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Tom Tancredo: The Reason To Adopt Ranked Choice Voting?

With the entrance of Tom Tancredo into the Colorado gubernatorial race as the Constitution Party candidate, pundits have suddenly turned their attention to potential solutions to “vote-splitting”. We recently reported about the preferred solution for Colorado LP candidate Jaimes Brown. However, Eric Fried, the Secretary of the Colorado Green Party suggest a different reform:

How does ranked choice voting work? It’s literally as easy as 1, 2, 3. Instead of voting for just one candidate – often settling for the “lesser of two evils” – you rank them in preference order.

In the first round, your first choice is tallied as your vote. If a candidate receives at least 50 percent plus one vote, they win. If no one achieves a majority, a “runoff” occurs instantly. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and the votes for that candidate are reallocated to the candidate who was ranked next on the ballot by that voter.

If someone now has a majority, they win. The process repeats until one candidate gets a majority. If you voted for a losing candidate, your vote still counts only once – for your highest choice still in the running – instead of being thrown away.

In our Governor’s race, for example, conservatives disappointed in both McInnis and Maes could vote for Tom Tancredo first, the winner of the Republican primary second, and Hickenlooper third.

If Tancredo comes in last, those votes roll over to the Republican candidate (and vice versa). If a majority votes for one of the conservative candidates, the leading conservative wins. With ranked voting, voters can freely vote their conscience and send a powerful message to the political establishment.

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  1. Clay Shentrup Clay Shentrup August 16, 2010

    George Phillies,

    “The first issue with approval voting is that most people rapidly figure out they should vote for their own candidate and no one else.”

    Actually that’s NOT the best strategy with Approval Voting, for the same reason lots of Nader supporters didn’t actually vote for Nader with Plurality Voting — they didn’t think he could win.

    Empirical evidence massively refutes your fear of this “bullet voting” behavior.

    “This second problem is that the system, like many ranked systems in some sense assumes that if in a two-man race I prefer A to B in a three-man A B C race I cannot prefer B to A.”

    No, it does not assume that. You can prefer B to A, but you can’t express it. That may seem limiting but that’s an illusion. With IRV, for instance, you can rank X>Y>Z, but if Y and Z are the “frontrunners” then you’ll want to tactically rank Y in first place. And voters in IRV-using countries like Australia seem to actually DO THAT, shutting out third parties.

    IRV essentially degrades into Plurality Voting.

    With Approval Voting, voters NEVER EVER EVER have to fear voting for their sincere favorite, unlike with IRV.

    The evidence in favor of Approval Voting is just overwhelming. It’s better than IRV in virtually every way.

  2. Steven wilson Steven wilson August 14, 2010

    I wasn’t necessarily talking about the specifics of the actual voting system itself, I was talking about the message the systems bring or say about the people in which sustain them.

    All systems I know of have positive and negative points, but the characteristics of the system explain something about the people. The system of the game describes the players of the game.

    Here, simply put, you can’t rank what you don’t have access to.

  3. Aaron Hamlin Aaron Hamlin August 14, 2010


    I respectfully think you’ve got the order wrong on voting system and ballot access reform. Other than groups with high integrity like Free and Equal, it’s hard to get much clamor for ballot access. Really, why would the general public clamor for ballot access for candidates that don’t stand a shot at winning? It’s a waste of effort in their minds.

    But put in a system like approval voting and the story changes. Now they can always vote their favorite and give them support. They have all the incentive to get ballot access for their favorites because no longer will they be marginalized and their message ignored. And I say approval voting rather than RCV because, as Dale points out, RCV is a loser.

    Now I’m not saying the push for ballot access should be abandoned. But I am saying that approval voting (or a PR system) would significantly help the public momentum. Get a good voting system and the screams from the public for ballot access will follow.

  4. Steven wilson Steven wilson August 14, 2010

    Before rank voting has an impact, I was under the impression you had to have an environment that allowed for ballot access for all the game grid. If all game players are represented, then rank voting sends the message.

    If there is no ballot access, then rank voting sends no message.

  5. Aaron Hamlin Aaron Hamlin August 11, 2010

    There are a bunch of issues posted here. I’ll just dismiss one of them. This business of one-person-one-vote preventing approval voting is nonsense.

    First, where do we get this phrase? The Supreme Court from cases Reynolds v. Sims and Baker v. Carr. Both these cases dealt with redistricting. They stated that the populations of the districts had to be roughly equal. Why? Because unequal districts would allow lower populated areas to get more weight with their vote. Oddly enough, the electoral college violates this standard.

    So this reflexive one-person-one-vote response against approval voting is totally ignoring the court. The court said nothing about expression towards multiple candidates. It did say that the weight of one vote/ballot should not be greater than another. And approval voting meets exactly that standard.

    Still skeptical? IRV (the terrible system that it is) passes and that system allows expressions for more than one candidate. (See Stephenson v Ann Arbor Board of Canvassers. ) Also, cumulative voting, which allows multiple vote stacking, also passes the test. The ACLU sued the City of Martin and got them to use the system. (See Cottier, et al. v. City of Martin.)

    No more should this silly argument be raised. When you hear others raise this argument, this is what you tell them. Everyone is on notice.

  6. Dale Sheldon-Hess Dale Sheldon-Hess August 11, 2010

    “I’ve been in groups that used approval voting.

    It failed.”

    And I’ve been in groups that used IRV.

    It failed.

    The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”.

    The actual data says that approval (and score/range) lead to significantly better results on average.

  7. Nicholas Sarwark Nicholas Sarwark August 11, 2010

    But you’re forgetting a very important group: Hickenlooper voters who would also approve of Tancredo.

    In fairness, he also left out the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and God.

    With a similar effect.

  8. Melty Melty August 11, 2010

    I’ll be the first to admit mine is not a legal mind.
    Nor does my mind fit into the box this court seems to be thinking in. Of course, I know you’re not saying the court is wise or anything.

    To me, it’s a dead equal yea/nay vote for each option the same to each voter. Say ya vote nota, is that less a vote? Say ya vote for all five of five like a stooge, is that a maximal vote? Or take disapproval voting, for another example. The one who gets the fewest votes wins in that vote. So if ya disapprove of 3/5ths and somebody else disapproves of 4/5ths, which vote has more power? I’d argue each nay is equally weighty as each yea. . . .Okay, I’m no defense attorney. Can we call a mathematician to testify?

  9. Erik G. Erik G. August 11, 2010


    Also, yes, that may be your interpretation of ‘one man, one vote,’ but it’s not the court’s. What you’re arguing is essentially ‘one man, one ballot.’ Again, the idea that you could approve 3/5 candidates while I only approve 1/5 would still give your vote more power in the eyes of the court.

  10. Erik G. Erik G. August 11, 2010


    I stand corrected – momentary diction lapse. But yes, the argument I was trying to make does extend to both systems of voting (range and approval). Typically Dale is talking about score voting (=range voting), which must be how I duck snorted my point.

  11. Melty Melty August 11, 2010

    For all the asphyxiation I feel from plurality voting, I’d still keep it in a choice between that and instant runoff.

  12. Melty Melty August 11, 2010

    The example you give above, Erik G., is an illustration of range voting, range eleven, not approval voting (which you could call “binary range” if you like), but yes, your point still stands.
    While plurality voting is one vote per office per voter, approval voting is one vote per candidate per voter. To my notion, you couldn’t get more “one person, one vote” than approval, but of course it goes against tradition.

  13. Erik G. Erik G. August 11, 2010

    I still believe that approval voting would fail the test of ‘one man, one vote’ in the courts, no matter how much Dale screams otherwise. The only reason the courts have found IRV to be acceptable is that it transfers 1 vote – it has nothing to do with it being ‘1 ballot’ if you read the opinions.

    In approval voting, JB could vote Tancredo 10, Maes 5, Hickenlooper 0, while another person votes Tancredo 10, Maes 0, Hickenlooper 0. Technically, JB’s vote counted more.

    Also, I don’t much care for approval voting because it would appear to elect a bunch of mushy, know-little, populist moderates with easily swayable views.

    However, for the record, as stated before, I’d take anything over plurality voting.

  14. Melty Melty August 10, 2010

    “This second problem is that the system, like many ranked systems in some sense assumes that if in a two-man race I prefer A to B in a three-man A B C race I cannot prefer B to A.”

    George. I’m confused. Approval Voting is not a ranking system, it’s a rating system, and the above assumption is not made under Approval. I’m guessing you just got something mixed up in the nomenclature and mistook Approval to be some ranking system or other.

    Also, under Approval, there are times that voting for just your one most favored candidate is good strategy, but there are times when it’s not.
    Just trying to clarify.

  15. George Phillies George Phillies August 10, 2010

    I’ve been in groups that used approval voting.

    It failed.

    The first issue with approval voting is that most people rapidly figure out they should vote for their own candidate and no one else. (Let us skip the person who in a three-man race voted for all three candidates.)

    This second problem is that the system, like many ranked systems in some sense assumes that if in a two-man race I prefer A to B in a three-man A B C race I cannot prefer B to A. People are not robots, so that assumption is wrong. For example, while A is a bit better than B in general, B is utterly the opposite of C, C is truly repugnant, and by electing B I can send C’s followers the message that they are not welcome in civilized places.

  16. Markie Mark Markie Mark August 10, 2010

    thanks hess you just gave me a huge headache! 🙂

  17. Dale Sheldon-Hess Dale Sheldon-Hess August 10, 2010

    But you’re forgetting a very important group: Hickenlooper voters who would also approve of Tancredo.

    You see, RCV (AKA IRV), “works” perfectly if you pre-assume that all candidates (and all voters) fall into one of two camps, and that all the voters in each camp prefer all the candidates of their camp over all candidates in the other camp, and that the camp will be happy as long as someone, anyone from the camp wins.

    In other words, RCV “works” if there is a two-party duopoly, and third-parties and independents are simple stubs hanging from those bodies. But I thought a place called *Independent* Political Report would have people who thought differently than that.

    The truth is, for Tancredo–or any third-party or independent candidate–to have ANY chance of winning, they will have to garner the approval of members of BOTH camps (seriously; if you didn’t need to do that, winning a party primary would be a much easier way to go about things.)

    And in that situation, where voters are crossing “traditional” party lines, RCV *falls apart*, as demonstrated in the example I provided in my first response. It breaks down and devolves to the same “lesser-evil” strategies as plurality, and ends up in the same two-party ghetto as plurality; the same ghetto from which RCV was sold as a way to escape.

    But it is no escape. Approval voting (and score voting) are the only voting methods that avoid “lesser evil” strategies when there is a third candidate in the mix. They are the only methods that can give third-parties and independents a chance.

    No, deciding whether or not it’s advantageous to you to approve a back-up candidate isn’t always easy. To be certain, you would have to look at polls; but as someone who already contemplates, under plurality, voting for “spoiler” candidates, this should be nothing new to you. Only now… no spoilers! It’s new and different, yes; but it IS really, truly, better.

  18. JB JB August 10, 2010

    A minute ago I commented on something Dale wrote on this general subject. I’ll make my same point on RCV compared to approval voting.

    Tancredo is polling even with the Republican right now. If I think that’s the case, a strong Tancredo voter is not going to also vote for the Republican . I have a clear preference: Tancredo 1, Republican 2, Hickenlooper (Democrat) 3. My first choice matters to me. My last choice matters to me.

    With RCV, it’s easy to know what to do despite Dale’s contorted example. With approval, though, I’m stuck. It all depends on guesswork and whether it’s more important to defeat the Democrat (so I approve of Republican) or elect Tancredo (so I don’t).

    I think in this Colorado example, most Tancredo and Republican backers would come down about equally on what to do. About half might vote for both, about half wouldn’t.. The result is that even though together they have enough votes to defeat Hickenlooper and would likely do so with RCV, they would both fall well short with approval voting and Hickenlooper would win with 45% or so.

  19. Dale Sheldon-Hess Dale Sheldon-Hess August 10, 2010

    “easy as 1, 2, 3.”

    I see the Denver Post is taking quotes straight from FairVote’s marketing material now.

    “voters can freely vote their conscience”

    I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: this statement is not true. The counter example is very simple:

    4: A > B > C
    1: B > A > C
    1: B > C > A
    3: C > B > A

    If this is A v. B, B wins. But add C, and A wins instead. The C-first voters, if they want to get the best possible outcome from this election, need to disingenuously rank B above their true favorite, C; or else their most-hated candidate wins. Just like plurality.

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