On Election Day, Tuesday November 6, 2012, the Political and Electoral Reform of Occupy Wall Street conducted an alternative voting experiment at polling places in Manhattan’s 69th State Assembly District. The group was granted credentials from the NYC Board of Elections to conduct the exit-poll style experiment inside the city’s official polling places. The experiment compared plurality voting (traditional “vote for one” method) with approval voting, score voting and instant runoff voting. We also did an extended interview with the organizer.
Below are graphs revealing the totals for plurality, IRV, and approval voting:
While this district was clearly not representative of the overall American electorate, note the relative strength of the minor party candidates compared to the major party candidates. For instance, Green Party candidate Jill Stein received one vote for about every 27 votes for Obama. (The study authors note that their results were consistent with this precinct’s official election results.)
Now let’s look at Instant Runoff Voting.
Because Obama won in the first round of voting, we don’t see the depth of support for the minor party candidates. These results actually look almost identical to the Plurality Voting results! And even when IRV elections require several rounds of elimination, the news headlines rarely shed light on the details.
And how would they do so if they wanted to? There is no good way to summarize the results of an IRV election into a simple figure that says, “here’s how many votes each candidate got.” This gives the false impression that the minor party candidates had far less support than they really did.
Now compare to Approval Voting.
The Green Party now receives 58% as much support as the Democratic Party. This is over a 15x improvement in the Green Party’s strength relative to the Democratic Party, compared to where they were with Plurality Voting. The other minor party and write-in candidates also fared dramatically better.
Note that this boost for third parties is consistent in other studies looking at approval voting. See the figures below extrapolated from French and German studies.