11. IRV is simple for voters to use

When the IRV system is first explained, some assume it will be complicated for voters. However, to effectively utilize the system voters have no need to learn any of the intricacies of the transfer tabulation methodology, just as hardly any citizens really understand how the electoral college works (with recourse to election by Congress with one vote per state in the event of no majority). Among Vermont students who answered a survey question after participating in mock elections using IRV, 91% said the balloting was not too difficult and 90% said Vermont should switch to IRV.

While it is true that any change in the status quo will require a voter education effort, there is nothing inherently complex in the voters’ role in IRV. Vermonters are well acquainted with the procedure of ranking preferences on survey forms, for favorite sports teams, movies or other things. International experience, and the experience in the 23 U.S. cities that have used some form of preference voting this century, shows that ranking candidates is a task easily grasped by the electorate. Voters in countries using IRV or PR preference voting, such as Australia, and Malta, which have 95% voter participation rates, don’t find it difficult. Citizens in Australia, Malta, and Ireland are not smarter than Vermonters, nor do those nations have levels of literacy significantly higher than Vermont’s. Northern Ireland adopted the use of a preference ballot in 1998 as part of the peace plan, and experienced minuscule occurrence of spoiled ballots with a far higher voter participation rate than Vermont.

The importance of the transition should not be ignored, however. In 1890, Vermont first adopted use of the "Australian ballot" (government-printed ballots listing all qualifying candidates). In the first election using this new system, in 1892, there was some protest of the new ballot. Much of the protest focused around inadequate preparation. Prior to this new system, voters could prepare ballots at home or simply pick up party ballots on their way to the polls. Voters had no need to mark their ballots. They simply had to deposit their ballots in the ballot box. Starting in 1892, voters had to go into voting booths and find the names of their preferred candidates and mark the right number of boxes depending on how many seats were being filled for each office. There were long lines waiting for ballots and spaces in polling booths, accompanied by many complaints. Rather than repealing the Australian ballot, the next legislature increased the number of polling booths the towns had to provide from one for each 75 voters to one for each 50 voters. The transition to the modern "Australian ballot," a preference ballot, is a much smaller step than was the 1892 change.

The voter education campaign necessary to ease the transition would cost only a fraction of the amount the state currently spends "educating" citizens to buy lottery tickets (the state’s single largest communication effort with its citizenry). Also, due to the nature of such a campaign, unlike lottery advertising, free public service announcement slots would almost certainly be made available by the state media.