Wyoming State Senators Cale Case and Chris Rothfuss, along with Representative Dan Zwonitzer, recently filed a bill to move the state’s elections to “ranked pairs” voting. Rothfuss and Zwonitzer are also sponsors of a bill to establish a commission to study election issues, including alternative voting systems. Like ranked choice voting, ranked pairs voting has voters rank candidates in order of preference, but counts votes differently. It is a Condorcet voting method that FairVote supports, with some concerns and some skepticism about its viability.
Condorcet methods use the voters’ rankings to simulate a series of head-to-head contests. If one candidate would defeat each of the others one-on-one, that candidate is called the “Condorcet” winner. If there is a circular tie (e.g, Candidate A defeats Candidate B, Candidate B defeats Candidate C, and Candidate C defeats Candidate A - as in rock, paper, scissors), then there are various possible rules to break the tie.
Condorcet methods have important advocates, including Nobel Prize winners Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen, who recently wrote this article on the proposal for the New York Review of Books. Maskin and Sen are also supportive of ranked choice voting as used in many elections and as advocated for by FairVote, which is unsurprising given its track record. Ranked choice voting is proven in practice, viable politically and has an excellent record of electing the Condorcet candidate, including every ranked choice voting election in the Bay Area to date.
No voting method fulfills all the criteria put forth by political scientists in evaluating electoral systems. There are cases where the “ranked pairs” method might elect a candidate who would lose with RCV - for instance, it might elect a candidate without any first choice support, but who was everyone’s second choice. Winners also sometimes might be relatively unknown, yet inoffensive candidates in a race against better known, but more polarizing candidates. The fact that pair-wise voting, unlike ranked choice voting, has never been used in any governmental election makes its adoption a long shot. We think these realities may present difficulties for advocates of the Wyoming bill, but we are sympathetic with its goals, applaud its backers, and will track it with interest.
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