Peter Callaghan’s column and our editorial earlier this week pointed out some of the complications of switching to ranked choice voting for countywide races in Pierce County. This prompted a suggestion from an online reader in San Francisco, which uses RCV in municipal elections.
Instant Runoff Voting (or rather its simplified form, ambiguously named “Ranked Choice Voting”) has barely hit the scene in Pierce County, and already the ensuing headaches are rearing their heads.
One is reminded of Scotland’s recent election fiasco upon rolling out IRV, in which 1 out of every 10 ballots was ruled invalid. San Francisco had a similar experience, seeing a seven fold increase in their rate of ballot spoilage. This pervasive trend is due to IRV’s inherent complexity. This is ironic, because far superior election methods exist which are actually much simpler.
Consider the simplest form of Range Voting, called Approval Voting. With this method voters use ordinary ballots, but may vote for as many candidates as they like. All ballots still have equal power, because a non-vote has the equal and opposite effect of a vote. The “most approved” candidate wins.
This method is astoundingly simple, and free of the multitude of pathologies which plague IRV. It actually reduces spoiled ballots, and eliminates the third-party “spoiler” effect that IRV merely reduces. And it objectively picks better winners, as judged by an economic metric called “social utility efficiency” – meaning that all voters would benefit from its adoption. And did I mention it also eliminates runoff elections, just like IRV?
It may well be too late for Pierce County, as I doubt the voters would dare to stomach another change to their voting method. And that highlights the larger issue here. IRV is the perfect foil for better democracy. It’s a fake fix, that merely impedes real progress. Let us hope that Pierce County’s neighbors to the north will take this as a warning sign, and push for the use of Range Voting, or its simplified form Approval Voting. Plurality voting is horrendously flawed, but IRV is not the answer.
San Francisco, CA