For much of the past ten years, proponents of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) have pointed to a short list of cities that have adopted the system for their elections. These included four cities of any real size. San Francisco uses it for its city assembly elections; Tacoma Washington and a few other smaller cities (up until Minneapolis and Saint Paul adopted it in the past two elections).
I observed at the time that IRV seemed to work, sort of, in places with pretty monochrome politics, where elections were usually one-party blowouts with very little chance of needing IRV’s byzantine choice-ranking process, its lack of a paper trail, and its turning over of the counting process to an opaque, “black box” algorithm that is utterly unaccountable to people outside the election process. Places like, well, San Francisco and Tacoma Washington and Minneapolis and Saint Paul; hopeless one-party liberal cesspools.
I also observed, at some length, that I had plenty of vocational, non-partisan issues with IRV from my background as a usability guy. I’m hoping to download a ballot from the Minneapolis election sometime today and start taking a formal whack at that angle (although I suspect the worst parts of the process lie behind the scenes).
Those were my observations. They were, by the way, backed up by real-world experience:
Problems from complicating the ballot have been documented in IRV elections. In Cary, N.C., 22 percent of the voters polled admitted to not understanding IRV. In Pierce County, Washington, 63 percent of 91,000 voters indicated that they did not like using IRV. Several studies by San Francisco State University on San Francisco’s Ranked Choice Voting indicate that older voters, those with English as a second language, and those with less income and education were less likely to understand IRV.
You read it here first.
More importantly, though, are the observations from the people of Tacoma, Washington. While the people of Saint Paul were wafting to the polls on pungent little clouds of reassurance from their political masters and voting for IRV (sometimes called “Incumbent Retention Voting”), the people of Tacoma were going to the polls, yelling “This Sucks!“, and ending their experiment.
With extreme prejudice. By a 2-1 margin.
What do they know that we don’t that IRV’s slick, well-financed advocates won’t tell you?