Six reasons to support IRV = more IRV falsehoods

The following is a response I wrote in response to this op-ed by Maine representative Dick Woodbury.

In his recent op-ed, Dick Woodbury says discusses six reasons it’s time for instant runoff voting in Maine. Unfortunately almost every claim is false.

Consider the 2009 IRV mayoral race in Burlington, VT. The Progressive candidate won, despite a majority of voters favoring the Democrat to the Progressive. But remove the Republican spoiler from consideration and re-tally the ballots, and the Democrat wins. So much for Mr. Woodbury's claim that "there is no such thing as a spoiler candidate" with IRV.

Republican voters who preferred the Democrat to the Progressive were punished for supporting their favorite candidate. Doing so caused the Progressive to win. Had even a small number of them strategically ranked the Democrat in first place, then the Democrat would have won, giving them their second choice instead of their third choice. So much for Mr. Woodbury's claim that "voters can cast their vote for a preferred candidate without the strategic dilemma of potentially helping a candidate they oppose."

Finally, we're told that IRV is "exactly like an actual run-off election." Tell that to San Francisco supervisor Malia Cohen, who was elected in the 20th round in her 2010 IRV race. She had the third highest first-place votes, meaning that she would not have even made it to the second and final round of a traditional delayed runoff.

The ranked voting proposal does have some merit. It likely would have elected independent Eliot Cutler in the 2014 gubernatorial race, who was preferred by sizable majorities against his two major party rivals. However, Mr. Woodbury unfortunately undermines his case by demonstrating serious misunderstandings of the the very reform he's advocating.

Clay Shentrup
Berkeley, CA
Co-founder, The Center for Election Science


Matthias Bendewald said...

Your analysis is correct, but might sound a bit harsh. While the points 1, 2 and 3 are incorrect, there is some "partial truth" in each of the points. It will not work out as IRV supporters expect. At least they correctly argue that it is an improvement over plurality voting - which is true!
Points 4 to 6 are only considering indirect consequences and thus can't be directly discussed as wrong or right.

Clay Shentrup said...


I agree there are some partial truths. And certainly this would be an improvement over the present system.

Nevertheless, the piece contains blatant falsehoods that I've been writing about for almost nine years. I spoke with Woodbury on January 9, 2013, and then followed up with an email which went over IRV in detail, and included this section:

Specifically, IRV can elect X even if Y was preferred by a majority of voters to X and Y got more first-place rankings than X. Proof here:

So Dick clearly knows better, and yet chooses to repeat these blatantly false IRV talking points. This is astonishing to me. It's what I expect from someone like Karl Rove. It's not what I expect from a "reformer".

Matthias Bendewald said...

Okay, well, that leaves 3 options:

a. he did not read your mail (spam-filter?)
b. he did not understand your mail
c. he just ignores facts and continues to spread falsehoods

cases b and c would be nothing that I would expect from a "reformer"...

Clay Shentrup said...


As I said, I spoke with Woodbury on the phone. We also had email exchanges.

But regardless, it would still be reckless for him to champion a complex electoral change without studying it for 15 minutes on Wikipedia. We are talking here about incredibly basic entry-level knowledge. I didn't even get into moderately complex issues like monotonicity, or advanced topics like Bayesian regret.

This is the pattern I have observed for the nearly nine years I've been involved in social choice theory. IRV proponents never grasp basic