Mock Election Demonstrations using IRV in Vermont Schools
As resolved in HR.37, the established Commission observed the process of Instant Runoff Voting by conducting mock elections in various classes at six high schools and two junior high schools in Vermont. These mock elections were held during the months of September, October, November and December at Lamoille Union, Middlebury, West Rutland, Black River (Ludlow), U32 (E. Montpelier), Bellows Free Academy (St. Albans), Harwood Union (Duxbury), and Mt. Abraham Union (Bristol). Prior to the mock election, a brief presentation was held regarding HR.37, the history of Vermont elections and the history of IRV. Students were first encouraged to discuss the meaning of democracy. The majority of students recognized that the process of democracy has continued to evolve and develop internationally, in our nation and in the state of Vermont, and that different systems of voting may be discussed as being "more" or "less" democratic.
At the close of the presentation and discussion, students participated in both the voting and counting procedures of the mock IRV election. Students were given a ballot with four former United States presidents and asked to read the directions, printed as they might appear on an actual IRV election ballot. Various ballot designs were used to gauge how user-friendly they might be. In a few schools, the directions were read aloud to the students, as well. The students, then, proceeded to vote by ranking the candidates in order of preference. Four volunteer students collected and counted the ballots, counting the first-choice votes first. In most of the classes, no candidate received an initial majority of the votes. Students comprehended the process of transferring votes from the lowest ranked candidate and continued the process by redistributing the votes to find the candidate truly preferred by the majority of voters.
In some of the mock elections, the process of IRV revealed that a candidate who had not received the greatest plurality of initial votes, was the candidate actually preferred, over the plurality candidate, by the majority of the students.
At the close of class, students were given evaluation forms that were to be collected by the teacher and mailed to the Commission. As of this writing, five of the schools, representing 120 students have returned their evaluation forms. A copy of the evaluation form submitted to the students and a chart of the results of the evaluations, along with a copy of the actual mock election ballot, may be found in Chart 2 on page 35.
Of all students expressing an opinion, 91% said that marking the ballot was not "too difficult or confusing." (If junior high students are excluded, the figure rises to 93%.) Since the ballots were not explained to the students in detail, the Commission finds this very encouraging. In a real election, sample ballots that show how to mark the ballot should all but eliminate concerns about IRVs supposed complexity for the voters. There is no evidence that voting in an IRV election is any more confusing than our current system.
In the evaluations, 20% of the students said that their parents don't vote regularly, and of those who ventured a guess, 17% said they doubted they themselves would vote regularly once they turned eighteen. The correlation of these two answers is impressive, with 100% of those who doubted they would vote reporting that their parents also do not vote regularly.
As to the question of whether IRV would encourage greater voter participation, 42 students, or 35%, said they would be more likely to vote if IRV were used, only four students (3%) said they would be less likely, with the rest indicating it would make no difference. Of the nineteen students who said that they would not vote regularly, once they turned eighteen, three students (or 16% of that group) said that they would be more likely to vote if Vermont had a preference voting system such as Instant Runoff Voting.
Of the 116 students expressing an opinion, 90% said Vermont should use Instant Runoff Voting. As happened with the members of this Commission, once students understood how IRV works to restore the principle of majority rule, it is almost universally favored over our existing system.
Some of the classes also received a brief explanation of proportional representation in electing legislative bodies. Of the 84 students who answered the following question, "Do you think Vermont should consider using proportional representation for electing either its House of Representatives or its State Senate?" 93% said yes. The Commission did not feel it had sufficient time to adequately address this side of preference voting but suggests that this public enthusiasm warrants further examination of proportional representation by the General Assembly.
The four Commission members who observed the presentations and mock elections at the various schools all testify to the interest of the students in the Instant Runoff system, their recognition of the system as "more fair" or "more democratic," as well as their interest in the continued study of proportional representation by the Vermont State Legislature.