Mock Election Results from NAACP Conference

The Center for Voting and Democracy had a booth at the national conference of the NAACP, held in Baltimore from July 9 to 13. Among the materials we distributed was a guide to all the organizations with booths in the Voter Action Center and a number of other noteworthy organizations. Note that this document is available for download at:

A featured activity at our booth was a mock election for attenders to choose national leaders. The big winner -- perhaps unsurprisingly, given the venue -- was NAACP president Kweisi Mfume. But there were instructive differences in the results using different voting methods.

We asked those who stopped by our booth to fill out a ballot, introduced as follows: 

We are conducting a sample election using an alternative voting system -- in this case, the "choice voting" system used in Cambridge (Mass.) and used from 1925 to 1955 to elect the city council in Cincinnati, Ohio and from 1937 to 1945 to elect the city council in New York City. Imagine that you are electing three U.S. Senators to represent the United States "at-large." Please rank the candidates you prefer in order of choice: "1" for your first choice, "2" for your second choice, "3" for your third choice and so. Rank as many candidates as you wish -- note that ranking a candidate can in no way hurt the chances of a candidate you rank higher than that candidate. We will announce the results of this vote on our web site ( after the conference.

The ballot looked as follows:

Candidate Ranking
Bill Clinton
Louis Farrakhan
Jesse Jackson
John Lewis
Kweisi Mfume
Colin Powell
Maxine Waters
J.C. Watts

With the 73 valid ballots, we were able to conduct ballot-counts using a range of systems. Here are the results:

* Plurality winner (using single vote method): Counting first-choices votes as one vote, Kweisi Mfume won with 24 (33% of total), followed in order by Bill Clinton with 14, Maxine Waters with 10, Colin Powell with 8 and Jesse Jackson with 7.

* Majority winner (using instant runoff count): When conducting an instant runoff vote count (with the lowest ranked candidate being eliminated after each round of counting and ballots counting for the top-ranked candidate remaining on each ballot) Kweisi Mfume again won, with the order of elimination being J.C. Watts, Louis Farrakhan, John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Colin Powell, Maxine Waters and Bill Clinton. Mfume cleared the 50% threshold at the end of the 6th round of counting, when Powell was eliminated; at that point he had 40 votes to Clinton's 18 and Waters' 14.

* Three winners (using at-large plurality): If the first three rankings were counted as one vote each and weighted equally -- as would be the case in an winner-take-all, at-large election -- then the three winners were: Kweisi Mfume (listed in the top three rankings on 47 ballots, or 64% of the total), Jesse Jackson (listed in the top three on 42 ballots, or 58%) and Maxine Waters (listed in the top three on 36 ballots, or 49%). The remaining candidates finished as follows: Colin Powell (29), Bill Clinton (25), John Lewis (12), write-ins (9), Louis Farrakhan (6) and J. C. Watts (4).

* Three winners (using one-vote "limited voting" proportional method): If the only vote was to count was the first-choice ranking, then the top three finishers in the single-winner plurality race would be the winners: Kweisi Mfume with 24, Bill Clinton with 14 and Maxine Waters with 10.

* Three winners (using choice voting proportional method): Note that with the one-vote, limited voting system, 25 ballots were cast for candidates who finished outside the top three -- meaning more than a third of the total ballots and a number much higher than the vote totals of winners Clinton and Waters. This left open the possibility that potential winners had lost only due to their vote "fracturing" among multiple candidates. The choice voting process -- analogous to the instant runoff count in a single-winner race, but with winners needing a lower share of the vote -- "heals" any such fractures. With choice voting, Mfume was the first winner (gaining enough votes in the first count), Clinton was the second winner and Waters was the third winner. This is same result as with the one-vote system, but the counting process showed some interesting results. By the time in the count when only five candidates remained, the order of candidates was Mfume (already having won), Clinton, Powell, Waters and Jackson -- meaning Powell was positioned to take the third seat. Once Jackson was eliminated, more of his supporters preferred Waters to Powell, which put Waters over Powell for the third seat.

Summary: The most instructive difference was in comparing winner-take-all at-large to a proportional method. In winner-take-all, Jesse Jackson easily finished in the top three, and the three winners were African-American with similar political views: Jackson, Mfume and Waters. In a proportional system, however, the majority wins a majority of seats, but not all. With a proportional system, Jackson was replaced by the more moderate Bill Clinton. Jackson had wider support than Clinton (finishing high on many ballots cast first for Mfume and Waters, as he was in the top three on 58% of ballots and Clinton in the top three on only 34% of ballots), but Clinton had stronger core support -- as he finished first on twice as many ballots as Jackson. A proportional system can reward such a political minority if it commands a share of the vote high enough to win a comparable share of seats. In white-majority counties and cities in Alabama and Texas, for example, proportional systems have boosted the electoral opportunities of black voters and candidates.

For more information, see: The Center's new Factsheet series.