For the second time in a week or so, fling93 has asked, why IRV (alternative vote) and not Condorcet or approval vote? It’s high time I addressed the question!
It just so happens that I was thinking of this very question earlier today, as I reflected more on the 48th congressional district special election of December 6. It is now apparent to me that even if Marilyn Brewer (the more moderate Republican in the all-party primary, who apparently obtained votes of some Democrats wanting to block both the more conservative Republican, John Campbell, and the extremist Jim Gilchrist) was, in the first round, the “consensus pick,” she would have had a hard time winning under IRV.
Let’s assume that Brewer was the Condorcet winner–defined as the candidate who would have beaten any of the others in a two-way race. If that is the case, then Condorcet’s method (which extracts from the voters’ collective expression of ranked choices a simulation of a series of one-on-one contests) obviously would have revealed that and given the election (in one round of actual voting) to Brewer.
Approval voting might also have done so. Under the approval vote, a voter may vote for as many candidates as he or she “approves” and these votes are not ranked; a vote is a vote, adding to a candidate’s total. The winner is the candidate who obtains the most votes, i.e. is most “approved.”
I very much disapprove of the approval vote! It makes voters’ strategy very unclear. It asks voters to divide their preferences dichotomously: approve vs. disapprove. In a multi-candidate field (which is almost guaranteed by approval vote) it is not at all clear, a priori, where a voter should draw this line to maximize the voter’s chance of seeing his or her most-preferred choice elected.
As for Condorcet, I must confess to knowing too little about its actual mechanics and how a voter might respond to it. I think a flaw that both Condorcet and approval share is the likely favoring of colorless, offend-no-one candidates. While I dislike plurality for encouraging negative campaigning, polarization, and–if there is not strict two-candidate competition–minority-preferred winners, I am no more favorable to a method that encourages candidates to avoid taking any clear stands in order to avoid losing in the simulated one-on-ones (of Condorcet) or driving up his or her own “disapprovals” (in approval voting). Both methods have the further, and closely related, flaw of possibly allowing a relative unknown, who is the first choice of a small minority, to emerge victorious.
Neither Condorcet nor approval has ever been used in a legislative (or executive) election at any level of government anywhere in the world, to my knowledge. IRV, on the other hand, has a long record, for instance in Australian lower-house elections. I think that is a nontrivial point in favor of IRV and against the other two methods.
In the case of IRV and the 48th district, and given Campbell’s 45% of first preferences (taking the primary as a proxy for such preferences), Brewer would have won only with some transferred votes from Gilchrist. Unlike with Condorcet, no second choices from the leading candidate, Campbell, would have been transferred to a trailing candidate like Brewer. IRV transfers second preferences only when the voterâ€™s first-preferred candidate has been eliminated (and transfers lower ranked preferences only when the votersâ€™ higher ranked candidates have been eliminated.) Perhaps this is an argument against IRV. Nonetheless, I am yet to be persuaded that either Condorcet or approval is a good choice for elections to public offices. I hereby place the burden of proof on fling93 (or other advocates) to make a convincing case for Condorcet or approval, rather than IRV, as an option to improve upon the plurality system.