A lot of people argue that advocates of alternative voting methods should rally behind Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), a form of ranked voting often simply called “Ranked Choice Voting”—even if they prefer a better voting method like STAR voting, score voting, or approval voting—because IRV is far and away the most well known ranked voting method, with the most momentum.

I would argue the exact opposite. IRV has already been adopted broadly across the country, including New York City, San Francisco, and the entire state of Maine. At this point, it’s either going to spread like a wildfire, or die out, based on its own merit and ability to continue to convince the public. Your individual contribution to the movement is statistically unlikely to make a difference one way or another as to which way that goes.

Whereas STAR voting and approval voting, which are simpler and better than IRV in every measurable way, are in their infancy. Your individual contribution has a very real possibility of determining whether these methods make it out of the nursery.

STAR voting failed by a narrow margin in Lane County, Oregon in 2018 (46% to 42%), and a new ballot initiative to bring STAR voting to Troutdale, Oregon just commenced in June 2020. It has seen increasing interest from the “Yang Gang”, including a lot of mentions on social media.

Approval voting, a simplified binary scale version of score voting, was just used for the first time in the U.S. in June 2020 in Fargo, North Dakota. The results were simple and transparent as promised. St Louis voters will be next to adopt approval voting if a majority of them approve it via ballot initiative on Nov 3, 2020.

Fargo voters could select as many candidates as they wished; the top two voter getters were elected.

Approval voting uses a normal ballot, and thus requires no upgrades to voting machines nor any major changes to counting procedures. As such, there’s reason to believe it can spread much faster than IRV, and eradicate the current choose-one voting method much more rapidly. Thus if anything, one could argue that approval voting has more momentum than IRV, in terms of velocity-per-activist.


Another risk with IRV is the historical risk of backsliding. Warren Smith, a Princeton math PhD who focuses on voting methods notes:

Many US cities (most famously, New York City in 1936; also Cincinnati) adopted either IRV or STV-type proportional representation (multiwinner) elections in the 1930s. [STV, in elections with only one winner, is the same thing as IRV.] (Also the Louisiana Democratic Party adopted top-2-IRV for its gubernatorial primary elections.) Almost all of them, including all three mentioned here, later changed their minds.

More recently IRV has been re-introduced in the USA in a lot of places, and the voters in those places in many cases then repealed IRV after 1 or 2 bad experiences using it, e.g. Burlington VT, Aspen CO, Cary NC, Pierce County WA, etc.

And before that, a different ranked voting method called Bucklin voting was used in 40 U.S. cities from 1910 to around 1920, and repealed in every single one of them. Bucklin was even simpler (and arguably better) than IRV, and it still got repealed.

We believe that the relative simplicity of STAR voting and especially approval voting will make them much less likely to lead to repeal.


So please don’t waste limited voting reform resources on IRV. Instead help simpler superior methods like STAR voting and approval voting, which accomplish greater benefit with less cost and complexity.

Advocate of Score Voting and Approval Voting. Software engineer. Father. Husband. American.

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