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Instant Runoff Voting

Instant Runoff Voting


And Fact Sheet


Question:  Isn’t IRV a solution in search of a problem?  The current system works fine.

Answer: The current system produces stagnation and gridlock, and prevents reasonable solutions to a wide variety of public policy problems from gaining traction in DC and in the statehouse.


Q:  IRV supporters have not made a compelling case for why we need to change how we conduct elections. If we’re going to make a change of this magnitude, there should to be a major flaw to the current system and a solution that is unquestionably superior. Neither is the case with ranked voting.

A: The major flaw in the current system is that it keeps the state and the country from solving its problems and moving forward. IRV offers a system with vastly expanded voter choices, more ballot information for voters, and a set of candidates who compete in two rounds for the votes of all voters in which only candidates who win a majority of the vote can get elected. That is an unquestionably superior system.


Q: For an electoral process to be credible, the basic requirements are clarity, simplicity and confidence in the veracity of the process. Doesn’t ranked-voting undermine these?  

A: The overwhelming majority of voters who’ve cast ballots in IRV elections in cities in CA, VT, MD, NC and NV says it’s simple and easy to understand (89 percent), and they preferred it to the system their jurisdiction had been using by a nearly four-to-one margin (78 to 22 percent).  All evidence suggests voters adjusted well to the new ballot, and reactions to the use of RCV were overwhelmingly positive


Q: But does it increase turnout?

A: Yes. The first time it was used in the mayoral election in Portland, Maine in 2011, voter turnout about 50% higher than election officials predicted. In San Francisco board of supervisors elections, turnout increased 73 percent over the next four election cycles when the election system was switched to IRV in 2004.  The turnout in San Francisco’s  mayoral election – which has used IRV since 2007 – was the highest in the country among the country’s 22 most populous cities in a survey conducted in 2011 of the most recent mayoral elections. In Oakland, the vote totals of four candidates elected to city-wide offices increased nearly 28 percent in 2010, when the city switched to IRV elections. The winning vote totals of the successful city council candidates increased 38 percent, and the totals of school board winners increased 91 percent.

Q.But doesn’t ranked voting diminish transparency? It requires electronic voting. Out are verifiable paper ballots, in are complex computerized algorithms. Wouldn’t the risk of computer fraud go up, and wouldn’t public confidence in the electoral process be undermined?

A: The state of Colorado is adopting a united voting system capable of counting IRV ballots at no extra expense. These systems incorporate audit and verification standards meeting the highest standards, as determined by the state. All counties can adopt this new statewide system as soon as they wish. If they want to continue to use their current systems, some can obtain free upgrades to an IRV-compatible system, or they can count 2nd and 3rd place voters by hand in those contests in which no candidates won at least 50 percent of the “first-choice” ballots.


Q: Doesn’t ranked voting make the use of expensive, high-tech voting machines a necessity?

A: No. Second and third-choice ballots can still be counted by hand, if necessary. But the high-tech voting machines capable of handling IRV elections are no more expensive that other voting machines. As with any new technology, the cost of the machines comes down as their use expands.


Q: Ranked voting will drive up costs: special software and equipment, voter education, testing, staff time, consultants and ballot printing and postage costs. 

A: Clerks in thirty-six of the state’s 64 counties (53 percent) said in a  2013 survey that their counties intend to replace their current voting machines within 5 years, and another 23 (or a total of 59 or 92 percent) say that their counties will have to replace them within eight years. The state is adopting a uniform voting system that all counties can purchase, and it will be adopting a financing scheme making it easier for counties to do so. This new system will make IRV voting much easier than current voting systems, at little or no additional cost.

Q: Isn’t ranked voting is a European electoral model that runs counter to the American belief of ‘one person, one vote.’ Voter surveys have shown that most voters in the country are content with the system that awards the election to the top vote getter. That’s how we elected Abraham Lincoln as president; it’s how we elected Bill Clinton. 

A: IRV is used in more American cities (San Francisco and Oakland in California, St Paul and Minneapolis in Minnesota, Takoma Park in Maryland, Cary in North Carolina, Hendersonville in Nevada and Portland in Maine) than European countries (Ireland). It adheres to the ‘one man, one vote’ principal because every voter get to cast the same number of ballots (one). And candidates who are elected with only a plurality of the vote – as Lincoln and Clinton were – aren’t able to lead as effectively as are candidates elected with a majority of the vote, as all winners are in an IRV election.


Q:  Doesn’t IRV have the potential for political manipulation? It encourages the flooding of the ballot with candidates and pre-election strategies between candidates to advise their constituents on how to strategically rank their votes to maximize the chance of their candidate winning even if the candidate fails to secure the most first-place votes. Clear straight up and down voting is replaced by scheming and subterfuge. 

A: The current system has plenty of scheming and subterfuge, and IRV would reduce it by making it far less likely that candidates will attack each other. Every candidate who isn’t certain they can win more than 50 percent of the ‘first-choice’ ballots will work just as hard to win second and third-place ballots. That means less negative advertising and fewer personal attacks.   Plus, IRV enhances the fundamental goals of representative democracy by upholding majority rule and accommodating more voter choice, it helps avoid the "spoiler" problem that can allow an unpopular candidate to win due to a split vote of the majority, and it gives voters more power, since they can express a range of choices. And it does all this without advantaging or disadvantaging any political party, ideology, or interest group.


Q: Ranked voting seems new and cutting-edge at first, but when they use it a majority of voters dislike it. In particular, they find the ballots confusing.

A: IRV can be confusing when use in elections in which candidates are running for multiple seats for the same office, such as at-large city council seats. But   when it used in elections in which there is only one winner for each contest, voters who’ve cast ballots in IRV elections say they prefer the IRV system to the one the jurisdiction had been using prior to adopting IRV, by a 78 to 22 percent margin.


Q: If the point is to elect candidates that have a majority of the votes – at least 50% plus one – that can be achieved with a runoff. Runoffs have the advantage of forcing unknown candidates to campaign an additional month to allow the public to learn more about them. 

A: The problem with American politics isn’t that candidates don’t get enough time to campaign. The problem is that they get too much time. The Colorado New Democracy Initiative provides candidates with more than enough time to campaign.


Q: There is no evidence IRV encourages positive campaigning.

A: There is no evidence because it hasn’t been studied.  But it’s not a prayer, either. When voters can cast second and third-choice ballots, candidates who aren’t confident they can get at least 50 percent of all first-choice ballots will be campaigning just as hard to win second and third-choice ballots, and that means trying to avoid alienating voters who might cast their second and third-choice ballots for them.


Q: The IRV mindset diminishes the value of campaigns, which is to learn about how the candidates’ positions and values differ from each other. By angling for second and third place votes, candidates work to disguise their real opinions and positions to avoid offending. 

A: The current system encourages offending. That’s why there are no many negative ads. IRV moderates that behavior, and encourages candidates to adopt moderate positions that appeal to those in the center of the political spectrum, which is where the most votes are. Once elected, those candidates get things done. Public policy problem are tackled by consensus, and then the next problem is addressed. Solutions that don’t work can be fixed. But by trial and error, a government over time makes progress, the opposite of what happens in the current system of gridlock and stagnation.


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