Instant Runoff Voting
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Voting and Democracy
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Takoma Park MD 20912
Below you will find the 10 pages of the right hand side of the kit, followed by
the 10 pages of the left hand side of the kit.
A Call for Fair Elections
“The American election system is unfair, outmoded, and
undemocratic.” So begins Professor Douglas Amy’s critique of American
elections, Real Choices, Real Voices (Columbia University Press, 1993).
Our unfair election system has widespread and devastating
effects on society:
Low voter turnout
Lack of adequate choice at the polls
Superficial and often negative campaigns
Popular contempt for politicians
Public policy perceived to promote special interests, not the public
Feelings of powerlessness and resignation
Fortunately, a growing number of Americans have committed
themselves to improving our elections by promoting a simple, sensible system
known as instant runoff voting (IRV), and they are rapidly succeeding.
Support for instant runoff voting is greater now in the
United States than in 75 years, if not ever. Support for instant runoff voting
is growing because it solves problems perceived and felt both by voters and by
politicians. These include:
Individual activists can assist the cause of electoral
reform in many ways. This organizing packet gives you all the tools and
information you need to take actions that are most effective in your
community and that you feel most comfortable doing. The staff of the Center
for Voting and Democracy will assist your efforts by providing advice,
information, contacts and anything else we can do to promote reform.
Please let us know how it goes and how we can assist your
of IRV Successes
Instant runoff voting (IRV) advocates typically envision
implementing IRV in general elections. But only a few cities, counties and
states likely are ready to adopt IRV for such major elections, so in many
places it makes sense to work on intermediate goals that contribute to
building the public awareness and political support necessary for successful
voting system reform.
Achieving any of these goals will aid future efforts both
in your own community and in communities across the county. The key is to
pursue an activity that is appropriate for your community and that you
feel comfortable doing.
Give it a shot, let us know how it goes, and contact the
Center if you need assistance.
Ways to Win: IRV Successes
Adopt IRV for general elections by statute or initiative
Implement IRV for special elections to fill vacancies
Pass implementation language that takes effect when compatible equipment
Pass enabling language that allows IRV when equipment is available
Include provision in an appropriations bill or a Request for Proposal
(RFP) to ensure compatibility of voting equipment with all ballot types
Create a governmental commission or task force to study elections
generally or IRV/voting systems specifically
Convince a public interest organization or individual to endorse IRV
Use IRV in an election in a private organization, school or university
Use IRV in a popularity contest, poll, Internet site, etc
Make a presentation and hold a demonstration election for a group,
especially for children and seniors
Publish a letter to the editor or op-ed in your newspaper
Recruit someone to be an activist
Convince a friend that IRV is a good idea
the passage of San Francisco’s Proposition A on March 2005, reformers can take
credit for achieving every one of these types of victories except #1. Oakland
(CA), San Leandro (CA), Vancouver (WA) and Santa Clara County (CA) have all
passed enabling language. Three counties – Alameda County (CA),
Santa Clara County (CA) and Travis County (TX) – have ensured that their new
voting will be compatible with IRV. The remaining types of victories – #6-13
– have occurred so many times we can’t keep track of them. But let's start
now – please send us any success stories!
Instant Runoff Voting
San Francisco voters
passed Proposition A on March 5, 2002 by a vote of 55% - 45%.
The city will use instant runoff voting for mayor, supervisor, district
attorney, city attorney, treasurer, sheriff, assessor and public defender.
Prop A will take effect for the November 2003 mayor’s race.
Voters in Santa Clara County (CA), Vancouver (WA) and
San Leandro (CA) all voted to allow the use of instant runoff voting in
local elections. The city council or county board of supervisors can implement
instant runoff by simple ordinance.
Ann Arbor (MI) elected its mayor using IRV in 1975.
The system was repealed in a low-turnout, spring election. The repeal effort was
sponsored by backers of the mayor candidate who had the most first choice votes
but failed to win a majority when 2nd choice votes of eliminated
candidates were counted. The challenge of hand counting IRV ballots, which took
one week and did not go smoothly in this case, played a role in the campaign to
repeal the system.
Starting in 1912, four states – Maryland, Florida,
Indiana and Minnesota – used instant runoff voting in statewide primaries.
Several U.S. cities used instant runoff voting in local
elections in the 1930s to 1950s. These included New York City (on Staten
Island) and Hopkins (MN).
Internationally, the first-ever election of the Mayor of London
used instant runoff voting in May 2000. After eight decades of using IRV to
elect their House of Representatives, Australians are very content with
IRV. Elections for the presidency of Ireland with IRV also have been a
great success. Many local and regional elections in Australia and Ireland also
use IRV, while in 2000 the president of Bosnia-Herzegovina was elected by
The list of non-government organizations that use IRV is
large and varied. It includes local, state and national political parties,
professional organizations such as the American Political Science Association
and the American Psychological Association, student government in schools and
universities, faculty senates, and many other types of large and small
organizations. In 2000, ICANN, the body that controls domain names on the
Internet, used IRV to elect board members in a worldwide IRV election.
of Instant Runoff Voting
organizations and individuals have endorsed instant runoff voting. This is a
partial listing of endorsers. More can be found at www.fairvote.org:
Center for Economic Justice
Center for Constitutional Rights
Citizens for Legitimate
Common Cause (VT)
The Grange, Vermont Chapter
League of Women Voters (VT)
Association of State PIRGs
Pacific Green Party
for Public Justice,
Umoja Party, Washington, DC
listed for identification purposes only
John B. Anderson, former U.S.
Representative, 1980 independent candidate for president, president of the
Center for Voting and Democracy
Kathleen Barber, Professor
Emerita, John Carroll University and former chair, Cuyahoga County charter
Harriet S. Barlow, Director, HKH
Ted Becker, Alumni Professor of
Political Science, Auburn University
Medea Benjamin, Founding
Director, Global Exchange
Jim Blacksher, Civil Rights
Ken Bresler, columnist and former
Massachusetts state legislative candidate
John C. Brittain, Dean, Thurgood
Marshall School of Law, Texas Southern University*
Dennis Burke, Writer and former
executive director, Arizona Common Cause
Dan Cantor, Executive Director,
Working Families Party*
Steve Cheifetz, Stewart R. Mott
Steve Cobble, Former Political
Director, National Rainbow Coalition
Jeff Cohen, Author and Media
Richard DeLeon, Department of
Political Science, San Francisco State University*
Derek Cressman, Democracy Program
Director, National Association of State PIRGs
Ron Daniels, Executive Director,
Center for Constitutional Rights
Lisa Disch, Associate Professor
of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Ronnie Dugger, Founder and First
Co-Chair, Alliance for Democracy
David Eliscu, Western Connecticut
Dave Enrich, Citizens for True
Ralph Estes, Center for
Advancement of Public Policy
Frances Fox-Piven, Graduate
Center, City University of New York*
John Gibson, Common Bonds*
John Glasel, Past President,
American Federation of Musicians’ Local 802 (NYC)*
Ted Glick, Independent
Progressive Politics Network
Bill Gram-Reefer, Worldview
Dr. William Grover, Chair,
Political Science Department at St. Michael's College
Lani Guinier, Professor, Harvard
Doris “Granny D” Haddock
Dan Hamburg, Former U.S.
Congressman and Executive Director, Voice of the Environment*
Howie Hawkins, Green Party,
Syracuse, New York
Ronald Hayduk, Assistant
Professor, City University of New York
Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor,
The New Yorker
Jim Hoaglund, VoterMarch*
Gerald Horne, Attorney, Author
Evelyn Jerome, past president,
Los Angeles County Young Democrats
Neal Jesse, Assistant Professor,
Bowling Green State University*
Mark P. Jones, Associate
Professor, Michigan State University
Sheila Jordan, Alameda County
Superintendent of Schools, Hayward, California
David Kairys, Professor of Law,
David Dyssegaard Kallick, Former Social
Randy Kehler, Alliance for
Alex Keyssar, Professor of
History, Duke University*
Jerry Arthur Knight, Judge Hubert
L. Will Chapter, American Veterans Committee
David C. Korten, Author of When
Corporations Rule the World
Saul Landau, Institute for Policy
Kay Lawson, Professor Emeritus,
San Francisco State University
David Lawrence, Professor of
Political Science, Fordham University
Daniel Lazare, Journalist and
Author of The Frozen Republic (1996)
Michael Lewyn, Professor, John
Marshall Law School, Atlanta, Georgia
Arend Lijphart, Research
Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of California, San
Phillip Macklin, Professor
Emeritus of Physics, Miami University* / Chair, Governance Committee of
Oxford, Ohio League of Women Voters*
Robert McKay, San Francisco
Kevin McKeown, City Councilmember,
Santa Monica, California
Michael Morrill, Pennsylvania
Consumer Action Network
Dr. Ted Mosch, University of
Jon Moscow, Co-Director, Amber
Charter School, New York City
Steven Mulroy, University of
Memphis Law School
Phil Tajitsu Nash, Asian American
Studies Program, University of Maryland*
Krist Novoselic, President,
JAMPAC, Washington state
Wayne Peak, Political Scientist,
Colorado State University
William Peltz, Capital District
Labor-Religion Coalition, Albany, New York*
Joseph G. Peschek, Political
Science, Hamline University
George Pillsbury, Bostonvote*
Lewis Pitts, Director, Advocates
for Children's Services, Legal Services of North Carolina*
John Rapp, Professor of Political
Science, Beloit College*
Jamin Raskin, Professor of
Constitutional Law, American University*
Scott Rasmussen, Independent
Public Opinion Analyst
Willie Ratcliff, Publisher, San
Francisco Bay View newspaper
Juan C. Ros, Executive Director,
Libertarian Party of California
John Rensenbrink, Founder Maine
Green Independent Party; Author: Against All Odds: the Green
Transformation of American Politics (Leopold Press, 1999)
Richard Rider, President, Economy
Joel Rogers, University of
Mark E. Rush, Associate Professor
of Politics, Washington and Lee University
Paul Ryder, Ohio Citizen Action*
Donald Shaffer, Member and Board
of Directors, NYCLU*; Co-Chair, New Politics Club of Long Island*
Matthew Singer, Montana YMCA
Youth and Government Youth Governor 2000-2001
James R. Simmons, Chair,
Political Science Department, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh*
Bill Smaldone, City Councilor,
Sam Smith, Editor, The
Tony Solgard, Chair, FairVote
Bill Spelman, Associate
Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas; and former
member, Austin City Council
Aaron Starr, Chairman,
Libertarian Party of California
Jean Stein, editor, Grand Street
David Stern, Stern Family Fund
Edward Still, Voting and
Elections Attorney, Washington, DC
Rein Taagepera, Professor
Emeritus of Political Science, University of California, Irvine
Nicolaus Tideman, Professor of
Economics, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University*
Michael Twombly, Executive
Director, Northwest Democracy Institute
Father Benjamin J. Urmston, S.J.,
Director Peace and Justice Programs, Xavier University
Dr. Gerald R. Webster, Professor
of Geography, University of Alabama*
Leonard Williams, Department of
History and Political Science, Manchester College
Robert Winters, Harvard
University Department of Mathematics*
David Zavon, political fairness
Joseph Zimmerman, Professor of
Political Science, State University of New York at Albany
Representative David Zuckerman,
Vermont State House
publicly endorse instant runoff voting, please send your name, along with
contact information and information on how you would like to be identified,
to [email protected].
To Arguments Against IRV
When people learn about instant runoff voting, they often
say, “This makes so much sense, but what are the arguments against it?” We
have compiled the usual arguments against instant runoff voting along with
responses that show that none of the arguments against IRV stand up to rigorous
I’ve listened to a description of how instant runoffs are tabulated,
and it seems complicated. Is instant runoff voting too complicated?
Not for the voter. Counting the ballots is a little more involved, but
there’s nothing complicated about voting in an instant runoff election. Voters
can simply mark their ballots in exactly the same way as they always have in the
past. However, the voter has the option of ranking alternate choices, in case
there is no majority winner and the voter’s favorite candidate doesn’t make
it into the final runoff count. Voters no longer need to fret about whether
their favorite candidate has a good chance to win, or if they are “wasting”
their vote, or even helping their least preferred candidate. For many voters
this makes it actually easier to vote – there’s no strategy involved!
Two nations with the highest voter participation rates in
the world, Australia and Malta, both use instant runoff voting. The intelligence
and literacy levels of their populations are not superior to Americans’.
Thousands of people in the U.S. have participated in real or mock IRV elections,
conducted in schools, civics clubs, as well as at senior citizen centers. People
have no difficulty voting.
The only “complicated” aspect of instant runoff voting
is the tabulation that occurs if there is no initial majority winner. It’s
like a runoff election in which you list your runoff choice at the same time as
you indicate your favorite choice, which isn’t a very complicated idea, but
the voter’s role is very simple: you simply indicate your first choice and, if
you wish, a second choice and a third choice.
I would find it hard to rank a bunch of candidates, I might not know much
about some of them. What if I only like one candidate?
That’s fine, and your vote would count just as much as your vote counts
in the current system. Instant runoff voting simply gives the option of
expressing additional preferences if you wish. Your second choice vote would
only be used if no candidate has a majority (over half the votes) and your
first-choice candidate happens to be eliminated in the runoff.
What about voting machines? Will IRV require buying new voting machines?
No, most modern voting equipment, including electronic Direct Recording
Equipment (DRE) and optical scanners, is compatible with instant runoff voting.
In places that use older equipment that is unable to accommodate ranked ballots,
the Center recommends legislation to allow IRV when suitable technology is
available. In the wake of the 2000 presidential election in Florida, most
counties and states are preparing to modernize their voting equipment.
Our elections still doesn’t seem to have that big of a problem. “If
it ain’t broke – don’t fix it.” Right?
As long as there are only two candidates in a race, there is no problem
– as the top vote-getter will automatically have a majority. The problem
arises when there are three or more candidates. Plurality rules allow the
majority of voters to be cheated out of their rightful representation. It is
unwise to wait for an electoral disaster to occur, before fixing a problem (like
waiting for the rainstorm before fixing the roof.) Florida election officials
probably uttered the phrase, “If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it,”
before the election. It is best to fix the problem before disaster strikes.
But it isn’t necessarily a disaster to let the candidate with a mere
plurality take office, is it?
not necessarily a disaster, but it can be very undemocratic. When a candidate
wins with less than 50% of the vote, it’s possible that a large majoritys
strongly dislike that candidate. The
non-majority “winner” may or may not govern responsibly, but violating the
principle of majority rule can weaken the winner’s governing legitimacy.
Robert’s Rules of Order says that IRV “makes possible a more
representative result than under a rule that a plurality shall elect” and “…this
type of preferential ballot is preferable to an election by plurality…”
I’m not sure that instant runoff voting really works. Is it an accepted
IRV has been proven in public elections public elections in this country
and others for over 100 year. It works very well in Australia, Ireland and in
London. It is a recommended voting procedure in current editions of Robert’s
Rules of Order, called “preferential voting.”
The American Political Science Association, the professional association
of political scientists, uses IRV to elect its national president. A professor
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) invented the system around
But it seems like some voters are getting two votes, while others are
only getting one. Am I right?
No. It’s like a runoff election – everyone gets to vote in the
original election and they get the chance to vote in the runoff. Everybody gets
an equal vote. In every round of counting, every ballot counts as one vote for
the highest-ranked candidate still in the running. If your candidate is still
viable, your vote will continue to count for your favorite candidate. If your
candidate has been eliminated, rather than getting zero vote, your vote
automatically counts for your next favorite candidate. After a legal challenge
to the use of IRV in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the court ruled that IRV fully
complied with the principle of “one person, one vote.”
Why not just use a familiar two-election runoff procedure?
Regular runoffs are usually better than plurality rules, because the
majority can’t split their vote. However, two-round runoffs have distinct
disadvantages. A traditional runoff extends the
campaign season, which most voters object to. Traditional runoffs are
also costly, both to the taxpayer who must pay for the duplicate election and to
the candidates who must double campaign fund-raising, prolonging their stress
and creating more potential influence for campaign donors. IRV assures that the
ultimate decision will be made at the election with the greatest level of
citizen participation. Runoffs tend to have a low voter turnout. The winner of a
runoff may receive far fewer votes than an opponent won in the original
election, leading to doubts about the “will of the people,” hobbled
legitimacy, and lack of a perceived mandate. Finally, in a big field of
candidates, the strongest candidate might finish third and miss the runoff
Is instant runoff voting constitutional?
Absolutely. In fact, any state right now can adopt IRV for selecting U.S.
presidential electors by a mere state law – there is no need for a federal
constitutional amendment. The U.S. constitution leaves it up to the states to
decide how to conduct their elections. In some states, it would be necessary to
amend the state constitution, but in others, the state legislature could simply
pass a bill.
Isn't IRV just a means of voters avoiding hard choices?
IRV simply gives voters more and better choices. It is no virtue for
a system to force some voters to oppose their favorite candidate just because
that candidate is unlikely to win. Campaigns are about debate, dialogue and
participation, not just determining winners.
and Resources for IRV Advocates
The Center assists reformers nationally and internationally
who advocate for instant runoff voting. Our services and resources include the
We strive to make all of resources available online. This
includes an extensive library of articles, as well as educational materials,
original research, election data and analysis, and organizing materials. Our
website is www.fairvote.org.
Speakers, training, and conferences
Using our nationwide network of staff, board, allies and
members, we provide speakers, conduct trainings and hold regional and national
conferences for citizens, elected official and election administrators.
Legal and technical assistance
We provide expert testimony and amicus briefs on voting
rights and redistricting cases as well as advising and assisting jurisdiction
considering purchasing new voting equipment.
We have drafted legislation at local, state and federal
levels to adopt instant runoff voting, to allow instant runoff voting, to
create commissions to review election laws
Election consulting and administration
We provide consulting services to both public sector and
private sector clients on all aspects of elections. We do not, however, do
political consulting. We assist groups wishing to conduct elections, and we
provide both consulting on electoral system design as well as one-stop
election services from the distribution of ballots to the certification and
reporting of results. We have assisted both for-profit and non-profit
organizations. We will help any organization that needs this assistance.
Please contact us for assistance:
Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave., Suite 901
Takoma Park MD 20912
(below begins the 10 pages of the left-hand side of the
Framework for Reform:
Perceived Problems and Viable Solutions
When politically influential groups perceive a problem with
the election system, support for reform can crystallize quickly.
On the other hand, if the only groups who perceive the
problem are not politically influential, it will be extremely difficult to
attract political support to a solution. In such cases, reformers may wish to
conduct educational outreach to political insiders – elected officials,
community leaders, journalists, and other opinion leaders – or the general
public to develop public awareness of electoral problems and possible solutions.
The Center advocates a pragmatic organizing model based on
answering several questions:
What is the perceived problem?
Who perceives the problem?
What is a desired solution?
How much current and potential support exists for the solution?
How much current and potential opposition to the solution exists?
What resources can reformers enlist to boost support or neutralize
Who are the targets who can bring about the desired solution?
What groups or individuals are influential to the targets?
What is the probability of success at implementing the desired
The answers to these questions should direct reformers
toward particular goals from the “Hierarchy of IRV Successes”
sheet as well as strategies for achieving them. Then based on the resources
available to prosecute a campaign and an estimation of the probability of
success, reformers can either embark on a campaign or work toward a different
|An example of a politically viable solution: in both
Santa Clara County (CA) and Vancouver (WA), reformers active with charter
review commissions promoted instant runoff voting to replace two-round
runoff elections, which were seen as expensive to taxpayers and candidates
and which sometimes lead to the election of a candidates in a low turnout
In both places, the jurisdictions used punch card
voting equipment. Elections officials testified to the charter commission
that it would be almost impossible to implement instant runoff voting with
punch cards. This made the implementation of instant runoff voting
politically unviable. Elected officials are naturally reluctant to the
change the system in which they succeeded, and they are especially
reluctant to impose an election reform that election officials say cannot
The primary reformers in Vancouver and Santa Clara
County then encouraged the charter commissions to recommend charter
amendments to allow rather than mandate the use of instant runoff
voting. The charter commissions accepted these recommendations, charter
amendments were placed on the ballots, and voters adopted them in both
What voting system is used: plurality, runoff, districts, at-large?
What voting equipment is used? Is the equipment compatible with
ranked-ballots? When will the county modernize its voting equipment?
What are the costs of elections?
Which candidates or groups tend to win elections? Tend not to win?
What was voter turnout over the past 10-20 years?
What are the legal requirements for changing local or state law? Is a vote
of the people required? Can it be done by initiative?
Is there a problem that needs solving?
Cost of runoff elections
Runoffs triggering negative campaigning and campaign finance abuses
Unreliable or obsolete voting equipment
Low voter turnout
Appointments instead of special elections for vacancies
“Spoiler” candidates and non-majority winners in elections without
Under-representation of influential groups / a voting rights challenge
Assess political situation
Do elected officials perceive the problem?
Do election administrators perceive the problem?
Which political parties are likely to support or oppose a solution? Which
party controls decision-making?
Can you gain the support of local media, especially newspapers?
What are the most influential local organizations? Which ones will be
likely to support reform? Oppose reform?
Select a goal
Implementation vs. enabling language
Legislation vs. initiative
Create of commission or task force
Acquisition of voting equipment compatible with all ballot types used in
US, including ranked ballots and cumulative voting
Resolution in favor of allowing general law cities/counties to use IRV/PR
Use IRV in elections at school, university, private organization or
Gain an endorsement of IRV by an influential organization, such as a
political party or political club, churches, Chamber of Commerce, groups
working on/with social services, seniors, environment, political
empowerment and voting rights
Gain an endorsement from a prominent individual such as an elected
official, a civic or business leader, a celebrity or someone with money
Form a study circle to look at local /state elections
Develop a strategy for achieving sufficient
political support to achieve goal
Pass legislation by city council or board of supervisors
Convince council or board to place an initiative on the ballot
Collect signatures to place an initiative on the ballot
Solicit an endorsement of IRV from an organization or individual
Target a person, organization or school to use IRV
Publish a letter to the editor or op-ed
Start a local organization
Call local radio talk shows to discuss IRV and/or persuade them to have
guest appear on program
Voting Equipment and Electoral Reform
Voting equipment that is not compatible with ranked-ballots
can pose an insurmountable obstacle to reform. Fortunately, the widespread
support for modernizing our voting equipment creates a large opportunity to
advance voting system reform efforts. The critical factor is to be involved in
the process by which your county acquires new voting equipment and to ensure
that the new equipment is compatible with ranked ballots.
We are solving the chicken-and-egg problem: vendors don’t
want to supply compatible equipment until customers demand it; customers won’t
demand it until vendors can supply it. Support for ranked-ballot voting systems
is grow, and all major vendors can provide voting equipment that can accommodate
Here are the steps to take:
Find out what kind of equipment is currently used, how compatible
it is with ranked ballots, and when new equipment will be acquired. Visit
CVD’s “Citizens’ Guide to Voting Equipment” at www.fairvote.org/administration/index.html.
Inform election officials in a meeting and in writing that you
would like to be informed about and involved in the process of acquiring
new voting equipment. Affiliations with good government groups like the
League of Women Voters and political parties may be helpful.
Get involved and advocate for including in the Request for
Proposals (RFP) a provision to ensure compatibility of new equipment with
all ballot types currently used in the U.S., which includes ranked
Educate the election officials about the equipment can handle
ranked ballots (chiefly electronic DREs but also some optical scanners).
Remind the election officials of the potential cost savings from
switching to vote-by-mail or eliminating the cost of runoff elections.
Voting equipment from most compatible to least
Electronic Direct Recording Equipment (DRE), including touch screen and
ATM-style voting equipment (fully compatible)
High speed central scanners (vendors report they are fully compatible)
Precinct-based optical scanner
Global Accu-Vote (vendor claims to be able to support ranked ballots)
ESS Optech Eagle (vendor stated that the equipment is compatible, but this
has not yet been demonstrated in actual elections)
ESS 100 and Sequoia Pacific Optech Eagle (apparently lack both memory and
Punchcards (generally highly incompatible, but a few jurisdictions may
have the ability to reprogram their card readers to read and store
Lever and old push button machines (absolutely incompatible)
Instant runoff voting is a new idea to most people. Many
people find it easier to comprehend new ideas by seeing or doing rather than
reading or hearing. Perhaps the easiest way to explain instant runoff voting is
to conduct a demonstration in which people either fill out paper ballots and
watch and listen to someone count them or actually become the ballot and
vote with their bodies.
Be the ballot – a live IRV demonstration
To conduct a simple demonstration with an audience willing
to stand up and move around the room, choose a topic and either pick four
nominees or solicit nominations (please see “potential problems” on next
page for why four is a good number). Innocuous topics such as favorite ice cream
flavor or favorite pizza flavor tend to work well. With more politically charged
topics, participants may focus on who is voting for whom rather than how the
system works. Also, the demonstration works best if all the nominees have a
reasonable level of support and none is the overwhelming favorite of most of the
group. You can also have
participants fill out paper ballots (see below) and carry the ballots with them
to bolster the demonstration.
Then designate the 4 corners of the room as the gathering
places for each of the nominees. Voters are instructed to join the group
representing their favorite flavor.
Have each group count its vote total, and inquire if any
group has a majority. If so, that group wins the election. If not, thank the
members of the smallest group for raising important issues (such as
“mushroom” or “rocky road”), and direct them to join their next favorite
flavor. Have the groups call out their vote totals and determine if any group
has won. If not, eliminate one more group, allow the losing voters to join their
next favorite candidate, and now one of the candidates is assured of having a
Demonstrations with paper ballots
It is extremely easy to conduct a demonstration using paper
ballots – at schools, organizations, county fairs, conferences and so on.
Print up paper ballots that look like this. Then choose
four candidates, distribute the ballots and tell voters to follow the
Write the name of your first choice, second choice, third choice and so
on. You may vote for as many or as few choices as you like.
2nd Choice: ______________
Collect the ballots and point out how easy it was for
people to fill out the ballots. This is the easiest way to refute the
silly notion that this is too hard for voters.
Explain that instant runoff voting produces a majority
winner in a single election. Say that ballots are counted in rounds, winning
requires a majority of votes in a round, in each round, your ballot counts as
one vote for your favorite candidate still in the race, and if no one receives a
majority of votes in a round, you eliminate the weakest candidate and conduct
Depending on the number of ballots you are counting, you
might want to solicit an assistant who can sort the ballots into piles based on
the first choices. Then count the ballots in each pile, write the totals on a
chalkboard if possible so everyone can see the totals, and determine if
there’s a winner. If not, pick up the all the ballots in the smallest pile,
and place each one in the pile corresponding to the voter’s second choices.
Repeat the process until a winner emerges.
Potential problems and questions that can crop up
Ties are extremely rare in public elections, but
with small demonstrations, it seems like they happen every time. If this happens
to you, ask the group how ties are handled under current state or local law, and
inform them that ties in IRV are handled the same way. Ties are generally broken
by drawing lots,
Some people may not wish to support a second choice
candidate after their first choice is eliminated. This is fine. Voters are
free to list a first choice candidate but not a second choice candidate. That is
much like voting in a first round election and then deciding that you don’t
like either candidate in the runoff and choosing not to vote.
Demonstrations can drag on beyond the attention span of
your audience if you use more than 4 candidates. With 4 candidates, you are
guaranteed to achieve a winner after no more than 2 eliminations, so it goes
What about write-in candidates? Write-in votes are
handled just as they are in a non-IRV election. We don’t encourage write-in
votes in a demonstration, since it makes the demonstration take longer, but the
system accommodates write-ins just as easily as the current system.
Some may claim that the supporters of the weakest
candidates, the “fringe” candidates, get 2 votes and everyone else only got
one. In fact, in each round, each voter has exactly one vote, and each voter
gets to support her favorite candidate who is still in the race. If your
favorite candidate advances in the instant runoff, you continue to support that
candidate. If your favorite candidate gets eliminated, you have to support your
next choice candidate. It’s much like a two-round runoff in this regard.
elections in schools, organizations and companies
People unfamiliar with instant runoff voting are often
quite creative in raising objections to the system. When such people use IRV in
an actual election in their school, organization or company, they generally
reconsider their objections and recognize that the system works as intended –
a majority winner in a single election, that it’s not too complicated for the
voter or the vote counters, and that the theoretical objections rarely occur in
For this reasons, the Center strongly encourages
reformers to promote the use of instant runoff voting in non-government
elections they are involved with. Whether choosing a school mascot, picking
a game to play at recess, electing a study body president, choosing your
favorite actor on the Internet or choosing a chairman of the board of directors,
people voting in an instant runoff election learn how the system works and come
to appreciate its advantages compared to the common alternatives, plurality and
Conducting an IRV election for a school or organization is
much like conducting a demonstration election using a paper ballot. Once the
nominees are determined, paper ballots can be distributed to voters and returned
to a ballot box or hat that prevents people from seeing how others voted.
Ballot counting should generally be a public process that
representatives of the candidates and the public at large can observe.
Counting IRV ballots consists simply of sorting the ballots
into piles according to first choice votes, determining if there is a majority
winner, and then eliminating the weakest candidate if there is no winner.
Ballots cast for eliminated candidates then count for the voters’ next choices
candidate who is still in the race. The process of eliminating a candidate and
re-tabulating the votes continues until one candidate receives a majority of the
valid votes in a round.
The process is quite straightforward, but it’s always
worth doing a dry run ahead of time to be sure you know how to handle ties,
ballots that are illegible, ballots that “exhaust” because the first choice
gets eliminated and no second choice candidate is listed, and ballots that list
two candidates as a first choice.
More detailed instructions can be found on the Center’s
We consult for organizations contemplating using instant
runoff voting or proportional representation in internal elections, and we do
much of our consulting on a pro bono basis for non-profit organizations.
Endorsements from Organizations and Individuals
Unfortunately, electoral reformers tend not to have the
resources necessary to conduct a saturation media campaign to educate the public
about the problems of the current system and the advantages of instant runoff
We therefore need to focus resources on opinion leaders,
the respected people and organizations that are most likely to influence public
opinion. These may include newspapers, elected officials, other civic and
business leaders, celebrities, political parties, neighborhood groups, election
officials and so one.
An important part of any campaign is to identify the
important organizations and individuals from whom to solicit endorsements as
well as the messenger or contact most likely to succeed with the target
person or group. You may wish to make a list of all the people and organizations
whose endorsements you want and then prioritize the order in which to approach
As you decide on your approach a group, remember to frame
the issue as a problem perceived by the group, find the right messenger and put
forward the arguments for change that are most likely to appeal to the group.
Winning an endorsement from a group requires persuasive
responses to several questions:
What’s the problem? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” What is
Why is IRV a good idea?
Why should my organization take a position on this issue?
Why is IRV good for my organization?
How does IRV work? What about unintended consequences?
Who supports IRV? Who opposes IRV?
When making a presentation to an organization that you are
seeking an endorsement from, you’ve got to focus on the problem of the current
system. If you can’t convince a group about the serious of the problem
you’ve identified, the group is unlikely to take a stand in favor of changing
something as fundamental as the voting system.
In a half hour presentation to an organization, you might
want to spend 10 or 15 minutes discussing the problem and asking the members of
the group about how well the current system is working and what problems do they
see. After you generate some agreement about the problem, you should talk about
the benefits of instant runoff voting for the voter and for the group.
Only after the group has expressed concern about the
current system and interest in the benefits of instant runoff voting should you
discuss or demonstrate specifically how IRV works. In our experience, if people
don’t believe in a problem with a current system and don’t appreciate the
benefits of IRV, they will probably not make much of an effort to understand
this new system. This could lead to a dismissive claim that the system is too
complicated or difficult for the voter.
Research is often a critical first step both to document
the problem and to assess the feasibility of possible solutions. A short report
that clearly lays out the issues and the facts can be very helpful for
attracting attention to a perceived problem and potential solutions. For example,
check out a report from San Francisco that
focuses on the cost of runoff elections, voter turnout and the outcome of
Is current equipment compatible with ranked ballots?
What are plans for buying new equipment?
How can you get involved with process of buying new equipment to ensure
compatibility with ranked-ballots?
What voting systems are used? Districts or at-large? Plurality or runoff?
Can local election systems by changed by ordinance?
Can they be changed by initiative?
Does state law or the state constitution present obstacles to reform?
How much do elections cost the taxpayers?
What is the voter turnout? Has it changed over time?
Who wins elections? What groups are over- or under-represented? What
groups are happy with the status quo? What groups are not?
Have candidates been elected with less than a majority? Is this frequent?
Do runoffs change the outcome? Do people come from behind to win? Does the
frontrunner in the first round generally win the runoff?
Are campaigns negative? Do they last too long?
Who benefits from low voter turnout? Who is disadvantaged?