Maryland Progressive Summit II

Introduction: At the Maryland Progressive Summit II, on January 8th, 2005, the Center for Voting and Democracy held a mock election for the 2008 Democratic Presidential Nominee.  Voters were asked to rank the candidates in order of their preference, rather than choose just one.  The results of this ranked-ballot election were tabulated using instant runoff voting (IRV).

Candidates: The choices were listed alphabetically, as follows: Evan Bayh, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, John Edwards, Russ Feingold, Jesse Jackson, Jr., John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, Tom Vilsack, or any Write-In candidate desired.

How the votes were counted: A total of 27 ballots were cast in our demonstration election.  Under instant runoff voting, voters rank candidates in the order of their preferences and a majority of voter support is required to win.  That means that in this election, the support of 14 voters was needed to win.  In order to achieve this result, candidates with the lowest vote totals were eliminated and their votes were transferred to their supporters’ next most preferred candidates. This process was repeated until a candidate achieved a majority.

Benefits of IRV: Instant runoff voting produces winners who are supported by a majority, while reducing the incentives for negative campaigning.  Furthermore, voters can vote their consciences without fear of accidentally electing their political opposites, thereby eliminating the “spoiler” problem. IRV was used in San Francisco, CA this past November and is currently used in Utah Republican primaries, London Mayoral elections, Australian elections, as well as on numerous college campuses nationwide.  By using IRV at this summit, we were able to discern which candidate was most likely to be a consensus candidate of the voters, and not a mere plurality winner.

Results: A summary follows at the bottom. Here is a detail of each round of ballot counting.

Round 1: In the first round of counting, Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean received the most votes with 7, followed by North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who had 5.  Hillary Clinton and Dennis Kucinich followed with 3 votes each. Congressman Jackson, Jr. and Governor Richardson each received 2 votes, while John Kerry, Evan Bayh, Nancy Pelosi, Ed Rendell, and Fairvote’s own Andy Kirschenbaum each received 1 vote each. Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack got no votes. 

Round 2: In Round Two, one ballot become “exhausted”, meaning that the voter only listed one choice so further choices were indiscernible. Additionally, all of the candidates receiving one or zero votes were eliminated, and their votes were transferred to voters’ second choice candidates. This gave both Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson 2 additional votes.

Round 3: With only 2 votes, Jesse Jackson Jr. was eliminated, tossing 1 vote each to Dean and Kucinich

Round 4:  With the least amount of votes among the remaining candidates, Governor Richardson was taken out of the running. His 4 votes are split among Dean, Clinton, and Kucinich, who receive 1 vote each, and one “exhausted” ballot.

Round 5: Kucinich was next to go with 5 votes accumulated. 3 of these went to Dean; 2 to Clinton.

Round 6: Senator Edwards 5 votes went the way of Kucinich’s: again, 3 to Dean, 2 to Clinton.

Round 7: A tabulation of the votes shows that Howard Dean has a clear majority (more than half of 27) of the votes, with 15, making him the winner of the Instant Runoff Vote.

The results after the final round closely reflected those of the first round. However, had the first round results occurred under our current plurality system, Howard Dean would have won with only 26% of the vote. Under the Instant Runoff, voters were guaranteed that the winner had a majority of support—in Dean’s case, 56% of voters preferred him over other candidates.
A positive aspect of the Instant Runoff is that candidates are encouraged to cooperate, rather than campaign negatively. For example, if Kucinich and Jackson, Jr., two ideologically similar candidates—were performing poorly in the polls leading up to election day, they could conceivably ask their supporters to unite behind a common second choice candidate. Perhaps they would choose each other. They could even encourage their supporters to rank Hillary Clinton third, in the event that both of them are eliminated. If enough of Kucinich and Jackson, Jr.’s supporters listed Clinton as their next choice, Clinton would win.
If this race were looked at as a series of runoff elections, it would have taken 12 rounds to narrow the field down to one winner with a legitimate majority. Considering the financial costs and drop in voter participation associated with runoff elections, the instant runoff method is demonstrated here to provide a clear majority winner in one single ballot.  Further, a two-round runoff system (as is used in many southern states and in France), does not eliminate the spoiler problem, creates a severe drop-off in voter turnout, wastes unnecessary government resources, and increases campaign costs.  In contrast, IRV produces a more accurate reflection of the will of the majority in one election.
Electing Members to Congress: The Choice Voting Solution
Introduction: Imagine, that rather than choosing a president from this pool of candidates, we were instead looking to elect three representatives – for instance, three members of Congress.   IRV is the best way to count ballots in an election for a single position, as it ensures that the winner is supported by a majority of the voters, but “choice voting” is more useful when you are trying to fill more than one seat.  In fact, for multi-seat elections, our goal is not to have a majority of voters select all five seats (ie: 51% of voters controlling 100% of the seats), but to instead elect a body of candidates that reflects the demography of the voting population.  So, for example, if a given population is 20% African American, 50% female, and 20% Green, in a five-seat body, there should be at least one African American member, two or three females, and one Green Party member.  When choice voting is used, the majority group among voters can be sure of controlling the majority of the seats in a legislature, but minority groups will also get their fair share of representation.  Like IRV, choice voting also eliminates the spoiler problem, and the system is currently used in Cambridge, MA elections.

How choice voting works: For voters, choice voting is very simple.  You simply rank candidates in order of preference, putting a 1 by your favorite candidate, a two by your second favorite, and so on.  As in IRV, the principle is that as few votes as possible should be wasted.  If your favorite candidate has no chance of winning, or does not need your vote to win, it can be transferred to another candidate you approve of.

Counting Ballots: Counting choice voting ballots, though, is a little more complex than the actual voting procedure.  First of all, we need to calculate the threshold or minimum number of votes a candidate needs to win a seat.  The formula for calculating this is

            number of votes cast                     +1

                        number of seats + 1     

In our election 27 valid votes were cast.  This means that for three representatives, the threshold is 7, because it is impossible for 4 candidates to gain 7 or more votes each.  Therefore, the first five candidates to get 58 votes can be considered elected.
Round 1: Our threshold was set at 7 votes, or, in this instance 1 vote more than a quarter of all votes. Former Gov. Howard Dean was our first elected official, as he reached the threshold with 7 votes. Trailing were John Edwards, with 5 votes, Hillary Clinton and Dennis Kucinich with 3. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Bill Richardson both had 2 votes, while Evan Bayh, Andrew Kirschenbaum, Ed Rendell, Nancy Pelosi, and john Kerry all received 1 vote each.
Round 2: By random selection, Kirschenbaum was eliminated from the pool of candidates receiving only one vote. This vote was “exhausted” as the voter only ranked one candidate.
Round 3: Evan Bayh was selected next for elimination. The lone vote he received was transferred to Bill Richardson.
Round 4: Next eliminated was Rendell. The 1 vote he received was transferred to Richardson as well.
Round 5: Kerry went down; his 1 vote went to Clinton.
Round 6: Nancy Pelosi is eliminated, her 1 vote also going to Clinton.
Round 7: Congressman Jackson, Jr. is removed from the running. Of his 2 votes, 1 goes to Edwards, and 1 to Kucinich.
Round 8: Bill Richardson would not be able to win a seat, so he was removed. Of his 4 votes, 2 were given to Hillary Clinton, 1 to Dennis Kucinich, and 1 ballot was “exhausted”.
Round 9: With four candidates remaining, Dennis Kucinich had the least popular support. Of his 5 votes, 4 went to Edwards, while 1 was “exhausted”.
Round 10: The three candidates left were Clinton, Dean, and Edwards. At 7 (first-round) votes for Dean, 7 for Clinton, and 10 for Edwards, they all met or surpassed the threshold of 7 votes. So, Dean, Edwards, and Clinton are our three elected officials!