Home » Social Justice » Basic Democracy » Instant-Runoff Voting Verifiability Challenge

Instant-Runoff Voting Verifiability Challenge

Some time, not too long ago, I was to a social function with a few other families who are friends of my family. At that event, when I was talking with one person I have known for years, the subject of politics came up. As he praised the system they have in many European countries where many elections are followed by runoff elections, I suggested to him that Instant Runoff voting (IRV) may be a better solution to the problems he wanted to solve. However, as much as I like the idea of Instant Runoff Voting, he gave a very strong reason for seeing it as unacceptable – that being that it would be impossible to have both that and another reform that we both agreed was more important – that being vote verification.

Vote verification simply means that the citizenry has a way to be assured that every vote was counted as the one who cast it intended, and that the legitimately-cast votes are the only ones counted. In short, it means that the citizenry doesn’t have to the authority’s word that the election wasn’t rigged – but has a means of verifying this.

As much as I am very much in favor of the advantages that could be gained by IRV, I had to agree that the point he brought up was indeed a valid point – and that if it can not be resolved, is a deal-breaker for IRV. It is folly to push for IRV to be adopted until this issue is resolved. It is very simple why. In traditional voting, vote verification can be implemented as follows: The votes would be tallied and entered under multi-partisan supervision into a computer system at each local precinct. Then, the results from all the local precincts would be combined to form a general tally based on which the results of the election would be declared. If anyone suspects there was any funny business, they could call for a re-count under even greater supervision. It would be simple to do this as long as each ballot contained a reference to one and only one candidate per election.

However, what if each ballot contains not only the voter’s primary pick for the election – but also an alternate in case the primary pick is eliminated, maybe another alternate in case both of those are eliminated, and so-forth? A system of vote verification could get really messy when there is this much data to keep track of. So assuring vote verifiability can be much more difficult when IRV is involved.

But am I about to take it lying down that this dillema is inevitable? Not a chance! I agree that vote verifiability is more important, but I strongly feel that IRV is also very important if freedom is to survive and progress, rather than regress. Hence I lay down the gauntlet of the Instant-Runoff Voting Verifiability Challenge. If you have any suggestions on how to make it logistically feasible to have both vote verification and IRV, please respond with a comment to this blog post explaining how you plan to solve the logistical difficulties.

I pose this this challenge to anyone following this blog – but not just to you. I will extend this challenge to anyone I can inform of the challenge – and anyone whom any of you are willing to inform of the challenge. Even if this challenge solves the problem of the logistics, there will still be the even greater challeneg ahead of pushing the solution past the Powers that Be who’s interest IRV doesn’t necessarily serve — but at least then we will have a sound solution to try to push past them.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out your thinking caps, and try to find a solution to this logistical dillema. 🙂



  1. Mike Neergaard says:

    Since you have obviously given thought to instant run-off elections, it would be foolish for me to review the downsides, but I’ll do it anyway, just to be on the same page: If you create a single score for a given candidate from all votes cast, then there are certain things that can happen. Vote-splitting, for example, can still happen. If a majority of people really believe that a third of three options is the worst, it can still win. Ballot cramming can still happen, where the opposition creates the option of voting “against” an candidate by generating many chuff candidates, which can be ranked above the hated one. Also, there can be no winner, because voters prefer A to B, they prefer B to C, and they prefer C to A.

    Now as to vote security, I propose that it need not be too very different from vote security of today. What you think of today’s vote security is up to you, but at least we wouldn’t necessarily make things worse…

    Today, a vote for president might like like the following:
    For president:

    _______ Franklin Delano Roosevelt
    _______ Herbert Hoover

    You fill it out like this:

    __X____ Franklin Delano Roosevelt
    _______ Herbert Hoover

    Of course, in practice, it would be stored as an entry in a database — a propriety binary number or something like that. But as far as the original source document goes, that’s it.

    But suppose we recorded the vote more like this:

    Rank Candidate

    Most Favorite

    1.__________ A. Mitt Romney

    2.__________ B. Amy Awesome

    3.__________ C. Steven So-So

    4.__________ D. Satan

    Least Favorite

    Here is one filled out:

    Rank Candidate

    Most Favorite

    1.___B______——\ /———– A. Mitt Romney
    \ /
    2.___C______——\ \— / ———– B. Amy Awesome
    \ /
    3.___D______—-\ \- / ———— C. Steven So-So
    \— / ——-\
    4.___A______ ———/ \—– D. Satan

    Least Favorite

    Matching is a somewhat familiar concept to American schoolchildren, so we imagine this ballot would be easy to fill out. Further, if you want to go back and look at the original vote, you can look at it.

    As far as storing the vote on a computer, the vote would be registered by listing the candidate IDs in order, from most favorite to least favorite. In this case, the vote would be recorded as:


    Or in slightly longer form (Awesome, So-So, Satan, Romney).

    Since the entry starts with B, we know it is a vote for Amy Awesome.

  2. Mike Neergaard says:

    I see that my ASCII diagram of drawing lines between candidates and ranks turned out terribly. 😦

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