March 15th, 2009

MarJon Has Your IRV Deathmatch Podcasts

by Philip Baruth

For those of you out there who can’t get enough of the Instant Runoff Deathmatch we’ve had going between Tony Gierzynski (Very Con) and the folks from Fairvote (Very Pro), you’ll find a treasure trove at Mark Johnson’s site: he interviewed both sides over the course of two shows last week, and there are enough podcasts to choke an ox. If that’s what the majority of first and second-place voters decides, in the third round of counting, needs to be choked, of course.

mark johnson/rudy

March 13th, 2009

Point/Counterpoint: Terry Bouricious Attempts To Rip Professor Gierzynski A New One Over Instant Runoff Voting Controversy (Now With All New Gierzynski Update!)

by Philip Baruth

Yesterday we ran a piece by political scientist Tony Gierzynski, pointing up what Gierzynski feels are serious flaws in the IRV system now in place for Burlington’s mayoral race. Email response was sharp and swift, but no letter longer or more detailed than this from Fairvote’s Terry Bouricius. This is an issue VDB is interested in seeing from all sides, especially after this past Town Meeting Day. With that said, the floor is yours, Mr. Bouricius. — PB

Dear VDB,

Prof Gierzynski has it wrong about IRV — and in amazingly big ways. His analysis is deeply flawed.

Firstly, he believes IRV is more complex and discriminates against some voters as a result. Note that in the 2009 mayoral election, the recount showed that there was only ONE defective ballot in the entire city (the original machine totals showed four such ballots but the manual recount found three of those to be valid ballots, two of which went to Wright and one to Kiss).

That is, 99.99% of IRV ballots cast were valid. No sign of IRV leading to more errors.

Also, voters in the low-income renter wards were as likely to use additional rankings as voters in the more affluent wards. (81.9% of voters in Wards 2 and 3, compared to 81.8% of voters in Wards 4, 6 and 7.) There is no evidence of any class bias in the actual use of ranked-ballots.

It is also worth noting that for MANY voters it is much EASIER to rank candidates than to vote in a vote-for-one election, which requires making the often extremely difficult decision of whether to vote for a true favorite choice, or a “lesser of two-evils” candidate with a better chance of defeating a hated candidate.

This is particularly true in a city election where the lack of polling numbers forces voters to do their own research or guess. If a voter in Burlington using plurality voting wanted to make sure a particular one of the four front-runners was stopped, she wouldn’t have any easy way of knowing which candidate stood the best chance of blocking that hated candidate. Talk about putting a huge burden on voter research.

Plurality can be MUCH more complicated for the voter to figure out than IRV.

Also note that two scholarly studies of IRV elections in San Francisco found that districts with high numbers of low-income and African American voters had a LOWER rate of uncountable ballots with IRV, than with non-IRV races in the same other district (this combines both undervotes and overvotes). One of these studies also found that the rate of voter participation in the ultimate runoff round among voters in such disadvantaged districts increased by as much as three-fold with IRV over the old system of separate runoff elections — far more than the increase resulting from the use of IRV among voters in more affluent districts.

Secondly, Gierzynski uses the terms “paradox” and “perverse outcomes.”

He uses the term “thwarted majorities paradox” to describe an example of a “Condorcet-winner” (the technical term) such as Montroll, who would beat any of the other candidates in one-on-one race, to attack IRV. He fails to acknowledge (or maybe didn’t even understand) that this “paradox” is far MORE prevalent in the case of plurality elections and separate runoff elections. Montroll came in third in terms of first choices, and by plurality rules this “Condorcet-winner” would lose badly.

In a traditional runoff election he also would have been eliminated and couldn’t win. IRV gives such “Condorcet-winners” the BEST chance of winning the election of any voting method used by any government anywhere in the world, yet Gierzynski perversely twists this into an attack on IRV.

Vote-for-one ballots simply don’t gather the needed alternate preference information from voters that reveals the paradox under plurality and two-round runoffs.

Gierzynski also refers briefly to the non-monotonicity issue (in unique scenarios raising a candidate’s ranking can hurt that candidate), without acknowledging that this non-monotonic dynamic is significantly MORE prevalent in two-round runoff elections, because voters can vote strategically to advance a weak opponent for their true favorite choice in the first round and then switch their first choice to their true favorite in the runoff.

Thus if this “paradox” is of concern to someone, moving away from separate runoffs to IRV is an improvement.

Finally, Gierzynski attacks IRV for not forcing citizens into a two-party system (what some call a duopoly).

Fundamentally, he does not favor multi-party democracy — the norm throughout most of the democratic world. He suggests plurality elections promote political coalition building, as if we should just pretend the “spoiler” dynamic and animosity between Democrats and Progressives didn’t exist.

In contrast, IRV has been proven to promote coalition building across partisan lines in Australia, San Francisco, and even in Burlington (you may recall that 2006 working-class-Republican mayoral candidate Kevin Curley urged supporters to rank Kiss second in order to stop the upper-class Hinda Miller).

In sum, I think his is a very weak analysis.


Terry Bouricius


Terry Bouricius is a former Progressive Party city councilor and state legislator, past state board member of the League of Women Voters, and a current policy analyst with the national nonprofit FairVote: the Center for Voting and Democracy.

Late Update, Monday 6:09 am:

Of course, this back and forth could go on forever, and we have other fish to fry (like Joe Lieberman, who now says he may attempt to weasel his way back into the Democratic Party). But we wanted to give Tony Gierzynski a chance to rebut Terry’s comments, and so here briefly is that rebuttal:

“The extent of the perverse outcomes for the 2009 mayoral election in Burlington is actually much worse than I indicated. A number of mathematicians with interest in these sort of electoral systems extended my previous analysis and found that the 2009 election suffered from not only the “thwarted majorities” or Condorcet’s paradox, but also the “no-show paradox” that shows that Wright voters who preferred Montroll over Kiss (that is, ranked Montroll 2nd) would have been better staying home and not voting at all.

“The election also evinced the property of nonmonoticity—additional votes for Kiss could have made Kiss lose. It is unequivocally clear that IRV did NOT result in a majority winner. (I highly recommend the full analysis which can be found at

“Finally, as I stated on the Mark Johnson show, I am not arguing that the current system with a runoff is a better system; I am instead arguing that IRV is not superior to the current system as argued by the IRV supporters. There are better than ways to solve the majority problem than both of these (for a discussion of one alternative see a discussion of “range voting” at

“What I think works best is for the factions who share a common ideology (Progressives and Democrats here in VT) to work out their differences in primaries or caucuses and then put forward one candidate.”

March 13th, 2009

Parliamentary Police: Cops Called In To Burlington City Council Meeting, Apparently To Enforce Roberts Rules Of Order (WTF?)

by Philip Baruth

Shay’s got the story, and it’s pretty juicy: the debate over easing height restrictions on downtown development brought out the cops last night in City Hall. Who were the cops there to potentially eject? City Councilors opposed to a taller downtown. Who called in the officers? Republican Council President Kurt Wright, who came within a few hundred votes of the Mayor’s Office on Town Meeting Day.

“It was really my nuclear option,” Wright said. Which begs the question: if city cops are Wright’s enforcers as Council President, would he have brought in a battalion of Marines as Mayor? Talk about your close calls, baby.

March 12th, 2009

Voting Paradoxes and Perverse Outcomes: Political Scientist Tony Gierzynski Lays Out A Case Against Instant Runoff Voting

by Philip Baruth

With the Burlington run-off now concluded, and with a high accuracy rate now established in the counting, questions linger about IRV itself. No one in the state has put together a more compelling data set than Political Scientist Tony Gierzynski. Tony’s was the only group to conduct exit polling in 2006; this time out, he’s brought forward far less reassuring data, and it seemed best to let him present it himself. As regular readers know, I support IRV. But Tony’s arguments give me real pause. — PB

Gunning for IRV
by Anthony Gierzynski

Let’s get right into it: Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is not good. It is not good because it suffers from three fundamental problems: it discriminates against classes of voters by adding complexity the ballot; it has a very real potential to produce perverse outcomes or voting paradoxes that are not majoritarian; and it fails to address the real problem that arises when multiple parties compete in a two-party system.

The Problems with Adding Complexity to the Ballot

One of the ways that the US elections are unique when compared to other democratic systems is the length and complexity of our ballots. Unlike most other democracies, we ask voters to cast votes on a multitude of offices from Presidency down to Justice of the Peace and to decide a multitude of ballot questions.

Another way US elections are unique is in our pathetically low level of voter turnout. The two are related.

The complexity of US elections increases the costs of participating (having to gather more information to make more decisions) while making it more difficult for voters to discern the connection between any one vote they cast and what government does, which ultimately results in fewer people voting (particularly those at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale).

If anyone has any doubt that the complexity of an election ballot can disenfranchise voters, particularly more vulnerable classes of voters, one need only to remember Florida 2000.

Complex ballot designs—including butterfly ballots and ballots that listed candidates on more than one page—confused tens of thousands of voters, who spoiled their ballots by voting for more than one candidate. Spoiled ballots included a disproportionate number on which Al Gore was selected, costing him the election.

Spoiled ballots were more likely to occur on the more complex ballots. And, those disenfranchised by these complex ballots tended to poorer, less educated, minority, and elderly voters.

As I said above, the fact is the US has the longest and most complex ballots in the democratic world. If states in the US were to adopt IRV for all (or even some) of their elections, the situation would be made worse.

Instead of simply choosing the preferred candidate for president, senator, representative, governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, etc., they would be asked to rank each candidate which results in a doubling, tripling or even quadrupling of the nature of the task and the cognitive costs of voting.

The effect of adding such complexity to the ballot is not neutral or random; it is more likely to confuse those same groups of disadvantaged voters confused by the Florida ballots. This fact was demonstrated by exit polls of both Burlington voters and San Francisco voters who have also used IRV.

Even when used in a single contest, IRV caused greater confusion among those on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. In other words, IRV discriminates.

Proponents of IRV like to frame this argument by countering that what critics of IRV are saying is that voters are stupid. We are saying no such thing.

These analyses are not impugning the intelligence of the American voter, just recognizing the limits to what a political system can ask of its citizens and recognizing that adding complexity to the ballot will disproportionately harm some groups of people more than others.

In a democracy that values political participation and political equality such side-effects should not be dismissed lightly. Most people, unlike political activists, don’t have a lot of time to devote to politics, and for a democracy to work, they shouldn’t have to.

They should be able to focus on careers, raising children, involvement in their community, etc, and still be able to participate meaningfully in the electoral process. IRV makes this even more difficult than it already is by making the task more complex.

Voting Paradoxes or Perverse Outcomes

There exists a number of voting paradoxes or perverse outcomes that can occur with IRV, which are not associated with the typical single vote system. Such outcomes contradict the claim of IRV proponents that IRV creates majority winners.

Perverse outcomes include the possibility that one candidate could increases their vote only to lose the election. Another possibility is one in which every candidate can beat another candidate in a head-to-head matchup (such as candidate A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A…a paper-scissors-rock scenario) so that the election results fail to produce a true majority preference for any candidate.

Yet another is one in which a candidate can beat any other candidate by a majority in a head-to-head matchup and yet lose the election.

The probability of these perverse outcomes happening is not small (see Anthony Quas, “Anomalous Outcomes in Preferential Voting,” Stochastics and Dynamics Vol. 4, No. 1 (2004),pp. 95-105; William H. Riker and Peter C. Ordeshook, An Introduction to Positive Political Theory (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973); and Peter Fishburn and Steven Brams, “Paradoxes of Preferential Voting: What Can Go Wrong with Sophisticated Voting Systems Designed to Remedy Problems of Simpler Systems,” Mathematics Magazine vol. 56, no. 4, September 1983: pp. 207-214).

Indeed, the 2009 mayoral election in Burlington witnessed one of these perverse outcomes, the “Thwarted Majorities Paradox.” A candidate who lost the election, Andy Montroll, was preferred over all other candidates in a head-to-head matchup.

That is, a majority of voters ranked Montroll (the Democratic Party candidate) ahead of the winner Bob Kiss (Progressive Party candidate) and ahead of the second place finisher, Kurt Wright (the Republican Party candidate), yet Montroll lost the election.

This is a concrete instance where proponents’ claim that IRV results in majority rule is clearly NOT the case. (Click here for numbers and calculations laid out in table form.)

Failing to Address the Real Problem

In essence what IRV is, is an attempt to use a technological fix to solve a political problem. Single seat contests (such as mayor, or US Senator, or governor, or president) create an incentive for those of similar political mind (that is ideology) to coalesce behind a single candidate in order to win a majority of votes and capture the seat—those that work together to build a majority before elections win, those that don’t lose.

This structural incentive is the main reason the US has a two party system. Forcing people of like mind to work together to win elections then creates the governing majorities that have been approved by the people and that can then go about the work of implementing the will of the people.

When a group with a (mostly) shared ideology—such as the case of the Progressive Party and the Democratic Party in Vermont—becomes fragmented in this type of system, with each putting forward their own candidates, the problem that arises is a political problem (politics defined here simply as the means by which conflicts are resolved in order to determine who controls the government).

In such cases what IRV does is it allows the factions to ignore the political problem by using a technological fix as opposed to resolving their differences through the necessary negotiations that characterize politics.

In other words, IRV allows such factions to avoid working together (as they should because they want mostly the same thing). When such factions fail to work together, they ultimately fail to accomplish the reason such organizations exist, which is not just to continue existing: it is to win control of government in order to make people’s lives better in a manner consistent with their political values.

UVM Professor Anthony Gierzynski, PhD, conducted an exit poll study of IRV in the 2006 Burlington Mayoral race with his students, is author of two books, a series of articles and book chapters on elections, and is currently completing work on a book on electoral reform with the working title, Prescriptions for a Healthier Democracy: Our Dying Elections and what We Can Do to Save Them.

March 11th, 2009

Cheney Won’t “Air Board” VT or NY Fish

by Philip Baruth

We can all stand down, people: it seems that Dick Cheney has been bumped from the New York Anglers Dinner to be held by the American Fly Fishing Museum, which is located in Vermont, and which, as we all agreed several weeks ago, should not encourage the former Vice President to stick sharpened metal barbs in living things. Why did Cheney pull out? VDB’s was not the only pushback, of course. There was also some mild reaction elsewhere too, such as the following light-hearted quip from Fly Rod and Reel magazine: “It’s as if the Holocaust museum held a dinner to honor [Nazi war criminal] Klaus Barbie.” Later much, Dick.

March 9th, 2009

Herald Letter: When Shepards Attack

by Philip Baruth

I suppose I should have realized that with the return of gay marriage as a pressing legislative issue, we’d see the inevitable return of Mark Shepard. After all, along with the occasional symbolic run for Congress, the Bennington Rep is still best known for his adamant opposition to same-sex marriage. But who could have predicted that when Shepard slipped out of the shadows this time, he’d be gunning not for Shap Smith or Peter Shumlin or Euan Bear, but for me?

But there it was in Saturday’s Rutland Herald, from Shepard about an interview I conducted with him during his failed attempt to deny Martha Rainville the GOP nomination in 2006.

That interview, for those of you who’ve never read it, I called “The Initially Amusing, Unexpectedly Queasy Interview With Mark Shepard,” because what began as an attempt to let Shepard lay out his Congressional aspirations soon turned into a serious one-on-one over same-sex marriage. Shepard was of the opinion that allowing same-sex marriage would lead inevitably to polygamy and “whatever else.” I disagreed, and we tussled about it over omelets.

Shepard lost to Rainville, and Rainville lost to Welch, and that was that, as far as I was concerned.

But apparently that interview has been sticking in Shepard’s craw for the last three years — or more specifically, the editorial lead-in and lead-out of the interview have been sticking in his craw. In his Herald letter, Shepard calls those 2006 comments “bizarre,” “nonsensical,” and “slander,” which is a good deal more than I’m ordinarily labeled on a quiet Saturday afternoon in March.

So I went back to the interview, and searched that editorial framing, and it’s hard to believe that most of it would find such a firm purchase in anyone’s mind. But if I had to guess I’d say that the following sentence is actually the nonsensical and bizarre material Shepard has in mind:

“Because for all of his pleasant demeanor and entrepreneurial savvy, Shepard strikes me as Vermont’s version of Rick Santorum: ambitious, well-spoken, and more than just a little disturbing when you take the time to really listen to what he has to say.”

Granted, no one wants to be compared to Rick Santorum.

But in this case, I stand by those words: Mark Shepard, like Santorum, has tried his best to frighten his constituents and others with talk of a slippery slope, and a running, implicit comparison between same-sex couples and polygamists, not to mention “whatever else.”

Santorum, of course, was impolitic enough to carry that comparison to bestiality, for which he’s been everlastingly and righteously mocked. Shepard has always been a bit more circumspect, but his ideas run down the same muddy trough.

You’ll notice, if you click through to his Herald letter, that in 2009 he’s dropped the polygamy argument, resting his case solely on the inability of same-sex couples to produce children. It’s a weaker argument, one that buckles under even cursory logical scrutiny, given that we routinely wish infertile and elderly heterosexual couples all the best should they decide to tie the knot.

Still, we should note real progress here.

In 2000, Shepard would have gone ahead and run down his more radical arguments for the readers of the Herald, in the same way that opponents of civil unions once flocked to the State House to distinguish “Adam and Eve” from “Adam and Steve.”

But now, in 2009, with legislative approval of same-sex marriage pending, those arguments would sound both out-of-touch and over-the-top. And the hopeful thing is that Shepard has been forced to moderate his rhetoric.

Except, of course, his rhetoric about me. Bloggers are still in season, no matter the year.

March 6th, 2009

Hard-Hearted Dan DeWalt Attacks Innocent Out-of-State Nuclear Company, Which, With The Exception of Almost Everything, Has Done Absolutely Nothing Wrong, Friends

by Philip Baruth

Let’s check in with Vermont Yankee, shall we? From what VDB understands, there was to be some sort of town by town discussion and referendum on the viability of Yankee relicensing post 2010. No doubt that went swimmingly for Louisiana-based Entergy Nuclear, given the Safeness, Cleanness, and Reliableness of nuclear power in general.

vermont yankee

Let’s just check the morning papers . . . . Oh, shit, well this doesn’t look good: some 33 towns voted against relicensing! And apparently it was all the fault of this smooth-talking fellow Dan DeWalt, who worked some dark, obscure Newfane magic, and turned the heads of otherwise clean, right-thinking Vermont villagers and townsfolk.

Curse that outlaw to Louisiana and back!

Now, what else could go wrong for Entergy? Oh, right: Yucca Mountain, the nuclear industry’s $8 billion dollar Hail Mary on the waste issue, was summarily in Obama’s first budget.

So say goodbye to that particular bait-and-switch, in which the industry sells a new round of power plants with the promise that all the offending byproducts will be magically whisked away to the deserts of Nevada. Nope, those that have waste will be holding on to it for the foreseeable future.

Which is to say the better part of 10,000 years.

Nope, not a good lookout for Entergy at all, turns out. Or for corporate spokesbot Rob Williams, whose dreams consist these days of only one image, though an image he sees every night of the week, and from every conceivable angle. You the man, Dan DeWalt.

March 5th, 2009

Jim Douglas Achieves Satirical Hat-Trick: Sitting Down With a Democratic President, Who Just Happens To Be Wearing a Motion-Capture Body Suit, In THE ONION

by Philip Baruth

Look, we rag on Jim Douglas until the cows come home here at VDB, and then we rag on him some more, for good measure. But the guy is playing the opening of the Obama years like a well-seasoned professional. The latest smooth move? Douglas appears in an Onion parody involving the first Presidency to be captured entirely in a motion-sensing body suit. Absolutely no matching that for cool. Very well challenged, Governor. Very well challenged, indeed.

Late Update, 7:44 pm:

In a bid to equal the supercool of Jim Douglas’s parody photo above, Peter Welch’s office has released a picture of the Congressman appearing at the White House today with President Obama, in the context of some “major contracting procedure overhaul.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’ll save us billions of dollars, which will help pull us out of Great Depression II, blah blah blah, but is it really as blindingly cool as an Onion parody involving a dorky Barack Obama looking like he just stepped out of the Blue Man Group?

Nice try, Welch folk. Advantage: Uncle Jim.

Have to love the look on McCain’s face, though. Give it another once over. This is what Joseph Heller called “eating your liver” in Catch-22, and it’s not a pretty sight, either in fiction or in real life.

March 5th, 2009

Resmer Fitted For Seven-League Boots

by Philip Baruth

Seven Days’s Cathy Resmer, the original and long-suffering Midwife of the Vermont Blogosphere, scores an excellent promotion, to the agreeably lofty position of Associate Publisher to Watch Out For. Very well deserved, Cathy, and kudos to Publishers Routly and Polston for having the savvy to advance their best, even in tough times.

Photo/cartoon courtesy of

March 4th, 2009

Meghan McCain Wishes To Crush All Things Palin Into Their Molecular Components, And Then Crush Every One of Those Atoms Individually, Like Bubble-Wrap

by Philip Baruth

Great blogospheric interest today in that sad little Meghan McCain now up on The Daily Beast, in which she discusses her (lack of) sex life post-Election. Most of the young men she meets these days would prefer, apparently, that she role-play romantically as either her witchy mother or her straight-talking father. Anything, that is, but Meghan McCain. And admittedly, that’s a train-wreck aspect of the essay that can’t be ignored. But to VDB’s eye, there’s another element going substantially under-reported.

evil stare

And that’s the moment when Meghan, in the course of discussing her father’s failure to match the Obama campaign’s Facebook outreach, casually drops the name of a Facebook group set up for the exclusive purpose of mocking Sarah Palin, called “I Have More Foreign-Policy Experience Than Sarah Palin.”

Meghan, now in the business of hawking her Internet savvy to credulous GOP audiences eager to learn about “the Twitter,” knows very well that this one mention will triple the size of “I Have More Foreign-Policy Experience Than Sarah Palin.” Very well, indeed.

Take a look at that photo above again. Note Willow Palin’s clearly cowed reaction. Note Todd Palin’s clearly protective response. Note Cindy McCain’s barely concealed impulse to administer a beat-down with her pink cast. Shocking. Shocking and ugly.

It’s an accepted fact post-Election that Meghan McCain despised Sarah Palin, with her mother, and even her father, not far behind. Imagine what it must have been like for the McCain women, prepped to within an inch of their gated-community lives for their national close-ups, to see the cameras drawn inexorably toward these odd, strangely attractive barbarians from Alaska.

VDB knew this to be a fact when we saw the photo above during the height of the “Team of Mavericks” phase. And if you doubt that Meghan McCain intends to use her quasi-celebrity to imperil the fortunes of the Family Palin at each and every turn, we invite you to check it out again, in close up:

evil stare

This dig in the Daily Beast is the first of thousands, friends. And it’ll only get more ugly as 2012 approaches, especially once Meghan McCain signs on as a “youth advisor” and “Internet specialist” for the Romney campaign.

Enjoy. And a hat tip to Jim, for this beautiful link.

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