Controversies regarding instant-runoff voting

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is the name commonly used in the United States for Preferential Voting. There are campaigns for IRV in a number of states and local jurisdictions in the U.S. which have been largely promoted and supported, in recent years, by a non-profit educational and advocacy organization called FairVote.

Opposition to this campaign can be classified into two broad categories:
#Those who prefer to maintain the status quo, which is generally Plurality voting, or two-round runoff elections.
#Those who prefer reforms other than Instant Runoff Voting.

The arguments of these two groups are different, and sometimes the same argument is used on both sides; for example, some IRV advocates claim that IRV will help third parties to gain a toehold and, if they can eventually muster majority support, to win elections. This argument has been summarized as "IRV will allow third parties to grow without being spoilers." In seeming agreement with this, some opponents of IRV argue that IRV will indeed damage the two-party system, which these critics consider important to American democracy.

On the other hand, critics of IRV who prefer other reformed methods have claimed that IRV will help preserve the two-party system, pointing to the countries that use single-winner STV, which have long maintained strong two-party systems with little exception. Further, some support for IRV comes from major-party supporters who want to eliminate the spoiler effect caused by vote-splitting, as with the Ralph Nader vote in Florida in the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, which presumably came largely from voters who would prefer Al Gore over George W. Bush, and which vote was more than enough to turn that election. These supporters of IRV expect that it will help maintain the two-party system by preventing spoiled elections.

Controversies over Instant Runoff Voting can be broken down into a series of specific issues. These may be defined by arguments being made, Pro or Con;

Arguments in FAVOR of IRV and the debate over them
Pro: IRV will end the spoiler effect

Where a third party candidate draws sufficient votes away from what would otherwise be a majority winner, causing a candidate to win with only minority support.

There is no controversy over the fact that IRV can reduce the spoiler effect. Historically, it has done so, as in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where IRV was implemented by referendum and which then resulted in the election of the first African-American mayor of a major city in the United States, in . Prior to this, the mayor of Ann Arbor had been Republican, due to vote splitting between the Democratic Party and the Human Rights Party. A new referendum to rescind the reform was then placed on the ballot for a special election, with low turnout, which reversed the reform.

However, critics of IRV point out that there are other reforms which could also reduce the spoiler effect, including Condorcet method, Borda Count and Approval Voting. Approval Voting, which is implemented by dropping the practice of discarding overvotes and allowing voters to select more than one candidate for a single seat, is the simplest and, unlike the other reforms, has little or no implementation cost.

Pro: IRV will reduce negative campaigning

This argument is commonly advanced based on a theory that candidates will want to seek second-rank votes from supporters of other candidates, hence they would presumably be less likely to attack such candidates. However, critics allege there is a lack of evidence that such an effect actually occurs, and, indeed, claim there is evidence that it does not. No formal studies are known to have been conducted. In any event, any reduction in negative campaigning would likely only be between those candidates nearest to each other politically. Candidates who were far apart politically would have little incentive to refrain from attacking each other, as they would be unlikely to win second preferences from voters at the other end of a political spectrum.

Pro: IRV will encourage sincere voting

Certainly IRV does make it easier to vote sincerely under most conditions, particularly where there is a strong two-party system. Critics of IRV point out, however, that when there is a strong third party candidate, situations can arise where there is an incentive for some voters to reverse preferences, and some claim that this actually happens; studying whether or not this is true, however, is difficult because IRV elections depend on individual ballot data. Complete ballot by ballot ranking data was made public following San Francisco, CA and Bulrington, VT IRV elections, which may allow for further analysis on this point.

Pro: IRV allows one ballot to determine a majority winner

Again, there is no controversy over the fact that IRV can do this; however, critics point out that, in actual practice, it can fail, and the IRV winner has been given an explicit vote by less than a majority of voters, due to the fact that some voters may not indicate any preference between the finlists (exhausted ballots). In order to avoid this problem, some jurisdictions using IRV have required that voters rank all candidates, which, by definition, creates a majority winner, because ballots not ranking all candidates are eliminated, but this has not been proposed for the United States. Further, some IRV implementations don't allow complete ranking, either due to voting machine limitations or other reasons; for example, in San Francisco, only three ranks are available on the ballot. When an election has more than three candidates, it can happen that ballots are exhausted, even when voters have used all three ranks, and the result has, indeed, been winners with less than 50% of the original vote . In an actual runoff, that winner would have faced the runner-up, forcing a majority choice. However, typically in separate runoff elections there is a significant drop-off in voter turnout. It is common in separate runoff elections for the "majority" winner to receive fewer votes than the loser received in the first round of voting.

Arguments AGAINST IRV and the debate over them
Opposition to instant-runoff voting consists of those who favor plurality, range voting, and other systems over the preferential voting system. The organized opposition to IRV has sometimes taken the form of newspaper editorials opposing local and state IRV initiatives.

Con: IRV violates the one person one vote mandate
Since some voters have their ballot counted for their first choice, while other voters have their ballot counted for a later choice, some argue that it violates the one-person one-vote mandate of the U.S. constitution. IRV was challenged in court on these grounds in a Michigan case, Stephenson vs. the Ann Arbor Board of City Canvassers in 1975. In that case, IRV (called Majority Preferential Voting or M.P.V.) was upheld as in compliance with this constitutional standard. In his decision Judge James Fleming wrote that
:"Under the 'M.P.V. System', however, no one person or voter has more than one effective vote for one office. No voter's vote can be counted more than once for the same candidate. In the final analysis, no voter is given greater weight in his or her vote over the vote of another voter, although to understand this does require a conceptual understanding of how the effect of a 'M.P.V. System' is like that of a run-off election. The form of majority preferential voting employed in the City of Ann Arbor's election of its Mayor does not violate the one-man, one-vote mandate nor does it deprive anyone of equal protection rights under the Michigan or United States Constitutions."

On the other hand, in Minnesota, there is the precedent of Brown v. Smallwood, a case which addressed the constitutionality under Minnesota law of Bucklin Voting. Bucklin also involves, like IRV, alternative votes, coming from lower ranks, but it amalgamates them in a different manner, bringing them in as additional votes instead of through substitution, thus being similar in this respect to Approval Voting. Focusing on an alleged one-person, one-vote violation in this, advocates of IRV have claimed that Brown v. Smallwood will not apply, in any challenge, to IRV. However, the majority argued in Brown v. Smallwood, most strongly, against the principle of any kind of alternative vote, so some legal advisors have given the opinion that Brown v. Smallwood does indeed apply to other alternative voting systems. There was a dissent in Brown v. Smallwood which specifically attempted to refute the one-person, one-vote argument, and there is evidence in the record of this case that predominant legal opinion of the time, as well as other precedent in U.S. law, was reversed by the court, and the judgment in Brown v. Smallwood was not replicated elsewhere.

Con: "If it ain't broke don't fix it" or "Plurality Voting is Good Enough"
Some point to the fact that most elections in the U.S. use plurality voting, and voters seem to accept plurality winners as legitimate. The fact that some revered leaders, such as Abraham Lincoln did not receive a majority of the vote is sometimes mentioned. Others argue that a voting method that allows a candidate to win who is the LEAST favorite choice of a majority of voters (as is the case with plurality voting) is a disaster waiting to happen, and that majority rule should be a bedrock of our democracy. Plurality voting also increases the likelihood of "spoiler" scenarios, with all that that entails. Critics of IRV allege that these problems can be solved more reliably or more efficiently with other reformed methods.

IRV, it is argued:
* takes more effort for voters compared to Plurality voting or some other systems;
* doesn't give voters a second chance to re-evaluate candidates as with an actual runoff;
* doesn't guarantee a true majority-supported winner;
* is more expensive to count than Plurality voting or Approval Voting, requiring changes to vote counting procedures or voting equipment.
* has more Bayesian regret than range voting.
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