A better voting system is the key to democracy! But which one is the best?
With a little help from my friends at Oregon RCV, Equal Vote and The Center for Election Science, we’ve come up with a set of key criteria that we can use to compare and contrast the leading voting systems out there. The graph above displays our findings visually so that you can get a quick impression, but the criteria and systems are complex so please use it as a tool to come to your own conclusions.
This isn’t to say that these are the best 3 systems, just the three that seem to be the most competitive at the moment here in Oregon. For the record, the best three systems as judged by these criteria seem to be Star Voting, Score Voting and Ranked Pairs. Our current system, aka. Plurality or First-Past-The-Post, is the worst option out there by (almost) every standard.
HONESTY- Encourages and rewards honest voting.
EQUALITY- Doesn’t favor some voters or candidates over others based on preferences, location, political party, etc.
ACCURACY- The candidate that best represents the electorate wins. Measured by Voter Satisfaction Efficiency.
SIMPLICITY- User friendly for voters and elections officials.
EXPRESSIVENESS- The ballot can show nuanced support for multiple candidates.
VIABILITY- Has a good chance of being passed and not being repealed.
HONESTY – The voting system should encourage and reward honest voting:
Current System- Only voters who prefer the Dem. or Rep. can vote honestly. Since barely half of voters in the US are actually registered to these parties this is a fail. 29% of voters were registered Dem. and 26% Rep. at the beginning of the last election cycle with 42% Ind. (1.) Many voters have to be strategically dishonest to get the best results. GRADE: F
Star Voting- With Star Voting you can vote honestly and vote your conscience! Dishonest voting strategies don’t work or backfire. Star Voting gives the best outcome if you are honest. GRADE: A
RCV- It’s not necessarily safe to vote honestly if you favorite is pretty strong but you’re not sure they can win. You’re better off marking someone who you think can win as your first choice to avoid the spoiler effect if there are more than 2 viable candidates. Voters who’s favorite is very strong or very weak can safely vote honestly and everyone can vote honestly if there are only 2 viable candidates. GRADE: B-
EQUALITY – Fair, equal, and impartial. Doesn’t give anyone an unfair advantage.
Current System- Two similar candidates can split their supporters between them and both loose, even if they have support from a strong majority. Closed partisan primaries exclude 3rd party voters from having a meaningful voice. The system puts 3rd parties at a huge disadvantage. GRADE: D
Star Voting- In Star Voting everyone’s scores for every candidate are counted right away in the first round. In the second round you always give your full vote to the finalist you scored higher. This means that every vote is fully counted and every vote is equally strong in both rounds. GRADE: A+
RCV- People say that in Ranked Choice Voting if your first choice is eliminated, your next choice will be counted but for many voters this isn’t true. By the time your first choice is eliminated your 2nd and 3rd choices may already be gone. This means that some voters get more say than others. In some elections it actually happens enough to eliminate the candidate that actually had the most support. GRADE: C
ACCURACY – The candidate that best represents the electorate wins. Voter Satisfaction Efficiency:
Current System- Plurality is the least accurate system out there. (Besides dictatorship!) It only gives accurate results if there are only 2 candidates in the general election and even then it’s likely that those candidates don’t represent everyone. Spoiled elections happen all the time and the danger of spoilers drives dishonest voting, an even bigger threat to accurate results. GRADE: D
Star Voting- Star Voting gives the most accurate, representative results of any voting system. It picks the candidate that will make the most people as satisfied with the results as possible. If there is a compromise candidate that is the best option SRV helps find them. GRADE: A+
RCV- Ranked Choice is about ½ way between Star Voting and our current system in terms of accuracy. It gives accurate results for 2 candidate elections but can cause spoilers in up to 1 in 5 elections or worse when there are more candidates according to expert analysis. (2.) GRADE: C+
SIMPLICITY – User friendly for voters and elections officials.
Current System-This is about as simple as it gets in theory. GRADE: A
Star Voting- 5 star ratings are very intuitive but require voters to learn about the candidates! How the scores are counted and how the runoff works can be explained in two sentences. Star Voting is a simple enough system that hand recounts can be done and it’s user friendly for elections officials. GRADE: B
RCV- Ranking candidates is intuitive but understanding how candidates are eliminated can get quite complicated. Understanding the election results can be challenging. Votes can’t be processed locally and must be sent to a central location which can be a huge logistical challenge. Hand recounting would be next to impossible. Results are hard to understand for voters. GRADE: C
EXPRESSIVENESS – The ballot can show nuanced support for multiple candidates:
Current System- At least we get to vote! This is the least expressive system possible. GRADE: D
Star Voting- Voters are encouraged to give a detailed opinion on as many candidates as they wish. Your completed ballot not only shows what order you would rank the candidates in, but by giving higher or lower scores for candidates in the middle you can show how much you like them as well. All the info you give on your ballot will be counted. GRADE: A
IRV- You can rank 3 or more candidates but you are unable to show ties or show how much you actually like each. Not all the rankings you give will be counted, it depends on the elimination process. GRADE: B
VIABILITY – Has a good chance of being passed and not being repealed:
Current System- The plurality system has proven that it can get passed and stay passed and is the leading election system in the world but it is an extremely unpopular system! Many people around the world are trying to repeal and replace it with something better and many have succeed. GRADE: C+
Star Voting- Star Voting is the new and improved hybrid of RCV and Score Voting. It hasn’t been adopted yet but analysis is very promising and all the evidence shows that it will work the best out of all the systems we’ve seen. Voting machines would need an upgrade but the code and programing is simple and doable. We’d like to give it an A but because it’s untested and we have to start from the beginning we probably shouldn’t. GRADE: B
RCV- RCV has been passed and is used in countries like Australia and Ireland and in cities around the US. It was recently passed by Maine and also Corvallis, OR. and has some momentum. Unfortunately, because of it’s complexity it can be hard for everyday people to know if elections were actually a success or not. IRV was recently repealed in Burlington, Vermont and four other cities, because of it’s problems with the spoiler effect and logistical challenges. Failed election reform is worse than none at all because it makes it harder to implement future reforms in those places. Additionally we are concerned that misconceptions about RCV can make it an slippery stepping stone toward getting an ideal system someday. Many people falsely believe and state that it is safe to vote your conscience and that voters rankings are all counted. IRV consistently advertises more than it delivers. At least with our current system people know it’s problematic and are motivated to find something better. GRADE: C
*INFO ON THE VOTING SYSTEMS AND THEIR NAMES:
- Our current is called Plurality Voting aka. First-Past-The-Post. Plurality Voting is where each voter can vote for one candidate. The candidate with the most votes wins. There is often a primary round of voting and then a general election later.
- Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is commonly used to refer to Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) but technically RCV is an umbrella term that refers to all voting systems that use ranked ballots or rankings. IRV is a voting system where voters can rank candidates in order of preference. 1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice and sometimes more. Voters only fill out one ballot but the ballots are counted in an instant runoff style with multiple rounds. In the first round, the 1st choices are counted and the candidate in last place is eliminated. If you voted for the eliminated candidate your next remaining choice will be counted in the second round unless it’s already been eliminated. Your candidates may be eliminated before your support for them is noted if your 1st choice is strong enough to survive the early rounds but not strong enough to win.
- Star Voting is also known as Score Runoff Voting (SRV). In Star Voting votes can give each candidate a rating from 0-5 stars. Voters only fill out one ballot but the ballots are counted in an instant runoff style with two rounds. It’s fine to give the same rating to multiple candidates. Leaving a candidate blank is a Zero. In the first round all the scores from each ballot are totaled. The top 2 are finalists. Your ballot already shows which finalist you prefer. In the runoff, whichever finalist is preferred by more voters wins.
*Disclaimer: These systems are complex and so are these criteria! Grades are subjective. Please read the write-ups which explain each grade given. Not all criteria are equally important but we believe they all deserve your consideration. Please use this report card as a tool to help evaluate the voting systems and come to your own conclusions!
*A word on other election reforms: We fully support a number of other changes in our voting system and recognize that no voting system alone can solve all of the problems with democracy we are currently faced with. Still, implementing a system that allows for full honest voting would create the foundation! This is only the beginning!
IDEAS WE LOVE: Solving gerrymandering, enacting The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact/Electoral College reform, reforming primaries, eliminating superdelegates, making Election Day a holiday, improving voting access for those without a stable address or those that move around election times, lowering the voting age to 18.
(1.) “29% of voters were registered Dem. and 26% Rep. at the beginning of the last election cycle with 42% Ind.” Democratic, Republican Identification Near Historical Lows. http://www.gallup.com/poll/188096/democratic-republican-identification-near-historical-lows.aspx
(2.) “[IRV] can cause spoilers in up to 1 in 5 elections or worse when there are more candidates according to expert analysis.” Frequency of monotonicity failure under Instant Runoff Voting: Estimates based on a spatial model of elections. By Joseph T Ornstein, University of Michigan, Dept. of Political Science and Robert Z. Norman, Dartmouth College, Dept. of Mathematics https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258164743_Frequency_of_monotonicity_failure_under_Instant_Runoff_Voting_Estimates_based_on_a_spatial_model_of_elections
Learn more and get involved at:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/EqualVote/
Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1821618454770952/
RCV OR Loomio group: https://www.loomio.org/g/mlgtGHuy/rcv-oregon
Note: It has come to our attention that the website FairVote has a long history of printing misinformation and misleading statements about Instant Runoff Voting. This is unfortunate because they are one of the leading sites for election reform and are trusted and used as a source for many, myself included in the past. I offer my sincere apologies and my commitment to setting the record straight. Overselling the merits of a voting system or spreading propaganda can only hurt the quest for election reform in the long run and it appears that this strategy has already backfired:
” STV/IRV was used in roughly two dozen US cities in the early 1900’s and repealed in all of them except for Cambridge, MA. In the modern era it was repealed in Ann Arbor, MI in 1976, then these four places in the past decade.
- Burlington, Vermont
- Cary, North Carolina
- Pierce County, Washington
- Aspen, Colorado”-Clay Shentrup, Center For Election Science