Think Freely Media presents Common Sense with Paul Jacob

Reid Wilson, at the Washington Post, regales us with seven U.S. senatorial races where Libertarian Party candidates could swing elections, and thus control of the Senate. Last weekend at Townhall, I exhorted readers to work for transpartisan reforms “like term limits . . . and other measures aimed at greater representation, [such as] establishing ranked choice voting.”

The two articles are not unrelated.

Conservatives and libertarians are often united in wanting to replace progressive Democrats with small-government contenders. But they are not united in how to do this. Many libertarians balk at voting for hardline social conservative candidates like Rick Santorum and middle-of-the-road statists like John McCain.

So the Libertarian Party runs candidates that have in recent elections gained traction with voters — enough to pull independent voters away from Republicans and sometimes enabling Democrats to win.

Republican entreaties to libertarians (“you’re killing us out here!”) appear to be no more effective than libertarian entreaties to Republicans (“want our support? try taking your limited government stances seriously!”).

What to do? Republican partisans should support Instant Runoff Voting, which would

  1. Allow people to rank their choices for office, and
  2. Instruct vote-counters to take the votes of those who selected a No. 1 pick of, say, a Libertarian who garnered the smallest number of votes,  and add those ballots’ second ranked vote (either for a D or an R) as the vote to count in the “instant runoff.”

This would allow for better expression of voter preference, solving the “wasted vote” problem and ceasing to make the “best the enemy of the good.”

Alternately, Republicans could continue their course, trying to limit ballot access, thereby alienating more of the electorate and ensuring that Libertarian votes can’t also be Republican votes.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

By: Redactor


  1. JFB says:

    Nice thought but such a system will not incentivize either of the major parties to reform or evolve. It is only when one or the other of them determines they need the smaller group that platform changes will be adopted.
    With the instant run off there is even less incentive for those in power to listen.
    A truly limited constitutionally controlled government remains the only answer. Take the economic power out of the government and at that point it becomes generally irrelevant.

  2. Frank Atwood says:

    A superior voting method to ranked choice voting is Approval Voting – “Vote for one or more, most votes wins.” (For the wonks, change the over vote threshold from number of open seats to number of candidates.)

    For third parties it provides viability and visibility, because the voter is able to vote for the third party and an electable party – no more “wasted” vote.

    For major parties, fewer spoilers and less sabotage. Most pernicious to current democracy is Republicans financing Greens and Democrats financing Libertarians. This solves that problem. Even with third parties in the race the voter will be able to vote for the major party. The election is no longer zero-sum.

    Please visit



  3. Rincon says:

    Australia has been using it since 1918. Seems to work for them. As the column says, this is common sense. With our present system, Third party candidates split the vote, often resulting in the least popular candidate winning an election. Instant runoff assures that people will never waste their votes.

  4. Ben P says:

    Instant runoff voting can go a long way toward making parties and candidates more responsive. Once candidates realize they need 2nd-place votes, they have an incentive to reach out to a broader range of voters rather than just sticking to their base. Since IRV eliminates the “spoiler effect”, it also opens up the process so that minor parties and independents can have more of a voice.

    At first glance approval voting has some appealing qualities, but it often produces results that don’t really represent the electorate. Since every approval vote carries equal weight, approving multiple candidates can actually hurt your first choice, which means that voters have an incentive to only approve one candidate. As a result, the spoiler effect is still a threat and voters are restrained from supporting long-shot candidates. With IRV, it doesn’t hurt your favorite candidate to have a second choice – its just ensures that you still have a voice if your first pick doesn’t win.

  5. Free Man (NOT) says:

    Not everyone who calls himself a libertarian really is.
    A perfect example is the democrat backed “libertarian” in the recent governor race in VA.
    That’s the real reason McCaulife won.

  6. Elizabeth Nash says:

    The Conservative Party of Canada used this system for their leadership race once a dozen years ago. I was asked to run one of the polling stations, and was very impressed by how easy it was to count the ballots at the end. It made such good sense, I don’t know why more jurisdictions don’t use this method of balloting.

  7. Rincon says:

    Why would Democrats or Republicans support instant runoff? They enjoy their present duopoly. If only two companies sold us oil, they would be broken up in a minute, but somehow, it’s fine if two companies run our government.

  8. Ben P,

    You have it precisely backwards on the spoiler effect. Approval Voting passes (and IRV fails) the two following criteria:

    1) Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives
    2) Favorite Betrayal Criterion

    These are the two criteria that are most directly tied to the notion of the “spoiler effect”. You can see this demonstrated quite simply here:

    The Favorite Betrayal Criterion is satisfied if a voting system makes it safe to vote for your favorite candidate. IRV unfortunately fails this. E.g. in the 2009 IRV mayoral race in Burlington, Vermont, some voters got their third choice, but would have gotten their second choice if they had insincerely ranked their second choice in the 1st place position. I.e. they were “punished” by wasting their vote on a spoiler.

    > approving multiple candidates can actually hurt your first choice, which means that voters have an incentive to only approve one candidate

    It depends. Suppose you favored Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in the 2000 election, but strategically voted for Gore, fearing a wasted vote. With Approval Voting, your best tactic would be to still vote for Gore but *also* vote for Nader, your true favorite.

    This is an area of frequent confusion, and I would urge you to do some deeper research on the strategic aspects of voting systems. Here’s a deeper comparison of Approval Voting and IRV, based largely on the analysis of some math PhD’s with year’s of experience in the field.

    Clay Shentrup
    Co-founder, The Center for Election Science

  9. Mel says:

    There are a couple of other benefits of IRV that haven’t been mentioned:
    1) It obviates the need for primaries, thereby saving the candidates and voters a significant amount of money.
    2) There will be less mud-slinging in a multi-candidate race because candidate A slamming candidate B may make candidate C’s supporters not want to select A as their second choice.

  10. Mike Spalding says:

    Approval voting (vote for all the candidates you approve of) is easier to explain to voters and is a better measure of actual voter preferences.

    I vote for the candidates I approve of. The English isn’t great but the meaning is clear. This eliminates spoilers; it allows me to vote for the Libertarian without getting the Republican elected.

    It also lets politicians know that there are a lot of folks supporting Libertarians. With the old one vote system, folks would vote for one major candidate so the other major candidate didn’t win. With this system everyone votes for all the candidates they approve of. Once the politicians see the support for the third party candidates, they’ll adopt the third party ideas.

  11. MoreFreedom says:

    Thanks to Mr. Jacob for promoting better democratic voting methods. And thanks to the posters for showing the alternative approval voting. I’ll be studying

  12. Andrew Terhune says:

    Alternately, Republicans could continue their course, trying to limit ballot access,

    I am not aware of any Republicans trying to limit ballot access. Rather, it is a concern for the integrity of the ballot.

  13. Frank Atwood says:

    There will be an Alternative Voting Methods Symposium just outside Denver on November 15 & 16, 2014, write for details. Thanks, Frank

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