the range voting winner (all primary candidates
      in same election) was either Sanders or Kasich, the approval voting winner Sanders, and that Sanders also was the honest-voting Condorcet winner, i.e. would have beaten every major rival head-to-head.