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The consequences of IRV

Dear Editor:

If you supported Michael Behrendt for council and voted for him as your FIRST choice, you may have contributed to him losing the race to Torre! Yes, it’s true for about 75 of his supporters. It’s one of those bizarre consequences possible with IRV.

If Michael had asked about 75 of his supporters to rank Jack as No. 1 choice and lower Michael’s ranking to No. 2, yes, Michael would be taking office next week. Instead, Derek and Torre deserve our congratulations, and indeed, are the two highest No. 1- and No. 2-ranked vote getters, making their victories rather logical. Mick, of course, received the greatest number of first-place votes in the mayor’s race. I am aware of no one who has had any interest in challenging the results of any of the races.

Now that the statutory period has passed for any possible contest, it seems to be the appropriate time to review how IRV worked, without fear of upsetting the results.

Whether you were a Michael, Jack or Torre supporter it has to be a bit disconcerting to know that the order in which you ranked your favorite might have hurt him instead of helping him get elected. IRV contains mysterious anomalies for us non-mathematicians, which, as demonstrated, can happen in real life. This “Michael effect,” I’ll call it, is one of the side effects of “non-monotonicity.” Apparently, the larger the field of candidates, the greater the probability of puzzling outcomes from seemingly minor choices in ranking the candidates.

Did the council know of such possibilities when adopting IRV? In their rush to adopt a IRV system, non-monotonicity was passed off as “rare,” or an acceptable risk as “no system is perfect.” Were voters properly informed as to the risk? Ask Michael’s supporters, who ranked him first instead of second, thinking that they were definitely helping him get elected.

I have posted a review of alternative election results, including the “Michael effect,” showing some what-if scenarios on http://www.theredant.com. (Please note that this particular result occurs only if 71 to 79 of Michael’s supporters had made those rankings. Other puzzling, but realistic scenarios were possible as well, which can be demonstrated.) If you are a skeptic, there are election mathematicians’ papers posted on The Red Ant website which explain the “monotone violation” and other such “pathologies” of IRV.

Between this effect and the “Cambridge” software error resulting in the city’s published “recount” last week, there seems enough reason to question the merits of IRV versus traditional elections. Fortunately, council has promised a work session to review IRV. I will further educate myself on IRV, with the expectation of recommending a return to a two-stage system to restore voter confidence, and the ability to have a focused, issue-oriented campaign when the field of candidates is narrowed.

Perhaps some form of ranked choice voting is appropriate for narrowing that field before the final election. That will merit some study.

Marilyn Marks

Aspen


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