Balancing the Ballot
Published April 27th 2001 in Austin Chronicle

I'm afraid it is letter-writer Robert Hansen ["Postmarks: IRV Muddies the Voting Waters," April 6] who is muddying the voting waters. His comments about IRV are far wide of the mark. IRV is used by millions of voters around the world every year with none of the problems he predicts.

His comments about U.S. electors are insulting. Most voters know whom they want to see elected. Most also know whom they would place second if their first choice couldn't make it home. Many will have a third and fourth choice, too. The preferences in IRV are not weighted in any way, so the comment about a "1, 2, 3, ..." scale being far too simplistic is just irrelevant.

No one is forced to mark preferences they don't have. So if Mr. Hansen wants to vote only for one candidate who has the support of only a small minority, he's knows where to put his "1." No one will force him to mark his ballot for any other candidate.

But many other voters who support the same candidate also have views about those who will become the front runners. By marking their other preferences "2, 3, 4, ...", they ensure that their voices will be heard. That doesn't sound silly to me. Far from harming the electoral system, the adoption of IRV would be a great step forward for democracy.

James Gilmour

Edinburgh, Scotland

Simpler Than the Candidates Themselves


This letter is in response to Robert Hansen's letter decrying the value of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) ["Postmarks: IRV Muddies the Voting Waters," April 6]. He says that IRV is a bad idea because it would create more problems than we already have. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is noteworthy that Mr. Hansen contradicts himself at the beginning of his letter. First, he says that IRV is too difficult to understand. Then, almost in the same breath, he says that it is "way too simplistic." Well, which is it? I would submit that this contradiction reveals the speciousness of his arguments.

IRV is actually a simple and sensible electoral reform that will save taxpayer money and create more voter choice in single-winner elections. It allows voters to vote for multiple candidates in single-seat races by ranking them in order of preference--1, 2, 3, etc. Most importantly, it assures that a "spoiler" effect (a la Ralph Nader) will not split the vote and result in undemocratic outcomes. And, yes, Mr. Hansen, you can vote for just one candidate without invalidating your vote.

IRV saves money because it eliminates the need for costly two-round runoff elections. (Austin taxpayers had to dole out $440,000 for the last runoff election!!!) IRV increases voter turnout because it gives voters more choices at the polls. IRV promotes positive, issue-based campaigns, because candidates will want to seek second- and third-choice votes instead of disparaging their opponents.

IRV is an election reform that is rapidly gaining attention in the United States. It is already being used with great success in other democracies around the world, e.g., in England, Ireland, and Australia. Major efforts to establish IRV are underway in Alaska, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington, and California. And now we have the chance to do it right here in Austin, Texas.

I would encourage anyone interested in learning more about IRV to check out the Center for Voting and Democracy's Web site: There is a link on that site to information about our efforts here in Austin, including contact information for members of the City Council. Please contact your council members to encourage them to support this simple and sensible democratic reform.


Steve Agan

Co-Chair, Green Party of Texas

Give IRV a Chance


In his April 6 letter concerning the proposed Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) amendment to the City Charter, Robert Hansen suggests several problems ["Postmarks: IRV Muddies the Voting Waters"]. I think his concerns can be addressed easily.

He believes that voters are too ignorant to rank candidates on a ballot. I think he's probably wrong, but in any case the voters themselves ought to decide. If they agree with him, they can vote down the charter amendment. It would be informative to hear what Australians say about it, since they currently use IRV in their parliamentary elections.

He complains that 1-2-3 ranking is too "simplistic." Maybe more elaborate systems could be devised, but IRV certainly provides more information about voters' preferences than the current system.

He is concerned that a ballot with an incomplete ranking will be disqualified. It will not. If a voter wants to mark someone for No.1 and that's all, that's fine. If No.1 is eliminated, the voter will be counted as casting no vote in the subsequent runoffs.

Anyone interested should have a look at this Web site:

Arthur DiBianca