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View Full Version : Instant Runoff / Ranked Choice - Are people too stupid to understand this?

garygnu
11-11-2010, 10:19 AM
San Francisco has had such a system for a few years, and Oakland just had its first election with their ranked-choice system. The result was a Mayoral victory for the candidate (Jean Quan) that came in second in the first round. The losing candidate (Don Perata) was in first place in the first round, and is now loudly complaining about the system, and may file a lawsuit.

The only problem is that he openly said he didn't understand the ranked-choice system during the campaign, and made no effort to get voters to put him down as a second or third choice. Other candidates apparently made deals to tell their supporters to put their allies down as second choices and vice-versa. These were not secret deals and Perata could have done the same thing.

In addition to Perata's short-sightedness on the situation, some voters voted for the same candidate as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Combined with some other things, it shows that a certain percentage of people don't understand. Then again, some people can't fill in a freaking bubble with a pen.

I live in San Jose and I'd love to see instant-runoff instituted for local, state, and federal elections. It seems simple to me. Why is it so hard for some people to wrap their heads around? Do you like the idea? Is it not worth it due to the ignorance of the populace? Do I have to explain how this idea works?

Pleonast
11-11-2010, 10:56 AM
Ranked voting is more complicated, because candidates must be placed in an order. That might not seem like much to us Dopers, but it is an extra step in the voting process. There are also some mathematical problems with the system, where it's sometimes advantageous to vote in an order that does not represent one's actual preferences.

A simpler method, both to explain and implement, is the approval method. Voters can select more than one candidate for an office. Whichever candidate gets the most votes wins. The voter simply needs to decide "approve" or "not" for each candidate. There's no need to place candidates in order and there's no need to redesign ballots. It's not possible to game the system with tactical voting.

Giles
11-11-2010, 11:00 AM
From my perspective of having seen many instant-runoff elections in Australia, the results of the election (http://acgov.org/rov/rcv/results/rcvresults_2984.htm) look pretty typical to me. There were 10 candidates, but only 4 got enough votes to be of much significance. (The 4th candidate is Joe Tuman.) It's interesting that the three leading candidates are all Democrats, and it's also interesting that the 3rd candidate (Rebecca Kaplan) was within 2% of the winning candidate on the second last count: if she'd done better on that count, she might have been the Mayor-elect of Oakland.

I guess some politicians only learn how electoral systems work by seeing what happens in practice.

BrainGlutton
11-11-2010, 11:08 AM
IRV certainly would have been a nice thing to have in the late Florida Senate election. (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=565581) Or in the Alaska Senate election. (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=575996)

Peremensoe
11-11-2010, 11:12 AM
I'd rather see non-instant runoffs, to allow candidates not eliminated in the first round, and everybody else, to reconceive the contest in terms of the remaining candidates. And everybody understands voting for your one favorite choice at each round.

suranyi
11-11-2010, 11:25 AM
I'd rather see non-instant runoffs, to allow candidates not eliminated in the first round, and everybody else, to reconceive the contest in terms of the remaining candidates. And everybody understands voting for your one favorite choice at each round.

That's true, but each election costs a lot of money to run, plus the inconvenience for the voters each time. The beauty of IRV is that it only needs one physical election. The problem is that it's quite complicated to explain to someone who's a little unsophisticated.

Giles
11-11-2010, 11:25 AM
The problems with non-instant runoffs are the greater expense -- you have to open all the polling stations up again for a second day -- and the increased inconvenience for voters who have to take the time to vote a second time.

Giles
11-11-2010, 11:32 AM
The problem is that it's quite complicated to explain to someone who's a little unsophisticated.
The solution in Australia is for each candidate or party to hand out "how to vote" leaflets like those illustrated here (http://electioneering2010.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/who-wants-you-to-make-an-informed-vote/). Elections are held in Australia using paper ballots, but you could adapt these to show how to vote on a voting machine. They mean that voters who want to vote for a "party line", but who don't understand the whole process of counting, can vote effectively for their party. However, as the article under the illustration points out, you don't have to follow your party's recommendation to cast a formal vote.

Peremensoe
11-11-2010, 11:34 AM
The problems with non-instant runoffs are the greater expense -- you have to open all the polling stations up again for a second day -- and the increased inconvenience for voters who have to take the time to vote a second time.

Well, we typically do that with the primary system now. Many voters choose to participate only in the last round. The biggest difference with an open-field multi-candidate system with a delayed runoff might be the increased participation in the opening round.

Giles
11-11-2010, 11:42 AM
Actually, instant runoff means that you don't need primaries: several candidates from the same party can stand in the election without thereby splitting the vote.

Peremensoe
11-11-2010, 11:50 AM
Actually, instant runoff means that you don't need primaries: several candidates from the same party can stand in the election without thereby splitting the vote.

I know. I'm just saying that non-instant runoffs don't necessarily represent more days of polls than the present prevailing American system.

Ludovic
11-11-2010, 12:35 PM
It's not possible to game the system with tactical voting.Sure you can game it. Let's say 90% of supporters of candidate A would be 90% as happy even if candidate B win, and vice versa, but they both REALLY really hate candidate C, who is very low in the polls and won't win anyway. The winner will be either A or B: whichever one has enough voters to only approve their preferred candidate, even though in reality they would approve the other candidate as well, just not as much.

ETA: and of course if candidate C is popular enough, you have to meta-analyze it like a motherfuck, weighing whether the mildly worse choice of candidate A or B is worth the offhand chance that the hugely flawed candidate C could win.

Pleonast
11-11-2010, 01:19 PM
Sure you can game it. Let's say 90% of supporters of candidate A would be 90% as happy even if candidate B win, and vice versa, but they both REALLY really hate candidate C, who is very low in the polls and won't win anyway. The winner will be either A or B: whichever one has enough voters to only approve their preferred candidate, even though in reality they would approve the other candidate as well, just not as much.

ETA: and of course if candidate C is popular enough, you have to meta-analyze it like a motherfuck, weighing whether the mildly worse choice of candidate A or B is worth the offhand chance that the hugely flawed candidate C could win.
I wouldn't call that gaming the system. Gaming the system would be voting for someone you approve of less than someone else you're not voting for. That never benefits a candidate you approve of nor hurts one you disapprove of. (In instant runoff voting, it's sometimes advantageous to rank a less-favored candidate over a more-favored one.)

But you do bring up a detail of the approval method. While a voter cannot improve the election prospects of their supported candidates by either not voting for them or voting for unsupported candidates, they do risk electing a less favored (but still approved of) candidate over their most favorite. Voters should be happy with the election of any candidate they choose to vote for--and they have little incentive to vote otherwise.

Note that the example you give would still cause undesirable results in an instant runoff method. The winner would be decided by the second-choice of the C voters, who presumably dislike both A and B as much as A and B voters dislike C.

Ludovic
11-11-2010, 01:34 PM
Note that the example you give would still cause undesirable results in an instant runoff method. The winner would be decided by the second-choice of the C voters, who presumably dislike both A and B as much as A and B voters dislike C.I don't see why it shouldn't be decided by some people's second choices, as that's the whole point of the system. It's only weird situations where choosing someone as a second choice rather than a third makes them LESS likely to win than ranking them lower that is a problem.

BrainGlutton
11-11-2010, 01:42 PM
I'd rather see non-instant runoffs, to allow candidates not eliminated in the first round, and everybody else, to reconceive the contest in terms of the remaining candidates. And everybody understands voting for your one favorite choice at each round.

But, it costs a lot of money to hold a second election.

thelurkinghorror
11-11-2010, 04:40 PM
The correct answer is that Don Perata is a colossal asshole with entitlement and possible corruption issues, and is being a sore loser.

alphaboi867
11-11-2010, 04:46 PM
The solution in Australia is for each candidate or party to hand out "how to vote" leaflets like those illustrated here (http://electioneering2010.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/who-wants-you-to-make-an-informed-vote/)...

Our would be a bit bigger & more complicated. You Aussies only vote for one or two elected offices at a time; there were 7 different offices on my ballot this election (& only one had more than two candidates).

The problems with non-instant runoffs are the greater expense -- you have to open all the polling stations up again for a second day -- and the increased inconvenience for voters who have to take the time to vote a second time.

Also turnout will be alot lower for the runoff, especially if only one or two offices require a runoff. I predict participation in Alaska's runoff (which should take place shortly before Christmas) to be dismal even by local standards.

Chronos
11-11-2010, 05:15 PM
It's not possible to game the system with tactical voting. Suppose that there were an election for President, with candidates Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin. In such an election, under approval voting, I would vote "approve" for Kucinich and Obama, and "disapprove" for Romney and Palin. But suppose instead that Romney and Palin had both already quit the election, and it was just between Obama and Kucinich. They're the same candidates, and I still like each of them the same amount; would I still vote "approve" for both of them? Of course not: That would be a waste of my vote. I'd choose which one I like better (in my case, Kucinich), approve him, and disapprove Obama. Suppose, instead, that it were only Romney and Palin in the race: Again, I would be a fool to disapprove both, so I would make my voice heard by holding my nose and approving Romney, but disapproving Palin. So in other words, even though I definitely like Obama better than Romney, there are some situations where I would vote to disapprove Obama, and some situations where I would vote to approve Romney. How is that not gaming the system with strategic voting?

By contrast, in an instant-runoff voting system, I would always cast my ballot as preferring Kucinich over Obama, Obama over Romney, and Romney over Palin. No matter what subset of candidates is actually running, my rankings would still stay consistent.

appleciders
11-11-2010, 08:49 PM
I don't see why it shouldn't be decided by some people's second choices, as that's the whole point of the system. It's only weird situations where choosing someone as a second choice rather than a third makes them LESS likely to win than ranking them lower that is a problem.

Can someone give me an example of tactical voting in an instant-runoff system? I can't envision a scenario where anything is gained by ranking candidates in my actual order of preference.

Giles
11-12-2010, 09:12 AM
Can someone give me an example of tactical voting in an instant-runoff system? I can't envision a scenario where anything is gained by ranking candidates in my actual order of preference.
The easiest scenario is where there are three candidates, and the candidate in the middle gets the smallest number of votes. For example:

A (right) - 40%
B (centre left) - 20%
C (left) - 40%

If people vote non-tactically, B gets eliminated, and a majority of B's second preferences go to C, so C gets elected. However, most of A's supporters would prefer to see B elected, and they can achieve that by either:

(1) Sufficiently many of A's supporters voting for B, e.g.:
A - 25%
B - 35%
C - 40%
Now A get eliminated on the first count, and B gets elected.

(2) A not standing as a candidate, and perhaps being replaced by a much less electable candidate from the party, so that again some or all of A's votes go to B.

I've seen this kind of thing happen in Australia, and oddly enough it happens most often in seats that (on paper) are ultra safe for one of the two major parties. That party gets over-confident, nominates a poor candidate, and an independent wins, partly by drawing off disgruntled supporters of the party that nominated the poor candidate. and partly because the other major party runs dead in the campaign, so that its supporters vote for the independent too.

Pleonast
11-12-2010, 10:45 AM
Suppose that there were an election for President, with candidates Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin. In such an election, under approval voting, I would vote "approve" for Kucinich and Obama, and "disapprove" for Romney and Palin. But suppose instead that Romney and Palin had both already quit the election, and it was just between Obama and Kucinich. They're the same candidates, and I still like each of them the same amount; would I still vote "approve" for both of them? Of course not: That would be a waste of my vote. I'd choose which one I like better (in my case, Kucinich), approve him, and disapprove Obama. Suppose, instead, that it were only Romney and Palin in the race: Again, I would be a fool to disapprove both, so I would make my voice heard by holding my nose and approving Romney, but disapproving Palin. So in other words, even though I definitely like Obama better than Romney, there are some situations where I would vote to disapprove Obama, and some situations where I would vote to approve Romney. How is that not gaming the system with strategic voting?
It's not gaming the system because you're comparing apples and oranges. An election consisting of Obama vs Kucinich is not the same as Romney vs Palin. You're changing your votes because the candidates are changing.

Tamerlane
11-12-2010, 11:34 AM
The correct answer is that Don Perata is a colossal asshole with entitlement and possible corruption issues, and is being a sore loser.

Yup. I've never been a fan.

Chronos
11-12-2010, 11:37 AM
It's not gaming the system because you're comparing apples and oranges. An election consisting of Obama vs Kucinich is not the same as Romney vs Palin. You're changing your votes because the candidates are changing. Except the candidates I'm voting on aren't changing. Romney is the same person no matter whom he's running against, but sometimes I approve him, and sometimes I disapprove him. Likewise Obama.

Giles
11-12-2010, 11:48 AM
Yes, in approval voting your vote can change depending on who the other candidates are, and on how well each is likely to poll. For example, in a three-way contest between Obama, Clinton and Palin for President:

(1) If I know that Palin will poll very poorly (i.e., less than 30%), and cannot possibly win, I will vote for just one out of Obama and Clinton, because I do prefer one to the other, even though I prefer either to Palin.

(2) If I know that Palin is likely to poll very well, and has a good chance of winning, then I'll vote for both Obama and Clinton. I don't want to risk that both will lose to Palin.

So I'm not going to vote for a less preferred candidate over a more preferred candidate (as can easily happen in instant-runoff voting), but the decision on how many to vote for is a strategic one.

Pleonast
11-12-2010, 11:49 AM
An election isn't held to determine a candidate's absolute popularity, but to select one candidate among several. So the entire slate of candidates is important when deciding one's votes. We should expect votes to change when the slate changes.

CaliSurfer
11-12-2010, 01:04 PM
YouTube provides some great educational videos on RCV, since it is a complex method to wrap your head around.

Giles gives an example, but videos help those who are visual learners.

Here are some pro/cons that can help you see how it can (or can't) work.

Fairvote is very simplistic, while sjvoter shows some real-life examples.

For me, an election in June, when all the state, county, and fed elections are running, and a run-off in Nov at the general election is preferable. It doesn't add a "special runoff" election, and doesn't cost much for the benefit of democracy. That's how all counties in CA do it with the exception of SF.

foolsguinea
11-15-2010, 10:37 PM
By contrast, in an instant-runoff voting system, I would always cast my ballot as preferring Kucinich over Obama, Obama over Romney, and Romney over Palin. No matter what subset of candidates is actually running, my rankings would still stay consistent.Yes. On the other hand, you have actual preferences there. Imagine a city council election with ten candidates trying to fill three seats:

Thagirlihated N. Highschool
Marijuana A. D. Vocate
T. Quiet Incumbent
Z. Krupt Incumbant
Kay Thule Oofoggin
Skald the Rhymer
Yorcule Nayber
Gene Eric Biznessman
D. R. Occupant
Ramone Johnson

Do you have actual preferences for most of them, or do you just pick an order at random? I like STV/IRV, but it does create a lot of arbitrary data out of nothing due to people just numbering non-fave, non-hated candidates at random.

That said, since I said "three seats," I would still consider STV mathematically superior to approval voting. Approval voting overvalues pluralities & is very swingy, STV is more proportional. If it were one seat, I might support approval voting.

Chronos
11-15-2010, 11:15 PM
Do you have actual preferences for most of them, or do you just pick an order at random? I like STV/IRV, but it does create a lot of arbitrary data out of nothing due to people just numbering non-fave, non-hated candidates at random.Then again, if my choice is truly random, then it'll probably be either balanced out by other people choosing at random, or swamped by people choosing non-randomly between those same candidates. And even if the election is decided by my random voting, I don't see that as all that big a deal, since I am, by postulate, indifferent between those candidates.

foolsguinea
11-17-2010, 10:44 PM
Fair point.

Just don't vote for

Chronos
11-18-2010, 02:03 PM
Uh, oh, looks like Skald managed to "silence" foolsguinea before he could finish that post.

Ludovic
11-18-2010, 02:08 PM
Don't blame me, I voted for fnord

BrainGlutton
11-18-2010, 03:05 PM
Yes. On the other hand, you have actual preferences there. Imagine a city council election with ten candidates trying to fill three seats:

Thagirlihated N. Highschool
Marijuana A. D. Vocate
T. Quiet Incumbent
Z. Krupt Incumbant
Kay Thule Oofoggin
Skald the Rhymer
Yorcule Nayber
Gene Eric Biznessman
D. R. Occupant
Ramone Johnson

Do you have actual preferences for most of them, or do you just pick an order at random?

I would write in John Ya Ya, or maybe I.C. Weiner. And the Lizard People, of course.

Measure for Measure
11-18-2010, 10:44 PM
I'd support basically any system other than winner-take-all balloting. In practice, avoiding "Split-vote" effects is the important thing, and both IRV and approval voting handle that problem. Our current system does not.

The wiki article on instant runoff (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting) shows an example where IRV can produce odd results. So I have a weak preference for approval voting. Range voting would be fine as well. But in most cases, candidates are chosen on the basis of left/right and more corrupt/less corrupt: the simplicity of the actual selection make IRV paradoxes typically moot.