History and use of instant-runoff voting

History and use of instant-runoff voting

Instant-runoff voting was invented around 1870 by the American architect W. R. Ware. Today it is in use at a national level to elect the Australian House of Representatives, the Fijian House of Representatives and the President of Ireland. In Australia it is also used for elections to the legislative assemblies (lower houses) of all states and territories except Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, and for the Tasmanian Legislative Council (upper house).

IRV is also used for municipal elections in various places in Australia, the United States, and New Zealand. Because of its relationship to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, IRV is used for by-elections in a some jurisdictions that use STV for ordinary parliamentary elections, such as the Republic of Ireland.

IRV is known by different names in the various countries in which it is used. It is also known as the 'Alternative Vote', 'Ranked Choice Voting', 'Preferential Voting', and the 'Hare system'. The last three of these names may be misleading, because IRV is only one of a number of forms of preferential voting systems, and because the precise system known as 'instant-runoff voting' was invented by Ware rather than Thomas Hare.


Instant-runoff voting is based on the Single Transferable Vote electoral system, invented independently by Thomas Hare in 1857 and Carl Andrae in 1855. Unlike IRV, the Single Transferable Vote was designed as a form of proportional representation involving multi-seat constituencies, and today STV is used in a number of countries, including Australia, the Republic of Ireland and Malta.

William Robert Ware, the founder of the schools of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Columbia University [ [http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/research/collections/collections-mc/mc14.html William R. Ware Papers 1826-1914: Institute Archives & Special Collections: MIT ] ] , invented IRV in by applying the Single Transferable Vote system to single winner elections. IRV was adopted for the Australian House of Representatives in 1918 and has been used to elect the President of Ireland since the office came into being in 1937. It was introduced in Fiji in 1999 and in Papua New Guinea in 2007.

Use by country


In the past IRV has been used in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Under the name 'preferential' or 'elimination ballot', it was used in the general election of 1952 and the general election of 1953. IRV was initially brought in by the governing coalition consisting of the Liberal and Conservative Parties to try to prevent a left-wing government under the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation as voters could then choose one of the governing parties as their first choice and the other as their second choice. However, IRV backfired on the Liberals and Conservatives when many CCF supporters chose the relatively unknown Social Credit Party, a minor party that had never held any seats in the British Columbia legislature, as their second choice. The Social Credit Party achieved a spectacular upset victory in the 1952 election, winning a plurality of 19 seats in the 48-member legislature to 18 for the CCF, 6 for the Liberals and 4 for the Conservatives. The Soc Creds formed a short-lived minority government until the 1953 election, in which they won a majority of seats (28 of 48). After the 1953 election, the Liberal and renamed Progressive Conservative Parties were reduced to third parties in the province, and first-past-the-post was reinstated by the government.

Today IRV is used for certain party and private elections, including large-scale elections for the Canadian Wheat Board [ [http://www.cwbelection.com/electionprocess.asp#voting 2006 CWB Election of Directors ] ] and the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership election, 2006,where it has generated high turnout [ [http://www.cwb.ca/public/en/newsroom/releases/2002/121602.jsp Canadian Wheat Board - 2002 ] ] .

Republic of Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland IRV is used for presidential elections and for by-elections to the Dáil (the lower house of parliament). Most elections in the Republic use the Single Transferable Vote. This system was first introduced for a national election when the abortive Parliament of Southern Ireland was elected in 1921. It was provided, at the same time, that by-elections for the body would occur under IRV. When what is now the Republic seceded from the United Kingdom in 1922 STV was adopted for ordinary elections to Dáil Éireann and IRV for by-elections, and this combination has been used ever since. STV is also used for local and European elections, but in these cases by-elections do not occur. Instead local council vacancies are filled by co-option and European vacancies by an individual from a list of replacements nominated by the MEP at the time of his election.

The office of President of Ireland has existed since the adoption of the current Constitution of Ireland in 1937, which provided that the President would be elected by IRV. However the first election did not occur until 1945. This is because the constitution also allows that, where there is agreement among political parties, a consensus candidate can come to office without the occurrence of an election. The President occupies a largely ceremonial position, as real power is exercised by the Taoiseach (prime minister) and Dáil.

On the island of Ireland IRV is not referred to as 'instant-runoff voting' and only rarely as the 'Alternative Vote', the name popular in Great Britain. Instead it is usually called the 'Single Transferable Vote' or, sometimes, incorrectly, 'proportional representation'. The name "Single Transferable Vote" is used because when the rules of STV are applied to a single-winner election, such as a presidential election or by-election, STV becomes one and the same as IRV. However this can be confusing because there are many important differences between the use of STV for multi-seat elections and IRV. For this reason many scholars regard STV as a separate system from IRV, and that is the convention followed in this article. It is incorrect to refer to IRV as 'proportional representation' because the term "proportional representation" can only meaningfully be applied to an election in which more than a single candidate is returned.

United Kingdom

IRV is currently used in the United Kingdom for by-elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly and, in its contingent vote form (also called the supplementary vote), for all direct elections for mayor in England, including in London [ [http://www.londonelects.org.uk/the_mayor_of_london.aspx London Elects - The Mayor of London ] ] . It is used to fill vacancies within the House of Lords [ [http://www.election.demon.co.uk/lordsbe.html House of Lords Byelection ] ] , to elect the leaders of the Liberal Democrats [ [http://www.mvcwestsussex.org.uk/glossary.html Make Votes Count In West Sussex ] ] and the Labour Party [ [http://www.makemyvotecount.org.uk/blog/archives/labour/labour_leadership_contest/index.html Make My Vote Count: Labour Leadership Contest Archives ] ] and for many private elections, including for Chancellor of Oxford University [ [http://www.ox.ac.uk/gazette/2002-3/supps/1_4645.htm Oxford University Gazette: Election of Chancellor of the University (supplement) ] ] and rectorial elections at the University of Edinbrugh [ [http://www.ed.ac.uk/news/rectorialelection/regulations.html The University of Edinburgh - Rectorial Election ] ] .

The voting method has been debated vigorousy in the country since the early 20th century. In 1917, for example, the Speaker's Conference advocated the adoption of instant-runoff for 358 of the 569 constituencies in the UK, and STV for the rest. The intention was that STV would be used in densely populated urban areas but, in order to keep constituencies from being too large, IRV would be used in more sparsely populated rural areas. Although the House of Commons voted in favour of the proposals five times, the House of Lords continually rejected it until the nationwide effort was ultimately abandoned in parliament.

In 1921 the Government of Ireland Act established two home rule parliaments in Ireland–the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the Parliament of Southern Ireland–and while STV was used for regular elections to these bodies IRV was used for by-elections. This combination of IRV and STV has been used in what is now the Republic of Ireland ever since. The Northern Ireland Parliament continued to use the combination until the late 1920s when it switched to the 'first past the post' plurality system.talk However STV for regular elections, and IRV for by-elections, has been reintroduced and used there to elect devolved assemblies since the 1970s.

IRV is usually referred to in the UK as the 'Alternative Vote' or 'AV'. In 1998 the Jenkins Commission, charged by the government with suggesting an alternative system to plurality, devised a new system called the Alternative Vote Plus (AV+) for elections to the British Parliament. This involved a combination of party-list proportional representation and single seat constituencies elected under IRV. However no action has been taken on the Commission's report. Most electoral reformers in the UK favour one or other form of proportional representation. However the Labour Party minister Peter Hain has written a number of articles advocating IRV for elections to the British Parliament. Electoral scientists have shown that, because of the current distribution of voters across constituencies, had IRV been used in recent British general elections it would have greatly benefited Labour and the Liberal Democrats at the expense of the Conservative Party.

New Zealand

Starting in 2004, several New Zealand cities and local authorities converted from plurality voting to the single transferable vote (stv) for their elections -- including the nation's second largest city and capital Wellington and fifth largest city Wellington [ [http://www.stv.govt.nz/STV/legislation.htm] ] . Where electing a mayor directly, these cities used instant runoff voting - for instance, in 2007 Wellington's mayor Kerry Prendergast defeated her 10 rivals on the 9th round of counting [ [http://www.wellington.govt.nz/haveyoursay/elections/results/2007/final/2007results.html] ] .

As of September 2008, eight authorities are elected with single transferable vote: Chatham Islands Council, Dunedin City Council, Kaipara District Council, Kapiti Coast District Council, Marlborough District Council, Porirua City Council, Thames-Coromandel District Council and Wellington City Council [ [http://www.stv.govt.nz] ] . Wellington upheld STV in a ballot measure in September 2008 [ [http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominionpost/4708220a23882.html] ] .

United States


ee also

*History and use of the Single Transferable Vote
*Irish presidential election

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