As mentioned in the chapter, some localities (such as San
Francisco) have replaced runoff elections and even primaries with instant
runoff voting to save time and money. Most jurisdictions have implemented a
two-stage system in which if a candidate fails to receive a majority of votes
in the first round, a second runoff election is held weeks later between the
two candidates who earned the most votes. For instance, France employs a
two-stage system for its presidential elections. No primaries are held.
Instead, all candidates from all parties are on the ballot in the first round,
which usually guarantees a second round, since it is very difficult for a
single candidate to earn a majority of votes among such a large field. Although
a runoff in the French presidential election is always expected, it doesn’t
mean that French elections are not without the occasional surprise. In 2002,
the country was shocked when the right-wing candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen beat
the socialist Lionel Jospin to take second place and thus advance to the runoff
election against the first-round winner (and incumbent) Jacques Chirac. It had
been widely assumed that Jospin would take second, setting up a runoff between
himself and Chirac. Instant runoff voting can be explained in five steps:
1. Voters rank all candidates according to their
2. The votes are counted.
3. If a candidate has earned a majority of the votes,
that candidate is the winner. If not, go to step 4.
4. Eliminate candidate(s) with the fewest votes.
(Eliminate more than one candidate at the same time only if they tie for the
5. Redistribute votes from eliminated candidates to the
next-ranked choices on those ballots. Once this is done, return to step 2.
(a) Instant runoff voting is slowly gaining traction. It
is used in a dozen cities in the United States and for state-wide judicial
elections in North Carolina (as of 2013). Given the potential savings in money
and time, it might be surprising that the institution isn’t more widely
adopted. Why might some oppose instant runoff voting?
(b) What other concerns or criticisms might be raised
about instant runoff voting?