Robert's Rules of Order
on Instant Runoff Voting

Robert's Rules of Order (RRO), the well-known guide to fair procedures, makes the point that an election by a mere plurality may produce an unrepresentative result. It recommends voting methods that can determine a majority winner when electing single-seat offices. At conventions of private organizations, etc., where the electors can cast repeated ballots, RRO prefers a system that allows open ended repeat balloting with no runoff eliminations to finally elect a majority winner. Such a system may be time consuming but can allow a compromise candidate to emerge after a number of ballots. However, in elections where open-ended re-voting is not practical, such as in elections by mail (or governmental elections), instant runoff voting (called "preferential voting" in RRO) is the recommended procedure. In the section detailing the procedure for conducting an instant runoff election RRO states that "It makes possible a more representative result than under a rule that a plurality shall elect..... This type of preferential ballot is preferable to an election by plurality."

The full text is below. (Again, note that the term "preferential voting" is another one for instant runoff voting). It is from:

Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised
In Chapter XIII §45. 10th edition, 2000, pp. 411-414


Preferential Voting: The term preferential voting refers to any of a number of voting methods by which, on a single ballot when there are more than two possible choices, the second or less-preferred choices of voters can be taken into account if no candidate or proposition attains a majority. While it is more complicated than other methods of voting in common use and is not a substitute for the normal procedure of repeated balloting until a majority is obtained, preferential voting is especially useful and fair in an election by mail if it is impractical to take more than one ballot. In such cases it makes possible a more representative result than under a rule that a plurality shall elect. It can be used only if expressly authorized in the bylaws.

Preferential voting has many variations. One method is described here by way of illustration. On the preferential ballot—for each office to be filled or multiple-choice question to be decided—the voter is asked to indicate the order in which he prefers all the candidates or propositions, placing the numeral 1 beside his first preference, the numeral 2 beside his second preference, and so on for every possible choice. In counting the votes for a given office or question, the ballots are arranged in piles according to the indicated first preferences—one pile for each candidate or proposition. The number of ballots in each pile is then recorded for the tellers’ report. These piles remain identified with the names of the same candidates or propositions throughout the counting procedure until all but one are eliminated as described below. If more than half of the ballots show one candidate or proposition indicated as first choice, that choice has a majority in the ordinary sense and the candidate is elected or the proposition is decided upon. But if there is no such majority, candidates or propositions are eliminated one by one, beginning with the least popular, until one prevails, as follows: The ballots in the thinnest pile—that is, those containing the name designated as first choice by the fewest number of voters—are redistributed into the other piles according to the names marked as second choice on these ballots. The number of ballots in each remaining pile after this distribution is again recorded. If more than half of the ballots are now in one pile, that candidate or proposition is elected or decided upon. If not, the next least popular candidate or proposition is similarly eliminated, by taking the thinnest remaining pile and redistributing its ballots according to their second choices into the other piles, except that, if the name eliminated in the last distribution is indicated as second choice on a ballot, that ballot is placed according to its third choice. Again the number of ballots in each existing pile is recorded, and, if necessary, the process is repeated—by redistributing each time the ballots in the thinnest remaining pile, according to the marked second choice or most-preferred choice among those not yet eliminated—until one pile contains more than half of the ballots, the result being thereby determined. The tellers’ report consists of a table listing all candidates or propositions, with the number of ballots that were in each pile after each successive distribution.

If a ballot having one or more names not marked with any numeral comes up for placement at any stage of the counting and all of its marked names have been eliminated, it should not be placed in any pile, but should be set aside. If at any point two or more candidates or propositions are tied for the least popular position, the ballots in their piles are redistributed in a single step, all of the tied names being treated as eliminated. In the event of a tie in the winning position—which would imply that the elimination process is continued until the ballots are reduced to two or more equal piles—the election should be resolved in favor of the candidate or proposition that was strongest in terms of first choices (by referring to the record of the first distribution).

If more than one person is to be elected to the same type of office—for example, if three members of a board are to be chosen—the voters can indicate their order of preference among the names in a single fist of candidates, just as if only one was to be elected. The counting procedure is the same as described above, except that it is continued until all but the necessary number of candidates have been eliminated (that is, in the example, all but three).

When this or any other system of preferential voting is to be used, the voting and counting procedure must be precisely established in advance and should be prescribed in detail in the bylaws of the organization. The members must be thoroughly instructed as to how to mark the ballot, and should have sufficient understanding of the counting process to enable them to have confidence in the method. Sometimes, for instance, voters decline to indicate a second or other choice, mistakenly believing that such a course increases the chances of their first choice. In fact, it may prevent any candidate from receiving a majority and require the voting to be repeated. The persons selected as tellers must perform their work with particular care.

The system of preferential voting just described should not be used in cases where it is possible to follow the normal procedure of repeated balloting until one candidate or proposition attains a majority. Although this type of preferential ballot is preferable to an election by plurality, it affords less freedom of choice than repeated balloting, because it denies voters the opportunity of basing their second or lesser choices on the results of earlier ballots, and because the candidate or proposition in last place is automatically eliminated and may thus be prevented from becoming a compromise choice.