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Measure O is Good for the Asian Community
by New American Media (reposted)
Tuesday Oct 17th, 2006 5:50 PM
This November, Oakland voters will have an opportunity to vote on Measure O, which will greatly improve Oakland elections. Measure O will increase voter turnout, save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and improve the quality of political campaigns. Asian communities in Oakland will greatly benefit from the passage of Measure O.
The problem with our elections is that officeholders usually are elected in the June primary when voter turnout is extremely low. In the last June election, only a third (33 percent) of eligible voters voted. Yet that small electorate decided the winners for everyone else. Voter turnout in November elections (when national and state races are decided) is much higher than June.

Not only that, but a recent study found that for communities of color, voter turnout in June has been only half the turnout in November elections. While the turnout for Asian voters is improving, we still have relatively lower turnouts. In Oakland’s June 2004 election voter turnout in predominantly Asian precincts was 20% lower than turnout in predominantly white precincts. With most contests being decided in June, minority voters are not having their voices heard.

For those races that require both a June election and a November runoff, administering two elections can cost hundreds of thousands of extra tax dollars -- money that could be better spent on other city services. And holding two elections instead of one is costly to candidates, giving an advantage to candidates that can raise more money, undermining campaign finance reform.

The solution to these problems with Oakland democracy is Measure O. Measure O implements an innovative reform called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) to achieve the worthy goal of electing winners who have a majority of the popular vote -- except we finish in one election in November, when voter turnout is highest.


Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Clay Shentru
( Sunday Oct 22nd, 2006 5:12 AM

A Message to IRV Fans - Look Beyond the Hype

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is touted for its ability to take away the spoiler effect that small parties can have on an election, thereby also taking away the fear of voting for them, and giving a realistic idea of how much support they have.  But it doesn't always live up this promise, and there are vastly better methods that do.

It is ironic that many people believe IRV allows voters "more choices".  IRV has produced two-party domination in all four countries where it has been substantially used; namely Australia, Ireland, Malta, and Fiji. says IRV "promotes a two-party system to the detriment of minor parties and independents."  Ireland's president has been a member of the Fianna Fáil party in all but one seven-year term, when Labour's Mary Robinson won in a phenomenal fluke; so IRV has produced a virtual party monopoly there.  Fiji instituted an IRV-based system for their House of Representatives in 1999.  On 2005 December 21, Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase voiced concerns over their system, and called for consultations on a possible return to plurality.

The 26 countries we know of which use "top-two runoff", on the other hand, have apparently all broken free of two-party duopoly.  So if third parties would like to have a chance of succeeding in single-winner elections, they had better steer clear of IRV, because it is absolute suicide for them.

It is also important to consider the kind of nightmare paradoxes that can occur with IRV.  For instance, consider the following set of ballots:

% of Voters How They Voted
37% Nader > Gore > McCain
31% Gore > McCain > Nader
32% McCain > Gore > Nader

With IRV, Gore is eliminated first, giving 31% of the ballots over to their second choice, McCain.  McCain then wins with 63% of the vote.  But wait!  68% of the voters prefer Gore over McCain!  Imagine the outrage from the Gore and Nader voters if they were to discover that McCain was elected, even though 68% of the voters preferred Gore!  IRV chooses a "wrong winner" because it ignores the second choices of the Nader voters.  So much for the myths that IRV prevents wasted votes and "IRV makes your vote count."

Consider what happens if Nader drops out of the race.  The Nader supporters would vote for Gore as their first choice, and Gore would win.  With Nader in the race, McCain wins.  Nader is a spoiler.  So much for the myth that IRV eliminates spoilers.

In this example, Nader takes first-choice votes away from Gore, thus "splitting" the votes for Gore and causing Gore to be eliminated.  So much for the myth that IRV eliminates vote splitting.

Does IRV eliminate the incentive to vote strategically?  Sorry, that's another myth.  In the example, McCain wins, which is the worst outcome from the Nader voters' viewpoint.  But if a few of those Nader voters strategically vote Gore first, Gore wins, which is a better outcome for those voters.  Thus, strategic voting sometimes pays with IRV, just as it sometimes pays in our current voting system.  Note that strategic voting causes the first-choice vote results to be distorted; in this example, strategic voting reduces the number of first-choice votes for Nader and increases the number for Gore.  So much for the myth that IRV accurately measures the support for third-party candidates.

How about the claim that IRV ensures that the winner is chosen by a majority of the voters?  Unfortunately, that's both false and misleading.  In the example, if most voters vote for their first choice only, no candidate gets a majority of the votes.  Even if most voters indicate a first, second and third choice, it is possible that no candidate gets a majority of the votes, if there are many candidates.  The claim is misleading because there are multiple ways to manipulate the ballots to form "majorities."  In the example, IRV finds that McCain is supported by 63% of the voters.  But it is also true that 63% of the voters prefer Gore over Nader, and 68% prefer Gore over McCain.  Gore is supported by two different majorities.  Why shouldn't Gore be declared the winner?

You might be interested to know that a "Lynn" who returned my message to, told me on the phone that the point of IRV isn't to help third parties to win in the first place.  As she puts it, the point is to take away the fear of voting for them, so that we can get a realistic gauge of voter opinion, and so that we can stop the spoiler effect, as exemplified in the Florida 2000 fiasco.  I explained to her that it would be nice to make sure that third parties are aware of that, but she seemed to think it was obvious.

Let's also think for a moment about the expense associated with implementing IRV.  Many IRV advocates claim that IRV would save money.  But consider this assessment by Princeton math doctorate, Warren D. Smith:

"Election expense will certainly increase by using IRV rather than voting systems which can use present-day plurality-type voting machines not connected together via a computer network. It may be that the cost "decrease" they had in mind was versus plurality with a second runoff election. It is true that a single IRV election is cheaper than two elections (original plus runoff), if all other things are equal . which is the point of the word "instant." However, because most places that require runoff elections only need them rarely, the expense ratio on average is not anywhere near 2-to-1, and hence the expense of switching to IRV would usually exceed the savings for a long time (and considering the need to continually replace machines, perhaps forever)."

Of course, we can compare the individual properties of voting systems ad infinitum, but that's a bit like comparing the engines, tires, and aerodynamics of two race cars.  The ultimate metric we seek to find is simply, when you put them on the race track, which one performs better?  The analogous test for a voting method is called "Bayesian regret".  In lay language, it is simply the avoidable human dissatisfaction brought about through an election process.  A theoretical process that could read the voters' minds, and choose the candidate who would bring about the greatest average happiness would have a Bayesian regret of zero, by definition.  Rigorous experimentation has shown that Range Voting produces about 20% as much Bayesian regret as IRV or plurality, even when voters are extremely strategic instead of honest.  This also shows us that Range Voting gives us as much improvement over plurality and IRV as either of those methods gives over non-democratic random selection of the winner.  This means that Range Voting effectively doubles the happiness brought about by democracy!  This also means that using Range Voting would produce a far greater improvement to our democracy than the total eradication of fraud.  Incidentally, in highly strategic electorates, IRV tends to produce slightly higher Bayesian regret (lower voter satisfaction) than even plurality.  That should be the nail in the coffin of IRV, for anyone who understands the significance of Bayesian regret.

It's time for voters to get educated about the wealth of alternative voting methods out there.  There are better systems than IRV.  Voters who care about choosing the candidate who will bring about the greatest overall satisfaction for society should push for the adoption of Range Voting (  With Range Voting, each voter simply assigns a score (say from 0-9) to each candidate, and the candidate with the highest average score wins.  It's simple and intuitive, and suffers far less harm from the use of strategic ("insincere") voting than other known methods, like plurality and IRV.  It also has the enormous benefit of giving third party supporters a chance to always express their sincere first choice preferences (or put another way, with Range Voting, a vote for Nader is NOT a vote for Bush, as it easily can be with plurality or IRV).

I encourage voters to read more deeply into the facts and myths surrounding election reform.  Not every idea associated with reform is a good one, and IRV happens to be particularly problematic.  There are those who say, "But IRV has so much more momentum than anything else."  Well, global warming has more momentum than global cooling.  Does that mean we should support global warming instead?  We can do better than IRV.  Meaningful, quality democracy requires that we do.

by Steven Hill
Sunday Oct 22nd, 2006 3:49 PM
The post below from a "range voting" advocate is filled with misinsformation and distortions regarding Measure O in Oakland, which will introduce the use of instant runoff voting to elect local offices. For example, the range of voting advocates writes:

"Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is touted for its ability to take away the spoiler effect that small parties can have on an election, thereby also taking away the fear of voting for them, and giving a realistic idea of how much support they have."

This range voting advocates apparently is unaware that elections in Oakland are nonpartisan. The benefits of IRV in Oakland have nothing to do with third parties, spoiling major party candidates, or anything like that. He has set up a "strawman" that does not apply.

Then he postulates an election with the following results:

% of Voters How They Voted
37% Nader > Gore > McCain
31% Gore > McCain > Nader
32% McCain > Gore > Nader

I'm not sure what planet or parallel universe would see Ralph Nader winning 37% of the vote in a three way race with Al Gore and John McCain, but it's certainly not any planet or universe that any of the rest of us live in. That's the interesting thing about all of these critics and advocates of other methods like IRV, they always propose these mathematical "paradoxes" that, while in theory are interesting for mathematicians to doodle around with on their sketch pads, in fact have no basis in reality. In the real world, these sorts of paradoxes rarely if ever manifest themselves. It's also possible that a meteorite will strike the Earth and wipe out life as we know it -- though not probably likely for a few more million years.

This critic assails the argument that IRV will save money. He quotes a Princeton math doctorate, trying to bring a gloss of academic legitimacy but from a Ph.D. student who apparently knows nothing about the costs of voting equipment or election administration. I can tell you for a fact that in San Francisco we already have saved a ton of money by using IRV. We spent $1.6 million for the cost of the IRV upgrade of the voting equipment, plus about another $750,000 for the initial community education. Just in 2005 alone, we saved the cost of a citywide election -- about $3 million -- for the assessor-recorder race, which would have needed a December runoff election without IRV. Not only did we save $3 million, but in a runoff election for a very low-profile assessor-recorder race the voter turnout would have dropped to perhaps single digits (A few years ago, a city attorney runoff which has much more voter interest than assessor-recorder had voter turnout of approximately 13% of eligible voters). So San Francisco taxpayers saved $3 million by not having to set up precincts all over the city for a extremely low turnout election.

On and on and on, this critic's post is filled with substantial distortions and misinformation. His opinion is unfounded on anything we would call facts or reality.

There are other good single-winner systems out there besides IRV. Range voting may be one of them, but it is very untested in public elections anywhere. In any case, I fail to see why certain range voting advocates apparently think they can advance their preferred method by engaging in the age old winner-take-all tactic of slinging mud at what they perceive as their "opponent" -- that is, instant runoff voting. It's just the same old politics by another name.

Steven Hill