May 07, 2003

Electoral Reforms

I wish there was a better venue to discuss this topic in more debt and with more input from various points of view. But for now, this will have to do.

This is a road I started on a few years back. I had set-up this e-mail discussion list on the future of Iran. A sort of “let’s assume Iran is a free and democratic country starting today, what now?” approach to discuss certain topics and come up with some suggestions and solutions. Although the list didn’t go too far (that story for another time), my two favorite topics were always electoral formats and legal system.

Now that election reform has become a hot topic again, I’d like to occasionally post some ideas and different systems for your review and commentary. (continued)


In general, elections and the system to conduct them are perhaps one of the most fundamental pillars of any democracy. Unfortunately, the current systems have all failed at providing a reliable mechanism for true representatives of their people to be elected.

The systems in place have gone as far as ignoring the vote of majority and granting victory to the person with the lesser number of votes. This is of course most apparent in the case of former governor of Texas, Mr. George W. Bush.

Other countries and regions have witnessed a remarkable disregard for the minority parties and candidates, in reality overlooking the desires of certain portions of their population. This may be most visible in Canada, where a party can gain a strong majority of power (both executive and legislative branches) with as little as 35% of the votes.

In a fair and equitable system, neither case should take place.

Today, I’d like to focus on one alternative. Although not necessary my favorite and certainly not free of problems, instant runoff voting (or IRV) is one option worth looking into.

In short, here’s how IRV works: in races that include at least three candidates, voters vote not for one person but for two, in their order of preference between all candidates. In other words, my first choice is X, my second is Z.

When votes are counted, if one candidate doesn’t have a clear majority of first choice votes (winning an outright majority), the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. The second choice votes of the eliminated candidate are then added to the other candidate’s numbers. This process is continued until there is one clear winner.

This is the system used in Australia (called “preference voting” there) for over a century. In U.S. and Canada, many districts and regions use a similar system for municipal and city council elections. Vermont is expected to adopt the system for its state legislature shortly.

I can go on into more details but I just wanted to open the topic and ask for your input. Please tell me what you think.

Also, if you’d like to look into other options, read more details or look at what some other jurisdictions use, a good source is the Center for Voting and Democracy (

Posted by Pedram at May 7, 2003 11:54 PM

interesting topic, pedram. i don't have any alternative off top of my head. i may get back with some alternatives. but i have a few comments:

canada gets a majority government with 35% of the vote since, as you know, votes get split over multiple parties. but in the australian model the pratical result seems to be the same, but the winning party gets the blessing of the majority through multiple voting and elimination of the least popular candidates. now get this: in canada and the US voter apathy is becoming a real problem while we have just one round of federal elections. Are we really going to vote multiple times? i think in australia voting is mandatory if i am not mistaken.

Posted by: hooman at May 8, 2003 11:59 AM