May 2nd, 2006

Hey IRV Junkies: Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag!

by Philip Baruth

During Burlington’s last mayoral election — the city’s first use of Instant Runoff Voting — Political Science professor Tony Gierzynski mobilized an army of exit-pollers and gathered massive amounts of data.

This data he then crunched. Crunched it real good.

It took a great deal of time and foresight, but the results were utterly unique: no one had done such a study anywhere in America.

VDB printed an exclusive early snippet of the findings; Tony then posted the larger results at the site for his Vermont Legislative Research Shop.

And then? The Burlington Free Press ran Tony’s data without once mentioning his name, or the full name of the UVM group that produced it.

Or, incidentally, the name of the news organization that broke the story. Which would be VDB.

Now that’s cold. (But who’s keeping track, Nancy Remsen?)

But not to worry. Tony and his group have done it again. For all of you Preferential Voting junkies out there, the VLRS have produced the Da Vinci Code of Instant Run-Off studies.

Not only do the authors place the entire Burlington data set in its historical and national contexts, but they linger over some of the strange — and occasionally kinky — results that IRV can produce.

Some highlights:

* In 1974, Ann Arbor adopted IRV, only to reject it two years later after a mayoral candidate took 49% on the first round, but lost subsequently by 121 votes.

* “The Thwarted- Majorities Paradox, in which a candidate who can beat every other candidate in direct-comparison may lose the election; the Multiple-Districts Paradox, in which a candidate wins every district individually but manages to lose the general election when the districts are combined.”

* And finally, yes, the IRV result That Dare Not Speak Its Name: the “Perverse Outcome,” in which increased votes for a candidate lead to that candidate’s defeat.

Wherever you stand on IRV, Tony’s study offers you the tools you need to round out your arguments intelligently and dispassionately.

As Politics VT reported the other day, IRV is making substantial headway in the State House.

So if you’re a legislator, it might be a particularly good thing to figure out now where you stand on perverse outcomes, before Bill O’Reilly and the Fox News people swarm the building.