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Using IRV to Make
Organizational Endorsements

July 2002

Instant runoff voting is designed to determine the candidate who is supported by a majority of the voters. Voter ranks candidates in order of choice, and ballots are sorted by first choices. Then the weakest candidate is eliminated, and each ballot cast for an eliminated candidate is redistributed to the voter's next choice. The process of eliminating candidates and redistributing votes is repeated until two candidates remain, and the candidate with the greater number of votes is elected.

Political clubs and other organizations can use instant runoff voting to make endorsement decisions.

If you are considering using IRV for endorsement decisions and would like assistance, please contact Caleb Kleppner at 415-824-2735.

Endorsement decisions often have two features not found in public elections:

  1. Gaining an endorsement may require a higher percentage than 50%. Many groups use 60% or a two-thirds vote (66.7%)
  2. Organizations sometimes give members the option of voting for "No Endorsement" or "None of the Above."

If you decide to use IRV for an endorsement process and you use one or both of these features, we recommend that you use the following guidelines, which you may want to incorporate into your bylaws or standing rules.

There are other ways of handling these issues, but we recommend the following guidelines as an effective, comprehensive way of conducting endorsement decisions.

CVD's Recommendations for
Making Organizational Endorsements

Rationale: Organizations use supermajorities and the No Endorsement option to ensure that endorsed candidates enjoy strong support from a large part of the organization. The idea is to avoid endorsing candidates who can only gain slight majorities of support, because those endorsements leave a large portion of your membership unhappy with the endorsement.

Rules in addition to standard IRV ballot counting rules:

Let's assume the endorsement threshold is 60%, but any threshold will work.

  1. Voters rank candidates in order of choice, they can include No Endorsement as one of their options, and they are free to rank as many or as few candidates as they like.
  2. Endorsement requires an affirmative vote by at least 60% of the members who cast valid ballots in the endorsement process.
  3. No Endorsement is special; it can never be eliminated. 
  4. An "exhausted" ballot counts toward No Endorsement, since all of the candidates supported by that voter have been eliminated, which means the voter prefers No Endorsement compared to all remaining candidates. Ballots become exhausted when they only rank candidates who have been eliminated. 
  5. Eliminate human candidates until you are left with one human candidate. If that candidate has a vote total greater than or equal to 60% of the total valid votes cast, the candidate receives the endorsement.  Otherwise, No Endorsement carries the day.

Rules 3, 4 and 5 may seem strange, but they ensure that endorsements are only given to candidates actively supported by a large number of voters and that all voters have the opportunity to express a preference between the top human candidate and No Endorsement.

Ballots: We recommend a ballot like the following. It is difficult for a voter to cast an invalid vote using this ballot.

Endorsement Ballot

Please write the names of your 1st choice, your 2nd choice, and so on. You may vote for as many or as few candidates as you wish. You may include "No Endorsement" as one of your options.  Do not list candidates below "No Endorsement," as "No Endorsement" is never eliminated.

1st Choice: __________________
2nd Choice:__________________
3rd Choice:__________________
4th Choice:__________________

Candidates (alphabetical order):

Appleby, Adam
Braxton, Bonnie
Carlson, Chris

No Endorsement

Example: Consider an endorsement decision with the 3 candidates on the sample ballot and the "No Endorsement" option. Let's imagine that a political club uses a 60% threshold and that 40 members fill out ballots for an endorsement. An endorsement requires 24 votes (60% of 40).

Let's imagine first choice votes end up like this:

Candidate  1st Rnd
Appleby         10
Braxton          6
Carlson         17

No Endorsement/  7
   Exhausted

This means seven voters preferred No Endorsement over all remaining candidates.  Braxton is the candidate with the fewest votes and gets eliminated. Let's imagine that the 6 ballots for Braxton list the following 2nd choices:

2nd choice   Votes
Appleby          2
Carlson          1
No Endorsement   2
Nothing listed   1

In round 2, Appleby picks up 2 votes, Carlson picks up 1 and No Endorsement/Exhausted picks up a total of 3 votes.

Candidate  1st Rnd 2nd Rnd
Appleby         10      12
Braxton          6      --
Carlson         17      18

No Endorsement/  7      10 
   Exhausted

Now Appleby is the candidate with the fewest votes. Let's imagine that the next choices on Appleby's 12 ballots are as follows:

Next choice   Votes
Carlson           7
Braxton           1
No Endorsement    3
Nothing listed    1

Carlson picks up 7 votes, and the other 5 votes go to No Endorsement/Exhausted.

Candidate  1st Rnd 2nd Rnd 3rd Rnd
Appleby         10      12      --
Braxton          6      --      --
Carlson         17      18      25

No Endorsement/  7      10      15
   Exhausted

In this example, 25 out of 40 members (62.5%) preferred endorsing Carlson over No Endorsement, so Carlson gets the endorsement.  If Carlson had ended up with 23 or fewer votes, the recommendation would have been No Endorsement.

A Few Technical Questions about This Process

Q: Our bylaws require that No Endorsement always be an option. Is this a problem?

A: No. The combination No Endorsement/Exhausted is always an option.  It is never eliminated.

Q: Why do you eliminate the 2nd strongest human candidate, Carlson?  Why not eliminate until you're left with 2 candidates and see if either one has enough for an endorsement?

A: Because we need to discover whether supporters of the 2nd strongest candidate prefer the other candidate or no endorsement. In our example, if your first choice was Appleby and your second choice was Carlson, you wouldn't want your vote for Appleby to contribute to a No Endorsement, which is what would happen if we didn't eliminate Appleby at the end to see if Carlson gained enough support to win an endorsement. If you want Appleby or nothing, you should rank Appleby 1st and No Endorsement 2nd. Then when Appleby gets eliminated, your vote won't contribute to the endorsement of Carlson.

Q: When determining whether the leading candidate received 60% of the votes, you used 40 votes total in the denominator even though only 30 voters supported a candidate in round 2 and 25 in round 3. Why not use 25 or 30 votes in the denominator?

A: Because the questions for an endorsement is, "Does a large percentage of our members support one particular candidate?" If you reduce the denominator to 25 or 30, then you are disregarding the votes of the people who are trying to prevent an endorsement.

Q: What happens if a voter lists a 2nd choice candidate after ranking No Endorsement 1st?

A: That 2nd choice never gets used because that ballot will always count toward No Endorsement.

Q: What happens if I only list a 1st choice candidate and then leave 2nd, 3rd, etc blank?

A: That's the same as listing your favorite candidate 1st and then listing No Endorsement 2nd. Your ballot will count for your favorite candidate until that person gets eliminated. Then it will count to prevent an endorsement if enough other people prefer no endorsement.

If you have any more questions about this process, please contact Caleb Kleppner at 415-824-2735.


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Copyright 2002 The Center for Voting and Democracy
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