Proportional Representation/Instant Runoff Voting

Ok, so as I mentioned in my Green Party thread, I’m kind of going through a political awareness awakening, the death of my apathy, my not giving a crap who wins our elections, because the crap never changes. Same S**t, Different Party, as it were. To that end, if I wanted to vote for a to-be-named Green Party candidate in the future, it’d be considered a “wasted vote” by many people, as our current two-party, winner-take-all majority stands. (whether or not that’s true, we can save for another debate).

I found this site, in my search for learning about alternatives to the current way of electing our Presidents.

I’ve come to decide that I think this is what is necessary to stop the currently endless cycle of “Voting For the Lesser of Two Evils” vs. “The Best Man For the Job”. I believe it is a FAR better way to truly represent the “Will of the People”.

Do you see a need to change the current winner-take-all, majority wins, way we currently vote? Is changing how we vote to Instant Runoff Voting/Proportional Representation as a viable solution?

Do you see it as the best solution for the problem? If you disagree, (but still agree with needing a change) what alternatives would you seek to have implemented to better serve the people of this country in representing them?

Approval voting is generally considered the fairest form of voting. In that system, you get a list of candidates, and you vote for all the ones you approve of. Whoever gets the most votes wins.

I would strongly favor a move away from the current system to approval voting.

All voting systems have inherent flaws. Approval voting, failing the monotonicity criterion, is not subject to tactical voting like other systems (voting other than what you really want in order to get what you want). Great, except that it fails to distinguish between loving Clark and feeling “well, he’s better than Edwards…” The best part of approval voting is that you can never hurt your favorite’s chance of winning by voting for him, unlike many other systems.

Wikipedia is down right now or I’d floor us with links. They give a pretty robust summary of all the different voting systems, optimal voting strategies in them, and where the system is used. I like some of the European voting systems quite a bit (party-list proportional), if only because they favor more political parties. Our system in America tends to naturally create a two-party system due to the spoiler effect: it is in a person’s advantage to not vote for their favorite candidate, but vote for the most favored candidate that they think will win. The author indicates, “First-past-the-post encourages the tactical voting technique known as ‘compromising’: voters are encouraged to vote for one of the two options most likely to win, even if it is not their most preferred option.”

Google does have the pages cached if wikipedia is still down. Check it out.

Rather, approval voting passes a form of the monotonicity criterion.

Sorry about that.

The Really Big Problem: you can get results which violate the principle of “Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives.”

Someone – was it Elucidator? – posted a lovely example, with real numbers, that shows how a candidate would win an election, but, if he actually makes gains among a tiny minority of voters, suddenly turns out to lose it.

A classical example of violating the principle of irrelevant alternatives:
Waiter: “We have chocolate and vanilla, sir.”
Customer: “I’ll have chocolate.”
Waiter: “Oh, and we also have strawberry.”
Customer: “Well, in that case, I’ll have vanilla.”
Waiter: “I’m sorry, we seem to be out of strawberry today.”
Customer: “I guess I’ll stick with chocolate, then.”

Do you really want an election system that enshrines this kind of decision-making?


I think only approval voting rules out that effect, though, Trinopus. I really don’t like approval voting, in that it seems like a modification of the first past the post system, only you can vote for as many candidates as you want. This removes the spoiler effect, to be sure, but while I might prefer Gore to Nader, or either to Bush, there is no way to express this. I just don’t like that. While it is true that other systems encourage tactical voting, who the hell expects votes to accurately represent opinions anyway? Even with tactical voting, you’re still making a vote in order to get what you want, it is just that there isn’t necessarily a direct connection between the naive reading of your vote and what you want (but again, I don’t think this was ever the case in the first place so we haven’t actually lost anything). But that, as I note, is the same in approval voting anyway, since the only way to demonstrate my overwhelming support for Dean would be to vote only for Dean (but then why have approval voting???).

I just don’t like it.

Well, actually, all possible election (or market) systems have drawbacks… But run-off systems such as the preferential ballot are most susceptible to failure in highly polarized cases – such as Gore/Bush/Nader! – and this is exactly what the U.S. is most prone to.

(Nearly all U.S. “hot button issues” are pretty much black-and-white. There aren’t a whole lot of positions other than pro-life/pro-choice, for instance…)

Preferential balloting would make more sense if we had four or more parties of roughly equal size, perhaps with another half-dozen fringe parties. You could vote your conscience, knowing that the fringie who exactly represents your views would be eliminated, and then rank the next few candidates by preference, knowing that it would be meaningful. But that ain’t the U.S. pattern…


I think it is important to distinguish between multi-seat elections and single seat elections. In single-seat elections, I would probably be much more receptive to approval voting. In multi-seat elections is where I want party list. Of course this has to be the case, but I just want to be sure we’re all clear on what I’m attempting to get across.

Our elections are close because we have a two-party system that mostly plays for the center. We have that system because of the voting system we use. Change that system and the two-party system will likely become much less severe. I’m not saying we’d suddenly get a libertarian or green candidate as president, but certainly it would change the airtime such parties receive. Since I feel the two-party system is the second worst way to represent the public (short of a one-party system ;)) I think we have everything to gain from this.

But, close elections will always be a possibility without runoff or instant runoff voting in order to help eliminate actual or statistical ties (even then). A lot of methods exist for trying to decrease the chance of such ties, but changing the voting system or the way we determine a winner only makes ties harder to come by, not a guarantee. If we have three candidates and approval voting, one third of the public goes AB, one third BC, and one third AC, we have an absolute tie. Of course, ranking these alternatives (as I suggest) is one possibility of avoiding ties in one way, but then can just create them in another.

With a larger spread of available opinions to vote on, and a voting system that encourages such votes or at least makes them meaningful, I think such close calls will not happen between such polarized ideologies.

I’m all for AV and PR. In addition to the most basic argument – that a PR system is fairer, more democratic, and better expressive of the actual will of the people – I see an additional advantage to PR and the multiparty system it would produce: Raising our civic IQ.

If an individual is in the habit of weighing every possibly alternative point of view on a given question before making a decision, then that person is much wiser than one who immediately reduces a question to just two alternatives. And it is the same with a community. If the U.S. House of Representatives had some Greens, Socialists, Libertarians, etc., in it, then some representatives of those third parties would be found on every committee. Every time a question came before the committee, those representatives could be counted on to put forth their point of view. E.g., the Libertarians would always be ready with a reason why the government should not do this or that – and they would come up with reasons nobody else would think of, and sometimes, not always but sometimes, those would be very good reasons and might carry the question. The Socialists would be there to call attention to how this proposed course of action or inaction affects the working person. And so on. This multipartisan process would produce much more intelligent, carefully reasoned public policies than our present system. It is probable that, if we switched to a PR system, there would be no majority party in Congress or any state legislature, ever again. Therefore, nothing at all would get done unless all conceivable sides of the question had been looked at and discussed. No legislation would be enacted unless it were a compromise worked out by several very different political camps.

I have started the following threads to discuss these and related subjects:

“New Zealand: What political changes have resulted from the switch to PR?”

“Four political traditions: Is this a good model?”

“Should the U.S. adopt alternative, pro-multipartisan voting systems?”

“What would a multipartisan America be like?”

“How many kinds of ‘liberals’ or ‘leftists’ are there in America?”

“How many kinds of ‘conservatives’ are there in America?”

“What is the best scheme for mapping/classifying political ideologies?”