Howard Dean Continues to Support IRV
Dean Discusses IRV on Vermont Radio's Mark Johnson Show
Howard DeanOn March 16th, Former Vermont Governor and Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean continued his support for instant runoff voting on Vermont Radio's Mark Johnson Show. Commenting on Burlington's recent IRV election, Dean said "I think the best and most democratic way to use to elect people in multiparty elections is instant runoff voting." Dean also supported the system when it was first used in Burlington in 2006.

Dean is part of a growing list of prominent politicians who have shown support for the system, including President Barack Obama, United States Senators John McCain and Bernie Sanders, U.S. Congressmen Dennis Kucinich and Peter Welch, and former U.S. Congressman John Porter.


Burlington's Second IRV Election a Success
Incumbent Kiss Wins Reelection in Third IRV Round
Burlington City HallCitizens of Burlington, Vermont went to the polls on Tuesday, March 3rd to vote for the second time in an election using instant runoff voting. At 8:25 PM, the city declared that incumbent Mayor Bob Kiss had won reelection in the third and final round of counting, narrowly edging out challenger Kurt Wright, 51.5% to 48.5%. The race was unique in that it had four candidates that had a legitimate shot at winning: Progressive Kiss, Republican Wright, Democrat Andy Montroll, and independent Dan Smith. In most other American cities, there would be fear of "spoiler" candidates, but IRV allowed all four candidates to run without having to worry about being labeled "spoilers."

IRV is also credited for making the race one of the more civil that Burlington has seen, as candidates were hesitant to attack one another for fear of losing their opponents' second choice support.  Democratic City Councilman Bill Keogh was quoted as saying the race was "the most respectful and informative campaign in Burlington in a long time."


Governors Split on Advancing Our Elections
IL governor signs National Popular Vote, VT governor vetoes majority voting
On April 4, Vermont governor Jim Douglas chose to veto legislation to re-establish majority elections for Congress in his state through instant runoff voting. Vermont would have been the first state to enact IRV for Congress; legislative leaders affirmed their commitment to the bill, and it is sure to move in the state again. FairVote has worked hard to support this legislation, which likely generated more than 600 phone calls to the governor from Vermonters.

On April 7, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich signed legislation entering Illinois into the National Popular Vote plan for president. The NPV plan now has states making up more than a sixth of what it will take for the plan to go into affect. It also has passed fully a sixth of our nation's state legislative chambers, including most recently in Maine, Vermont and Hawaii.

[AP/Boston Globe Article on the Veto]
[Vermont Public Radio on the Veto]
[Brattleboro Reformer Editorial]
[More on IRV in Vermont]
[National Popular Vote Plan]
[FairVote's Presidential Elections Page]
[Hendrik Hertzberg rips Gov. Douglas in his blog ]

[ Next ]  
A Stone's Throw
My uncle Irv messed up Aspen's elections

By Andy Stone
Published October 14th 2009 in The Aspen Times
So here's the thing about the lawsuit Marilyn Marks has filed to force the city to show her its ballots.

(Wow, when you write it that way, it sounds kind of dirty, doesn't it? “Pull down your pants and show us your ballots. We need to check for ‘distinguishing marks.'” OK, sorry about that. Back on course now.)

Marilyn is suing to force the city to release the ballots cast in the May election.

The exact reasoning behind her demand seems a little obscure. Does she want the ballots? Does she want the scanned images of the ballots? Is she checking the runoff system? Is she checking the counting system? Is she checking privacy protection? Or, maybe even, is she checking the results?

She consistently says she has no desire to overturn the election, but her lawsuit claims there were some serious problems with the process and that some of these problems were concealed from the public until after the date for protesting the results had passed. That sounds like someone laying the groundwork for a protest.

But, what the heck, I'm going to take Marilyn at her word.

And, really, that makes sense. If she were to try to challenge things now, she'd be making a liar of herself and ensuring that a vast majority of local voters would turn on her. If they haven't already.

So let's skip this dog's breakfast of legalese and jump across to what might actually be behind Marilyn's outrage.

Apparently, it's the “instant runoff voting” system. Marilyn has, from the very start, been a raging opponent of the new system. (People call it “IRV,” which sounds like a cross between the IRS and an SUV — something for everyone to hate. It also makes me think of my crazy uncle Irving — everyone called him Irv. He used to take out his false teeth at the dinner table and rinse them in his water glass. “Irv!” my mother would shout. “Don't take your teeth out at dinner!” “Can't hear you!” he'd scream back. “I don't have my teeth in!” Family dinners were never dull.)

So anyway, Marilyn has been firmly, fiercely against IRV (the system, not my uncle — though I bet she'd hate him too if she ever met him). She's been implacable.

In ranting against IRV (Put your teeth in!), Marilyn has cited some complicated — to say the least — mathematics. She cheerfully noted that she's no math whiz, then sent us all to websites that, she said, would make everything clear.

As if.

I truly delighted in stumbling over the term “non-monotonicity.” Ya gotta love that one. At first, I was worried about coming down with a case of non-monotonicity, but then I got my shots. So everything's cool now.

All right, let's get serious.

Instant Runoff Voting undoubtedly has some problems. I spent a long time checking into arguments on all sides, and, clearly, there are occasional election results that can be fertile ground for argument. (As if that never happens with more classic systems. Can you say “Bush v. Gore”?)

I read one very intense website that argued fiercely that the 2009 municipal elections in Burlington, Vt., were a classic instance of IRV getting it wrong. Unfortunately that particular website used all its fervor to come out in favor of a different — and much more complicated — version of instant-runoff. Range voting. Don't get me started on that one.

The real point is that we need to think back to where this all began.

Once upon a time, Aspen elections — like most U.S. elections, including the major national ones — were decided by simple “plurality.” Whoever got the most votes won.

That led to candidates winning elections with a relatively small percentage of the vote. In a four-way election for mayor, a candidate could get barely more than a quarter of the votes and still win. A staggering 26 percent mandate.

So Aspen decided to hold runoff elections if no candidate got a majority. That seemed like a good, clean way of doing it.

But runoffs have their own set of problems.

There's the expense, of course. Elections aren't cheap.

Then there's fatigue — both candidate and voter fatigue. Good candidates can burn out when they're required to run a second all-out campaign, right after the first one ends.

More important, of course, voters get burned out and turned off. People stop paying attention. They tune out. They don't bother to vote the second time around. In the end, that can favor a highly motivated minority, voters who care fiercely but don't represent a true majority of the citizens.

And don't forget money — always a significant factor, particularly here. A candidate with money on his side can afford to go all out in the runoff and defeat someone who might represent the majority, but whose supporters don't have those deep pockets.

And if you think elections are inherently, dangerously flawed — machine error, voter error, voter fraud — then a second election just doubles the chances for errors. And even a standard runoff election can suffer from non-monotonicity. Even if it did get its shots.

And, finally, there's the fact that Aspen elections are in offseason, so a lot of people may leave town — or come back to town — somewhere along the way. As a result, the main election and the runoff may have significantly different “local” populations following the campaign and voting.

In other words, holding a runoff election is far from a simple infallible way of selecting the true “people's choice” for public office.

So where does that leave us? With Mick as mayor. And Marilyn as gadfly. And a city attorney who says we shouldn't release the ballots. And a council that agrees. And a lawsuit on our hands. And, of course, needing to get those monotonicity shots.

And, perhaps, some motivation to fine-tune the IRV system before the next election. Even as we remember that nothing is perfect.

Irv! Put your teeth in!

Campaign Resources from the Successful IRV Campaign in Burlington, VT
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