Setting the Record Straight on IRV

This page addresses common myths about IRV. See irvfactcheck's write-up for even more rebuttals of IRV misinformation.

Claim: IRV elections result in unexpected / unwanted winners
Truth: IRV helps solve problems in all phases of an election:

These traits clearly enhance the ability of voters to elect the preferred candidate.

Claim: IRV is inferior to other alternative voting systems
Truth: Picking the right voting system for a given decision process is not an easy choice, and it's been mathematically proven that it's not possible to have all the properties that one might want coexist within the same voting system. CfER promotes IRV because it exhibits desirable properties in the context of contested political elections. While other voting systems can be elegant and work nicely in certain situations, they also have significant undesirable effects compared to IRV in contested political elections. The Center for Voting and Democracy (FairVote) has a nice piece showing why IRV is the best choice for elections here.

Claim: IRV promotes "extremist" candidates
Truth: The IRV counting process transfers votes to winning candidates based on the elimination of the candidate with the fewest remaining first-choice votes. This would normally result in votes for an unpopular extremist candidate transferring to a more mainstream candidate. When critics of IRV speak of favoring extremists, they are really talking about a specific scenario with two "extremist" candidates -- each having strong first-choice support -- and a "middle" candidate with low first-choice support. Some voting systems favor candidates who are "least disliked" and will therefore tend to elect the "middle" candidate in the scenario above. Supporters of IRV believe it is best to arrive at a winning candidate based on high first-choice support. Click here for an example of how IRV works.

Claim: IRV promotes "weak" candidates
Truth: IRV's ability to solve vote-splitting and allow voters to transfer support from one similar candidate to another is viewed negatively by some critics. IRV supporters reject this view of elections and challenge the notion that "strength" would be defined by name-recognition or some other quality that would allow a candidate to win a traditional election but lose an IRV election.

Claim: IRV disenfranchises underrepresented minorities because it's too confusing
Truth: IRV helps underrepresented minorities by allowing the results of high-turnout general elections to elect candidates, as opposed to relying on low turn-out runoffs in which voting demographics shift away from minorities. With respect to claims that IRV is too confusing, an analysis of results from the 2011 San Francisco election showed that problems with spoiled ballots (e.g., "overvotes") were correlated to having large numbers of candidates on the ballot, not based on whether those candidates were being ranked (as in IRV).

Claim: Real-world IRV elections can be won by instructing supporters to strategically rank certain candidates low or high
Truth: The term "strategic voting" describes the scenario when a voter casts a ballot that does not reflect their true preferences in hopes that the ballot will help bring about a desired election result. For example, a voter could vote in the primary of a political party they dislike and support a weak candidate (strategic "crossover" voting) with the hope of causing the weak candidate to be paired against their preferred candidate in the general election. As stated before, it has been mathematically proven that voting systems cannot have all the desirable properties one might like, and strategic voting is possible in almost all real election systems. There are strategic voting scenarios under IRV in which changing rankings to be contrary to the voter's true preference can affect the final outcome. IRV supporters recognize that systems encouraging strategic voting are undesirable, and therefore promote IRV because it is markedly less susceptible to strategic voting scenarios than other voting systems (see this comparison chart on strategic voting). Strategic voting is known to occur with both traditional and other non-IRV election methods (see Nader Swaps and the paragraphs about Dartmouth College's 2011 student elections by searching for the word "Dartmouth" here).

Claim: IRV is an experimental voting system
Truth: Forms of IRV have been in use across the world for over 100 years and is used across the US. IRV has been used successfully in Ireland for the office of president since 1938 (click here for historical Irish election results), and its long history of success there and in other places demonstrates that the arguments against IRV don't match up with reality. Click here for a comprehensive list of where IRV is used today.

Claim: IRV takes away the chance for voters to do focused research on the top two candidates
Truth: One of the greatest strengths of IRV is that it encourages positive campaigning by allowing candidates to seek the second choice votes of opponents' supporters instead of simply attacking all the other candidates. Runoff elections, on the other hand, are infamous for mud-slinging (a trait which current political consultants and media outlets are very familiar with and thus motivated to preserve), and supporters of IRV believe that the benefits of an all-IRV election -- incentives for positive campaigning, cost savings by avoiding a runoff, no "spoilers" or "vote splitting," avoiding low turnout in runoffs -- strongly outweigh any advantage. However, in situations where a runoff is desired, it is possible to use IRV in the first round to arrive at the two candidates for the final round, thus preserving a number of IRV's desirable properties.

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Page last revised November 29, 2015