The Feud over the 2009 Burlington Mayoral Election

In March 2009, Burlington Vermont used a non-traditional system of voting—Instant Runoff Voting—to select its mayor. The voters returned the incumbent, Progressive Bob Kiss, to the mayor’s office and, in so doing, set off a surprisingly fierce debate among advocates for voting reform. Some tout the Burlington results as a success for Instant Runoff Voting, while others cite them as evidence of its fundamental flaws.

In this post, I will try to settle one part of this debate: whether the Burlington results display a voting pathology known as non-monotonicity. That sounds geeky—ok, it is geeky—but it boils down to a simple question: could a candidate lose an election if voters showed more enthusiasm for him or, equally perversely, win an election if voters showed less enthusiasm?

Several readers asked me to weigh in on this debate after my previous post on alternative voting systems (check out the comments on that post if you want to get a flavor of the debate). I should state from the outset that I am not an expert on voting systems, but I am a card-carrying math and economics geek and enjoy mediating interesting debates, so I gave it my best shot. I reached three main conclusions:

  • The Burlington results provide a fascinating case study in American voting for reasons that have nothing to do with non-monotonicity. In what was effectively a three-way race, Instant Runoff Voting (henceforth IRV) appears to have chosen a better winner than our usual system, plurality voting. That’s great news for IRV except for one thing: it failed to choose an even better winner. IRV thus appears to have elected the “wrong” candidate, but traditional voting would have elected an even “wronger” candidate. That weird result illustrates how challenging it can be to design a democratic voting system.
  • The debate about non-monotonicity–which pales in importance next to the larger issues posed by the Burlington results–confuses technical semantics and electoral substance. The Burlington results do illustrate the possibility for non-monotonicity in real world voting data, as IRV critics claim. But, as IRV proponents emphasize, that potential had no effect on the election outcome.
  • The debate among voting reformers would be more fruitful if they adopted some new lingo to distinguish between the potential for non-monotonicity and its actual impact. Inspired by the world of accounting, my suggestion is to distinguish between material non-monotonicity, in which it affected an election outcome, and immaterial non-monotonicity, in which it didn’t. The Burlington election results display the immaterial variety. (Suggestions welcome for better ways of saying this.)

For further details in a handy-if-lengthy Q&A format, keep on reading.

How does Instant Runoff Voting differ from traditional voting?

In most U.S. elections, each voter casts a vote for a single candidate, and the winner is the candidate with the most votes. This approach is often called plurality voting, because candidates need a plurality of the votes, not a majority, to get elected.

In IRV, each voter is asked to rank all the candidates. If no candidate wins a majority of the first-place votes, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped from the race, and his or her votes are redistributed based on those voters’ second-place preferences. The votes are then tallied again—that’s the instant runoff part—and the process repeats until one candidate has a majority of the votes.

What happened in Burlington’s mayoral election in 2009?

This election was effectively a three-way race between Progressive Bob Kiss (the incumbent), Democrat Andy Montroll, and Republican Kurt Wright. After other, minor candidates had fallen by the wayside, the first place votes for these three were: Progressive (34%), Democrat (29%), and Republican (37%). None of the candidates had a majority, so the lowest vote-getter, Democrat Montroll, was dropped from the race. His voters were then reallocated to whomever they ranked next on their ballot. The votes in this final run-off were Progressive (49%) and Republican (46%), so the Progressive Bob Kiss was returned to office. [In calculating those percentages, I used the total number of voters who voted for at least one of the three candidates; the missing 5% in the final round are voters who ranked the Democrat first among the candidates, but did not rank the other two.]

Why do you say that IRV did better than traditional voting?

If you take the votes at face value, they suggest that a plurality race among the three candidates would have elected the Republican (his 37% would beat the 34% and the 29% of the other two candidates). But the voter rankings show that the Republican was the least popular of the three candidates. As noted above, the Progressive beat the Republican in the final head-to-head race by 49% to 46%. A similar head-to-head race shows the Democrat beating the Republican by 52% to 42%. For that reason, both IRV proponents and IRV detractors believe that IRV did better than plurality voting in this election.

That conclusion comes with a major caveat, however: it presumes that everyone would have behaved the same way in a plurality race. In reality, some voters might have voted differently, some might have stayed home, some non-voters might have turned out, and the candidates might have campaigned differently. For all those reasons, there is no way to be sure what would have happened with plurality voting. Nonetheless, the votes that were cast suggest an appreciable risk that plurality voting could have elected the least popular candidate in the race.

Why do you say that IRV nevertheless elected the “wrong” candidate?

In a head-to-head race, the votes suggest that the Democrat would have beaten the Progressive by a margin of 46% to 39%. Subject to the same caveat that voter and candidate behavior might have been different, the votes thus suggest that voters preferred the Democrat to both the Progressive and the Republican. Yet the Democrat finished third in the IRV results.

The Burlington results thus illustrate one of the most difficult challenges for a democratic voting system. How should you evaluate votes when you have three candidates, one of whom tends to be the second choice for a large number of voters? In this case, the Democrat Andy Montroll was clearly the man in the middle. He was the second choice of 85% of the voters who ranked the Progressive first (and expressed a second preference) and of 75% of voters who ranked the Republican first (and expressed a second preference). As a result, he would beat either of those candidates in a head-to-head race. His first-place support was sufficiently low, however, that he didn’t make it to the final runoff under IRV, and it appears he would have lost a plurality race.

That seemingly anomalous result is one of the reasons that some voting reformers prefer approaches such as Range Voting rather than IRV. However, Range Voting is not without its own potential flaws. (You can explore this debate over at RangeVoting [IRV critics] and FairVote [IRV proponents]).

What do monotonic and non-monotonic mean?

An election system is said to be monotonic if a candidate cannot be harmed (i.e., flip from winning to losing) if he “is raised on some ballots without changing the relative orders of the other candidates.” This idea also runs in reverse: an election system is monotonic if a candidate cannot be helped (i.e., flip from losing to winning) if he is lowered on some ballots without changing the relative orders of the other candidates.

If an election system fails this criterion, it is said to be non-monotonic. It is easy to show that IRV can be non-monotonic (see, e.g., here).

Was the Burlington mayor’s election non-monotonic?

Technically, this is a trick question. Monotonicity (and, therefore, non-monotonicity) is a characteristic of a voting system or a specific pair of elections. For that reason, one cannot describe a single election as monotonic or non-monotonic. Instead, you have to analyze whether a non-monotonic result could occur if some set of voters appropriately changed their votes.

OK. So can you find a group of voters who, if they increased their support for the winner would actually cause him to lose?

Yes. As RangeVoting documents, if about 750 voters who ranked the Republican first decided instead to rank the Progressive first, that could cause the Progressive to lose. Why? Because it would change who the Progressive faced in the final run-off. Instead of beating the Republican, he would have lost to the Democrat. (See the RangeVoting analysis for some details I am skimming over.)

The Burlington election results thus show the potential for non-monotonicity.

Did this affect the election outcome?

No. RangeVoting’s analysis shows that non-monotonicity could change the outcome of a hypothetical future race in which certain voters increased support for the Progressive candidate. However, as FairVote documents it is not possible to find any group of voters who could have gotten a preferred candidate elected by ranking him lower on their ballots.

The votes thus displayed the potential for non-monotonicity, but that had no effect on the election outcome.

That tells me that much of the battle over non-monotonicity in the Burlington election is semantic rather than substantive. To clear things up, I think voting reformers need some additional lingo that would (a) allow them to apply the concept of non-monotonicity to individual elections and (b) distinguish between cases when it matters and when it doesn’t.

How would you adapt the term monotonicity to apply to a single election?

My proposal is to distinguish three possibilities for an election outcome:

  • Materially non-monotonic: The votes show that non-monotonicity affected the election outcome.
  • Immaterially non-monotonic: The votes display the potential for non-monotonicity, but it did not affect the election outcome.
  • Monotonic: Neither materially nor immaterially non-monotonic.

To judge whether non-monotonicity affected the election outcome, you would examine whether one of the non-winning candidates would have won if some group of voters had ranked him lower on their ballots. If that’s true, it means those voters would have done better to rank that candidate lower. That demonstrates that the non-monotonicity mattered.

If that’s not true, you would examine whether the winning candidate would lose if some group of voters had ranked him higher on their ballots. If so, that demonstrates that the votes allow non-monotonicity, but it didn’t matter in this case.

In a three-way race, any non-monotonic pair of elections has one member that is material and one that is immaterial.

(Note to voting theorists: I think these definitions are exhaustive and mutually exclusive for a three-candidate race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if things are more complicated with more candidates. Also, apologies in advance if you have already come up with names for these concepts. I didn’t encounter any in my brief research of this topic — other than RangeVoting using the concepts of Criterion I and Criterion II— but I wouldn’t be surprised if they exist. If so, you should encourage their use by the folks who are debating the Burlington results.)

How then would you describe the 2009 mayoral race in Burlington?

The election outcome displayed immaterial non-monotonicity.

What does the existence of immaterial non-monotonicity tell us about the likelihood of material non-monotonicity?

Not much. In the Burlington election, the hypothesized pattern of vote changes would have to be very specific to flip the outcome from the Progressive to the Democrat. If you take the actual votes as your starting point, the odds are very small that raising the ranking of the Progressive on a randomly selected group of ballots would cause him to lose. In other words, it’s unlikely that this particular election outcome will transform into a materially non-monotonic one.

But that, in turn, tells us little about the broader likelihood of material non-monotonicity. What we really need are complete data from more IRV elections. Examples of materially non-monotonic elections would be much more troubling for IRV than examples (like Burlington 2009) of immaterially non-monotonic elections.

Note: In analyzing the Burlington 2009 results, I used the vote tabulations reported by RangeVoting.org. Burlington also used IRV in 2006 without incident. Following the 2009 election, however, it eliminated IRV. Not surprisingly, voting reformers also dispute why Burlington made that decision.

19 thoughts on “The Feud over the 2009 Burlington Mayoral Election”

  1. A nice scratch of the surface of what happened in Burlington.

    However, this election proved many of the advertised benefits of IRV do not exist.

    As a visual learner, I like the videos which describes the Burlington election.

    Your report talks about the election not picking the “best” candidate as seen in a head-to-head race. A great video that show this is seen here:

    In addition, the claim by IRV salesmen that you can “vote your conscience” is also thrown out the window in the Burlington example as show here. If you vote your conscience, the wrong candidate can win:

    What is neglected in this report is that IRV did not replace plurality voting in Burlington. While plurality has its challenges, as all voting system do, Burlington employed a two round run-off, provided the candidate did not receive 45% of the vote. IN many jurisdictions, it is 50% +1 – a majority. So, in the example, Kiss and Wright would have had a chance to debate the issues, mano y mano, and we would have been able to see who Wright endorsed in the run-off. A further examination of the candidates would not necessarily made the same outcome of a shotgun IRV decision.

    Burlington repealed IRV in 2010, with every ward rejecting IRV by 20% or more from the last election.

    http://repealirv.blogspot.com/2010/02/burlington-model-of-failed-irv.html

    1. A few quick points and corrections…
      1. The “best” candidate (Montroll who would have won in any head-to-head) , would also have lost under standard plurality rules and under traditional runoff elections, because he didn’t have enough first choices to make it into any runoff. It is debatable whether the compromise third-place candidate is necessarily the best winner. Using a Condorcet voting rule like that would also require the election of a candidate with no first choices at all, who was merely an unknown “anybody-but” alternative to the two popular candidates.

      2. IRV did replace plurality rules…in that a candidate could win with as little as 40% under the old charter (not 45%) without a runoff.

      3. It is extremely misleading to state “Burlington repealed IRV in 2010, with every ward rejecting IRV by 20% or more from the last election.” In fact, a majority of voters in five of the city’s seven wards voted to keep IRV and against its repeal. The tricky wording that avoids making the original statement an outright lie is that the margin of the majority t in FAVOR of IRV was smaller in every ward than when IRV was initially adopted.

  2. Donald,

    As you correctly point out, non-monotonicity is about a PAIR of elections. For instance, say that X DOES NOT win election 1. Then say that election 2 is exactly like election 1, except that X has been ranked LOWER on some of the ballots — yet X then DOES win election 2. That means that election 1 and election 2 are BOTH non-monotonic, as the result sways in the opposite direction of the voters.

    Burlington’s last IRV election was like election 2. In other words, Kiss WON by being ranked too LOW. That election was non-monotonic.

    This notion of “material” and “immaterial” non-monotonicity is a completely meaningless fabrication by you and FairVote. Based on the ACTUAL DEFINITION of non-monotonicity, the Burlington election was unquestionably non-monotonic.

    “Inspired by the world of accounting, my suggestion is to distinguish between material non-monotonicity, in which it affected an election outcome, and immaterial non-monotonicity, in which it didn’t.”

    My suggestion for you is to learn what monotonicity means.

    clay@brokenladder.com

  3. The feud continues, I guess.

    Just a few points:

    * None of this had any bearing on the vote in Burlington this year. If Republican Kurt Wright had won the instant runoff last year, as he nearly did, he also would not have been the Condorcet winner, and Clay could still be arguing there was a nonmontonic result. And there wouldn’t have been a peep about a repeal.

    * Burlington’s new system would produce the same results — e.g., going to a runoff with a 40% victory threshold only makes it more likely to get a nonmonotonic result. Note that the key backers of the repeal of IRV are now fighting setting the victory threshold at 50% – that’s because they want their favorite candidate to be able to win with 40%, knowing that’s going to be easier for him than getting 50% (e.g, they seem to think he needs “spoilers” to win, even though clearly he almost won last year with a majority threshold).

    * Clay thinks that his preferred reforms (approval voting and range voting) would have elected Montroll, but I think that’s highly unlikely. The only system that would have done so is a Condorcet system, meaning of course one that’s designed to achieve that result.

    * If you read literature on nonmonotonicity from before range voting advocates came along, it typically used this kind of formulation: “Is there a subset of voters in V who can change c from a loser to a winner by lowering c in their preferences?”

    That’s a direct quote from an important article called “Single Transferable Vote Resists Strategic Voting” by Bartholdi and Orlin [http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:3HPgjaNCjeIJ:citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download%3Fdoi%3D10.1.1.127.97%26rep%3Drep1%26type%3Dpdf+non-monotonicity,+voting&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESgqAQjaDOxDlQz5Sz8loU5VN0AyCGu7M1ishRVpgbi8WP0VWyogkll0PRU_0r0HPtV86S65otNF5NCmU85VwKBac_V577DABRt186mSzf4bRoEiKCujLTZN5_88UPLjl9rSJw4X&sig=AHIEtbSvtuV913DFuiu5TMRbdnIqr41ftA ] that shows how nonmonotonicity is immaterial from a strategic voting perspective regardless of how you define it. Note that the authors don’t have an “or” clause that would say “Is there a subset of voters in V who can change c from a winner to a loser by raising c in their preferences.”

    Clay wants both formulations to be nonmonotonic, perhaps because that makes it seem like you have “topsy turvy results” more often — every time there was a Condorcet candidate who didn’t win. But then it’s just saying another way of saying “oh, the Condorcet candidate didn’t win.”

    Bottom line for me on the Burlington nonmonotoncity debate is: 1) no loser could have turned themselves into a winner by getting fewer votes; 2) this didn’t have anything to do with the repeal.

    1. Rob Richie,

      You fail both to understand the DEFINITION of non-monotonicity, as well as to understand the major PROBLEM with non-monotonicity.

      The usage of the term “monotonicity” in elections comes from its use in mathematics, in which a function is said to be “monotonic” if a decrease or increase in x CANNOT have the OPPOSITE effect on y.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monotonic_function

      IRV is NON-monotonic because there are cases where LOWERING a candidate on some ballots can change that candidate into a WINNER, as well as cases where LIFTING a candidate on some ballots can change that candidate into a LOSER. And, as Warren Smith recently pointed out, some IRV elections can exhibit BOTH simultaneously.
      Example: http://scorevoting.net/CompleteIdioticIRV.html

      Your assertion that the Burlington election wasn’t monotonic, but it WOULD have been monotonic if voters had ranked Kiss higher (causing him to lose), demonstrates a key misunderstanding. Monotonicity isn’t about a SINGLE election, but rather a PAIR of elections, in which the result varies in the opposite direction as their respective ballots. BOTH elections (the one that DID happen and the hypothetical alternate) are “non-monotonic”. It makes no sense to say that one election was non-monotonic and the other wasn’t. The PAIR is non-monotonic.

      THE PROBLEM with non-monotonicity is:

      Those voters get the OPPOSITE of what they wanted. In Burlington, for instance, some of the voters caused Kiss to WIN by ranking him too LOW. Alternatively stated: for any non-monotonic pair of elections, we know with 100% mathematical certainty that the wrong candidate was elected in AT LEAST one of those two elections.

      You routinely defend monotonicity against unrelated “fake” problems that we do not even bring up, to make it seem like you’re winning an argument that we’re NOT EVEN HAVING, while you ignore the real argument.

      For instance, in this response you start by (apparently) assuring us that IRV’s non-monotonicity problem had nothing to do with its repeal.

      Then further down you assert that “nonmonotonicity is immaterial from a strategic voting perspective regardless of how you define it.”

      Note: neither of these have ANYTHING TO DO with the ACTUAL problem of electing the wrong candidate.

      Second note: actually, both of these claims seem to be FALSE anyway. Regarding the part non-monotonicity played in IRV’s repeal, note that the second of the three major reasons to repeal IRV, given at RepealIrv.org is, “IRV has a very real potential to produce perverse outcomes or voting paradoxes..”

      And the Burlington election is an excellent example of IRV’s severe susceptibility to tactical exaggeration of the frontrunners (in liberal Burlington, that would be the Progressive and the Democrat). This is explained in detail here:
      http://www.electology.org/analysis/irv-plurality

      “going to a runoff with a 40% victory threshold only makes it more likely to get a nonmonotonic result.”

      What calculations are you basing that on? This sounds typical of the statements you commonly make up off the top of your head, that MIGHT be true but just as easily might not be.

      1. Correction: “Your assertion that the Burlington election wasn’t monotonic, but it WOULD have been monotonic if voters had ranked Kiss higher..”

        I meant “non-monotonic”, but “wasn’t non-monotonic” sounds a little weird.

  4. I always thought that a robust two-party system was the best solution, and this whole discussion confirms that belief.

    1. Cornelia Strawser,

      A robust two-party system is only best if it’s what voters actually want, by definition. It seems pretty clear that the USA’s two-party domination is NOT a reflection of voter preferences, but rather a reflection of voter STRATEGY, as a result of the flawed voting method we use.

      That is, there may be an independent or third party candidate whom a majority of voters prefer to BOTH the Democrat and the Republican, but if they feel he has little chance of winning, and if some of them vote tactically on that basis, they will continue to get the Democrat or the Republican, in spite of what they really want.

      Score Voting and Approval Voting are superior because they pass the Favorite Betrayal Criterion. That means that if Smith is your favorite candidate, you have no reason not to give Smith the strongest support possible.

      If you implement e.g. Approval Voting, and you still have two-party domination, at least you have confidence that it’s because it’s what the voters really wanted.

      Moreover, two-party domination does have some inherent problems. For every issue that can be roughly divided into two “sides”, one major party generally takes one side of the issue, and the other major party takes the other side. So if I tell you I’m pro-life, you can be fairly confident I’m also in favor of low taxes, and that I supported the Iraq War. Or if I tell you I believe in decriminalization of most narcotics, you can safely assume I’m in favor of public health care.

      But these things inherently have nothing to do with each other. If I take a Republican-ish position on taxes and a Democrat-ish position on social issues (e.g. abortion, gay rights), then I really have no party to turn to. And in fact, if the electorate itself is divided in that way, then a more representative candidate cannot even get elected, because he can’t win the nomination of either party, and if he runs as an independent, voters won’t generally support him because they think he can’t win.

      So two-party domination is not simply an unalloyed good.

    2. Hi there, Cornelia.

      The question is, how does one have a robust system? Allowing competition fosters it. IRV and other voting methods force major parties to be more accountable. As this point, every other major well0established has stronger third parties than we do.

      1. I fail to see how IRV makes major parties more accountable. The tactic with IRV is to rank your favorite major party candidate in first place, even if that’s not your overall favorite. E.g. you prefer Nader, Gore, Bush, but tactically you have an incentive to rank Gore in first place.

        Score Voting and Approval Voting don’t have this problem because they pass the Favorite Betrayal Criterion.

        Detailed explanation:
        http://www.electology.org/analysis/irv-plurality

        This makes yet another claim by you, lacking any evidence whatsoever.

      2. Clay — No one votes the way you think they would with instant runoff voting.

        See, here’s the thing. IRV actually is really used. We have lots of elections to look at. It’s absurd for to suggest that this is how people “should” vote with IRV when that’s actually not how people vote with it — and it flies against all the research about IRV being resistant to tactical voting in real elections.

        At the same time, you dismiss evidence from the very limited use of approval/score voting that people will vote tactically.

        But hey, we’ve been around this mad loop before,.

  5. Well Burlington Vermont voters certainly disliked IRV after using it two times in mayoral contests and ditched it.

    The average voter won’t pay attention to words like monotonicity, but they will pay attention to words like “Kiss would not have won without IRV” or “IRV serves as incumbent protection”.

    They get that.

    1. But the words you propose are not true. The voter preferences on the ballots show that if the same voters turned out for a separate runoff election (which would have occurred under the non-IRV charter), that Kiss would still have won. In a runoff, the Democrat in third place would have been eliminated, and the final match up would again be between Kiss and the Republican Wright. According to the ballot data, more voters preferred Kiss than Wright. IRV closely replicated what would have happened under a traditional runoff, except it avoided the added cost and possibly lower turnout of a separate runoff election. Of course, it is possible that if there was a bitter mud-slinging campaign that enough Democrats would stay home and sit out the runoff that Wright might have won…we can’t know for certain what would have happened to voter turnout. But it is unfair to assert that Kiss only won because of IRV, since the data indicate he would have won any way.

      Terry Bouricius

  6. Burlington Voters Speak out about Instant Runoff Voting

    Burlington VT voters repeal

    Here’s how the IRV vote broke down by ward
    Ward 1: 405 keep, 264 repeal
    Ward 2: 428 keep, 185 repeal
    Ward 3: 510 keep, 292 repeal
    Ward 4: 1203 repeal, 606 keep
    Ward 5: 793 keep, 545 repeal
    Ward 6: 490 keep, 477 repeal
    Ward 7: 1006 repeal, 437 keep

    http://repealirv.blogspot.com/

  7. “Clay — No one votes the way you think they would with instant runoff voting.”

    Actually, they DO. We know, because IRV has been used since 1918 in Australia, for instance.

    http://scorevoting.net/AustralianPol.html
    http://scorevoting.net/Aus07.html

    The “How to Vote” cards appear to be tactically exaggerated. For instance, the NatLibs advise their (conservative) constituents to rank Labor lower than the (even more liberal) Green Party. That would be like Republicans telling their supporters to rank the Democrats even lower than the Greens. It would appear to be clearly insincere, and tactical.

    I have even personally placed phone calls to Australian political activists, such as members of their Green Party, and they confirm that there is widespread tactical exaggeration. One guy said one of the calls he most often receives essentially goes, “why should I waste my vote on the Green Party, even if I really do prefer them to Labor?”
    http://groups.google.com/group/electionsciencefoundation/browse_thread/thread/ae90f884ea21383c

    “See, here’s the thing. IRV actually is really used. We have lots of elections to look at. It’s absurd for to suggest that this is how people “should” vote with IRV when that’s actually not how people vote with it”

    Oh yes they do, and I just cited proof from hundreds of RECENT real elections.

    “At the same time, you dismiss evidence from the very limited use of approval/score voting that people will vote tactically.”

    The evidence on Score and Approval Voting, albeit limited, says precisely the OPPOSITE. Your primary criticism in this regard, that Score and Approval users will just “bullet vote” for their favorite candidate and no one else, has been worse with *IRV*.
    http://scorevoting.net/BulletVoting.html

    “But hey, we’ve been around this mad loop before.”

    Yes, you make various misleading and even outright false claims, then we cite actual scientific evidence refuting you, then you just dash off and make the same arguments to a new audience. Over and over again.

  8. Clay. You miss the point about Australia. I’m talking about first choices, which is where this thread started. The major parties not wanting to help the other major parties isn’t a stunning tactical decision.

    But on first choices, show me evidence of voters deciding not to vote for their sincere first choice based on your convoluted argument on incentives. Your argument is quite different from one based on some voters saying “is it really safe to vote for you when I really want to make sure [X major party] doesnt’ win?” Tha would be exactly the same with runoffs, and the small party just has to make it clear.

    But they must generally be doing a good job with most of their potential backers. I assume you’ll grant that the senate use of proportional represnentation doesn’t have any of the incentives you allege, but generally, the vote for small parties in senate races closely matches what they get in IRV races.

    Indeed, the “how to vote” cards you say are damning evidence against IRV in fact are good evidence that small parties should do everything they can to get more first choices — if they can get into the top two, they have a real chance to win.

    Ask Aussie Greens if they want plurality voting. No way. Do they want proportional voting? Of course. But for a winner-take-all system, IRV has been one they wouldn’t trade away.

    As to approval-score voting, none of your evidence is convincing to me. Knowing Burlington politics much better than you, it certainly does nothing to change my view that Kurt Wright right very likely would have won a plurality win if approval or score had been used — and he was the Condorcet loser.

    But hey, bash away. Much easier to try to knock things down than build things. On that front, how is your work finding friends among policymakers?

    1. Rob,

      “Knowing Burlington politics much better than you, it certainly does nothing to change my view that Kurt Wright right very likely would have won.. if approval or score had been used”

      One of the authors of the Burlington election analysis I referenced is an associate professor of political science at the University of Vermont, in Burlington. Do you know Burlington politics “much better” than him?

      And the other co-author, Warren Smith, holds a Ph.D. in applied math from Princeton, and has been actively involved in election research for over a decade. He proposed a quite solid statistical argument that Andy Montroll would have won in Burlington with Score or Approval Voting (scorevoting.net/Burlington.html#UngerApp).

      If you really knew Burlington politics so well, I would expect you could come up with some evidence refuting Smith’s argument. So why haven’t you done it?

      “Ask Aussie Greens if they want plurality voting. No way.”

      That’s a deceptive argument, since your organization FairVote has typically promoted IRV in place of TOP-TWO RUNOFF (“TTR”), not plain Plurality Voting; and TTR has been STRONGLY correlated with having multiple parties, whereas IRV has near-unanimously corresponded with two-party duopoly.
      scorevoting.net/TTRvIRVstats.html

      The tactical “burial” I spoke of IS relevant to first preferences in that it supports the “Naive Exaggeration Theory”. That is, the theory that voters will naively attempt to increase their effect on the election by insincerely pushing the frontrunners apart.

      For instance, a voter who sincerely prefers Green>Labor>NatLib>OneNation (favorite to least favorite), will usually VOTE Labor>Green>OneNation>NatLib. Not because they understand the complex underlying math, but merely because it intuitively FEELS like the way to give their vote a stronger effect on the “real” race between Labor and NatLib.

      Even if third party VOTERS do this, their LEADERS obviously can’t make their party non-first on the how-to-vote cards. But they CAN still get away with the burial part — ranking the conservative NatLibs lower than the far right nationalist One Nation party. So the strategic burial we see on the how to vote cards is evidence for an underlying exaggeration psychology which also affects first place preferences.

      The effect is even more striking when you consider that IRV is *immune* to burial, so if NatLib is ranked lower than Labor, pushing NatLib even lower cannot help Labor defeat NatLib. That further attests that the naive exaggeration is a result of voter intuition, and does not even REQUIRE that voters understand the underlying math.

      So regarding your point about the AU Senate, which uses (proportional) STV, I don’t know what kind of tactical incentives are at play there. But I think it probably doesn’t MATTER, because I think the voters are exaggerating *naively*, NOT based on understanding the properties of their voting system.

      That’s why it makes little sense for you to say, “small parties should do everything they can to get more first choices — if they can get into the top two, they have a real chance to win.” They almost NEVER get into the top-two, because as long as they are weak, tactical exaggeration KEEPS them weak.

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