Stick with IRV
October 21, 2010
In the Oct. 3 issue of the Aspen Times Weekly, the cover story relates the terrible mess that resulted from Aspen introducing IRV in the last election cycle. In the upcoming vote on IRV, I hope Aspen voters will distinguish between a good idea (IRV or what is also called Rank Order Voting) and an inept implementation of an otherwise reliable voting method. The citizens of San Francisco and Cambridge, Mass., have used IRV successfully for many years. The system is reliable and easy to use when implemented competently. Unfortunately this did not happen in Aspen. The comment in the ATW article that IRV does not lend itself to a two-seat race is simply wrong. The ballot counting method in which the last place candidates are declared eliminated in a sequential fashion is effective for a one-seat or multiple-seat race. It is necessary to specify sensible procedures for handling special cases which occur rarely but the method is sound.
Why is IRV a good idea? Removing the need for a run-off election is only one of its benefits and possibly the least important benefit. The Aspen Times Weekly article does not mention the primary reasons why other municipalities have adopted Rank Order Voting. When there is a contest between three popular candidates, such as two progressives and one conservative or one progressive and two conservatives, the standard voting procedure can produce an outcome in which the candidate favored by a majority of the voters is defeated when no run-off election is held or eliminated from the subsequent run-off election.
Rank Order Voting produces a winner who is endorsed by a majority of the voters. A good local example is the race between Kathleen Curry, an independent, and the winners of the Republican and Democratic primaries. If Curry and the Democratic candidate split the progressive vote, the likely winner will be the Republican candidate. With Rank Order Voting, the winner would be the candidate that is endorsed by a majority of the voters. In our local example, this would likely be Curry or the Democratic candidate.
A second benefit of Rank Order Voting is its effect on negative advertising and attack campaigns. When there are more than two candidates and Rank Order Voting is employed, any candidate who unfairly attacks an opponent will seriously decrease the likelihood that supporters of that candidate will assign their second place vote to the attacker. Therefore, negative campaigning with Rank Order Voting is counterproductive. Wouldn’t it be nice if campaigns focused on positive proposals by each candidate rather than each candidate slinging mud at the others?
Voters will be doing the community a favor by retaining IRV voting in Aspen. The implementation problems can be rectified.
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