The value of IRV
August 30, 2010
Last November, Aspen voters by a scant seven-vote margin backed moving forward with a measure to replace instant runoff voting for city elections.
Accepting this direction, the City Council has put to the voters the question of whether they want to return to the old “delayed runoff” system – the same system that was rejected by 77 percent to 23 percent in 2007 and would double the length of Aspen’s election season, increase election costs, reward candidates with greater access to campaign funds and make it possible for council candidates to win in the first round with only 45 percent of the vote, rather than a majority of 50 percent plus one.
With my brother and his family living in Aspen and my national work as an electoral reform advocate, I’ve followed Aspen’s debate with some surprise – and concern. Despite seemingly endless complaints and the fact that not every worthy candidate can win, the fundamentals of the election went well. Consider that:
• More voters participated than ever before in an Aspen election.
• Every single voter in the mayoral race cast a clear first choice that counted. When the two trailing candidates were eliminated in the instant runoff, every single ballot with a preference between the two front-runners was counted without error in the final round, resulting in a clear majority winner.
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• In the City Council race, the two winners were the candidates who had the most first- and second-choice rankings and who would have defeated every losing candidate when matched against them one-on-one.
Yet overblown criticisms of the elections even affect news coverage. Last week the Aspen Daily News inaccurately reported that voters made errors that affected the mayoral race, while The Aspen Times stated that instant runoff voting was prone to “nonmonotonicity,” without making it clear that it is an absolute non-issue in this fall’s ballot measure because delayed runoffs share the exact same property.
Due to cost, voter turnout disparities and campaign financing, delayed runoffs can be problematic – and instant runoff voting provides an alternate means to uphold majority rule without holding two separate elections. That value explains why IRV has been adopted in a growing number of cities like Oakland, Minneapolis, Telluride and Memphis, is now used to select the “Best Picture” Oscar and will likely be proposed next year in a national referendum in Great Britain.
Good luck in your debate, and don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-270-4616 with any questions.
Takoma Park, Md.