Why IRV is the Best Single Winner Method for Public Elections

by Adam Fogel // Published January 17, 2007
There are many single winner election methods other than our existing plurality and two-round runoff voting systems. Here are reasons for why we believe that instant runoff voting (IRV) offers the most politically practical and common sense option for replacing the plurality voting and traditional runoff systems used in nearly all American elections.

Majority Rule: Plurality voting only rewards first choice support. With IRV, a candidate cannot win an IRV election without being acceptable to a majority of voters.

Requires Both Breadth and Strength of Support: Being acceptable to a majority of voters is not enough to win an IRV election. A candidate also must have enough first choice support to avoid early elimination. IRV does not reward candidates who avoid all controversial issues.

Ease of Use: Voters simply rank candidates in order of choice. It has been implemented well; exit polls show that large majorities of voters prefer IRV to their prior system.

Cleaner Campaigns: Successful candidates have more incentive to reach out to supporters of other candidates to earn second choice support. Candidates tend to run more substantive campaigns and avoid personal attacks.

No Complex Strategies: Voters in IRV elections almost never face a "spoiler" dilemma no matter how many candidates run, which means they can vote their hopes and not their fears. IRV is essentially resistant to strategy, according to voting experts like Nicolaus Tideman.

Potential Taxpayer Savings: Because IRV can replace runoff or primary elections with one general election, many jurisdictions see major savings after adopting IRV.

Evaluating Alternatives to IRV

Range voting, approval voting and Condorcet and variations of these election methods are not used for elections for any public office in elections around the world, but have their strong advocates. Although these systems may have appropriate applications, IRV is preferable for our elections.

We highlight the following criteria to evaluate a single winner system"s merits and political viability - IRV upholds all these criteria, while other leading reform options do not.

Does the system meet the common sense principle of majority rule? In an election with two candidates, the candidate preferred by a majority should always win.

Does the system meet the common sense principle of requiring a minimum level of core support? A winner should be at least one voter"s first choice.

Does the system meet the common sense principle of rewards for sincere voting? A voter should not likely be punished for voting sincerely under the system"s rules.

Read our evaluation of other proposed single winner election systems based on these criteria.