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This is essentially the same article that was posted at http://denver.yourhub.com/Story.aspx?contentid=107610 but with a few footnotes added.

MacKenzie's election reform proposal should use Range Voting

Denver Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie proposed replacing Denver's election procedures with Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). The intent is mainly to eliminate the expensive and troublesome runoff elections that are sometimes used to choose the mayor, auditor, and most city council members. We agree it's a good idea to eliminate the runoffs but recommend Range Voting as a better replacement.

According to current election rules, if no candidate gets 50% of the votes in the May election, a runoff is held about a month later to choose between the top two. Runoff elections are cruel and unusual punishment for everyone. The candidates have probably spent their last dimes campaigning for the first round election; suddenly, they have to raise more money and campaign for another month. The candidates are exhausted. The voters are exhausted! The election department has to scramble to determine which races need runoffs, print new ballots, and prepare and conduct the runoff election. And after all that, voter turnout for the runoffs is generally poor.

MacKenzie's proposal eliminates the need for runoffs by asking voters to rank the candidates (1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd...). The ballots are then counted by the IRV method to choose the winner. No separate runoff election is needed.

We recommend Range Voting instead: Voters are asked to give each candidate a score in a range of, say, 0 to 10; the one with the highest average score wins. (Again, no runoff needed.)

We do not recommend simply eliminating the runoff and reverting to the "vote for one" method (called Plurality Voting). That can yield "vote splitting" election fiascos like Florida 2000.

The most obvious advantage of Range Voting over IRV is that it gives voters more freedom of expression. With IRV you might rank three candidates

Favorite: 1st choice      Middling: 2nd     Worst: 3rd.

But, do you like Middling a lot or a little? With IRV ballots, you can't say, and no one can tell by looking at your ballot. With Range Voting, you can give scores (ratings) to the candidates, e.g.
Favorite: 10      Middling: 5     Worst: 0.

would indicate that Middling was indeed somewhere in the middle. But, if you like Middling almost as much as Favorite, you can score Middling 9. You can even give a score of 10 to both Middling and Favorite, if you want to help Middling win as much as possible. With IRV, if you marked Favorite and Middling as tied for 1st place, your ballot would be discarded. That's one reason San Francisco, when it adopted IRV in November 2004, experienced seven times more "spoiled ballots."

With IRV, suppose you fear Worst is most likely to win – but Middling might win if some of those preferring Favorite would vote Middling 1st. Many people would thus vote for the "lesser of two evils" Middling,1 who might indeed win as a result. Unfortunately, such "strategic" voting causes the election results to under-represent the actual support for Favorite. Favorite could get discouraged and not run again. With Range Voting, there's never any strategic reason not to score Favorite maximum.

Range Voting is fully compatible with all existing voting machines, so Denver could use it in the May 2007 municipal elections with the existing equipment. But most voting machines and software don't properly check and count IRV ballots. In the San Francisco election, vote counting software glitches delayed reporting preliminary results.2 Denver's voting machines are not expected to handle IRV by May 2007.

We urge the Denver City Council to create a ballot measure to be voted on in November 2006, to change the City Charter to mandate Range Voting in Denver municipal elections, beginning with the May 2007 election. 3

By adopting Range Voting, Denver can eliminate its expensive runoff elections, make excellent choices of winning candidates, and perhaps most important of all, serve as an example for others to follow, leading to better elections throughout the USA.

Jan Kok and Dr. Warren D. Smith, Co-founders,
Center for Range Voting

More info:
http://irvdenver.org/docs/overview.pdf Denver Councilwoman MacKenzie's voting reform proposal.

  1. Note that if Middling leased a pair of plant-eating beetles to someone, he would be the "lessor of two weevils." - JK. ^

  2. /SanFranDelay.html San Francisco IRV problems. ^

  3. According to MacKenzie: "It has to pass on final consideration by August 28. Counting backward, that means that it has to be on first reading (published) by August 21. Consequently, the actual bill has to be filed in final form by noon on August 17. Because it will be controversial, we shouldn't eliminate any steps, so it must be considered in committee no later than August 8. And even that will seem rushed to people -- and you don't want to give Councilmembers the "out" of rejecting the idea because there hasn't been time to appropriately consider it. Ideally we would have the whole month of July to consider it in committee and lobby Council members once specific language is determined. Kathleen MacKenzie" ^

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