Painful vote counts under RCV?

Outcomes used to offset the headache.

One possible bug in ranked-choice voting is the duration of a vote count. This is especially true in the proportional representation (PR) form, since ballots may move around a lot more than in “instant-runoff voting.” Many used to suggest that painful vote counts were a cause of PR’s repeal. This claim resurfaced yesterday in a private exchange about Al Southwick’s piece on PR in Worcester, Mass. Southwick writes:

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PR, RCV, race, turnout, and voter error

Does error go up when new people vote?

Does ranked-choice voting (RCV) baffle voters? Our (great-) grandparents used to say so. Better data and methods have led to new evidence, but the popular conversation is no more substantive than one we’d have had in the 1940s. California Gov. Jerry Brown repeated the “complicated” claim in a local-option veto message last September. Some have even suggested to me that RCV is systematically biased against certain groups.

I think the systematic bias charge is a leap. I think people are talking past each other in the popular RCV conversation. (Witness the number of commas in the title of this post.) I also think there are serious usability problems, but evidence suggests these are not limited to RCV.

First I’ll summarize the work I know. (I will not get into other good work on campaign tone, female and POC candidate entry, etc.) Then I will show my own data from American proportional representation (PR) elections since no modern work speaks to PR. Some of the error rates will be staggering.

My best guess is that high PR error rates resulted when select parties and candidates were mobilizing new voters en masse. If this were true, the actors would not be those who imposed PR in the first place. It also would explain why my error rates spike in some PR elections regarded as positives for people of color.

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