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Instant Runoff Voting Excluded: An Unreasonable Omission from An Unreasonable Man

December 24th, 2007 by Howard Ditkoff

I just finished watching An Unreasonable Man, the documentary of the life of Ralph Nader. I loved it except for one glaring omission that has me deeply saddened, frustrated and angered, yet again, with Ralph Nader, the film itself, and many of the people who spoke in it.

The film discusses at length how Ralph’s legacy has been tarnished, perhaps irrevocably, because of public perception of him as a “spoiler” in the 2000 election. But the film never even took one moment to discuss the fact that the very existence of the “spoiler” possibility in our system is one of its most profound flaws. Ralph himself never comments on it in the film, just as he continues to fail to do over and over in his own speeches and other interviews. And none of the people interviewed in the film - not one - even mentions this issue. I don’t know if some mentioned it, but it was left out by the filmmakers, or if it was just chosen not to be touched on. But I find it hard to believe that this absolutely pivotal point to the entire issue was not even touched on by anyone.

I have talked to Ralph personally about this in the past and I am angered time and again that he won’t put election reform itself, such as advocacy of Instant Runoff Voting, at the top of his agenda so that “spoilers” are not even possible. If his true intent was to open up the system to third parties, as he claims time and again, he must realize, as must many of the people who spoke in the film, that this type of reform is the only way to create any kind of fair playing field. I know absolutely that people like Ralph and Theresa Amato are fully aware of these reforms since I was with them, for example at Fairvote’s Claim Democracy Conference in 2003, where they spoke and all of these issues were front and center.

I have my theories as to why Ralph repeatedly refuses to make this issue his top issue and, given his considerable platform, why he chooses to focus on the faults of the Democratic Party rather than the faults of the election system itself which enable and provide the foundation for the Democratic Party’s exclusionary strategies. His refusal to do so remains the one thing that continues to plague my conscience about Nader because it is so disingenuous. It seems to me to portray a higher priority on revenge for his own personal exclusion by the Democrats than on creating a just election system, even when he himself and his legacy are some of the system’s biggest unnecessary victims.

I spent more than a year of my life devoted almost exclusively to promoting Instant Runoff Voting, helping to make Ferndale, Michigan the third city in the country in recent years to pass an Instant Runoff Voting measure, which we are now working to get implemented. I feel deeply that, along with Campaign Finance Reform, this is the absolutely central measure if we want to open up the playing field to more voices in our political arena. And the failure of the major parties to widely support such reform is the crucial answer to why it is unfair to expect third parties not to participate. And yet when Ralph - as well as everyone else depicted in the film, especially politically savvy people like Michael Moore - refuse to focus on that issue, it is a shameful lost opportunity for real reform.

I plead with Ralph Nader himself, everyone involved in any way with Ralph Nader and with this film, An Unreasonable Man, to repeatedly refocus the “spoiler” discussion toward the faults of the election system and the need for Instant Runoff Voting. I plead with them to turn the discussion away from Nader personally and toward groups such as Fairvote who are doing such fantastic work on beginning to change the system so that “spoilers” don’t even exist. And I plead with anyone who wants to discuss this matter more to get in touch with me. There are few issues that continue year after year to affect me so deeply, down to my bones, as this one and I am eager to speak with anyone who understands and is passionate about bringing real justice to this system, rather than rehashing a pointless debate about why one of the greatest Americans of all time fell victim to a system that should never exist in this form in the first place.

Nader’s “spoiler” fiasco can still be turned into constructive action if we focus the same amount of energy that supporters put into those several-thousand-seat-filled rallies in 2000 and that detractors have put into Nader-bashing ever since then onto the real leverage point for constructive change, election reform, especially Instant Runoff Voting. I call on those who supported and still support Nader to beat a steady drumbeat of “Instant Runoff Voting would have allowed him to run fully without the ‘spoiler’ issue looming.” I call on those who opposed him vehemently and perhaps still do to beat the exact same drumbeat. This is the common ground on which we can all walk together toward greater justice, regardless of where we fall on the double bind by which this system victimized all of us in the 2000 election and continues to victimize us through a mathematically unfair limitation of our choices.

I hope that whenever the 2000 election is mentioned, it gets to a point where the next words on every one of our lips are “Instant Runoff Voting” and “”. It is the one way to turn this shameful debacle into a win for democracy and justice. And isn’t that what Ralph Nader himself claims to want in the end, even if in recent times he has failed to adopt wise strategy in pursuing it?

Whatever our feelings on Ralph Nader and his 2000 and 2004 runs for the White House, it is time we stop wasting energy on blaming or defending him and band together, with or without his support, to Fix The Election System!

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    Included in: Carnival of Political Punditry for December 30, 2007, The Politics and Money Carnival - Edition 1, Carnival of the Liberals #55, The Guru's Movie Review Carnival #9, Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Edition 3.0, Carnival of the Libertarians #2

    24 Responses to “Instant Runoff Voting Excluded: An Unreasonable Omission from An Unreasonable Man

    1. meesha.v Says:

      I think the answer is obvious. Nader only had a certain time window to run for President. After that he would have been considered too old. It will take years to change the election system, so he had to make his move or run out of time. Now that he is not running he can devote his time to election reform if he feels like it.

    2. SystemsThinker Says:

      Nader himself claims that the purpose of his run was to open up the system for more voices. If this were true, he would have at least promoted election reforms like Instant Runoff Voting when directly asked about being a “spoiler”. He would have answered “Spoilers should not exist in a democracy. If people are worried about spoilers then they should pass Instant Runoff Voting to eliminate the possibility.” He should have pressured the major parties to pass it and make raising awareness of it a primary focus of his campaigns. And he should be pushing it just as hard now.

      Instead he refused to do that and still seems to refuse to. I think this is a shame and sadly really calls into question whether his main motive was to open the system to more parties, something IRV could do as much as anything else out there, or something else. He seems more intent on showing how bad the Democrats are than in removing their ability to exclude by preying on “spoiler” fears.

    3. John Caruso Says:

      I’ve worked on IRV a bit as well (in San Francisco, where we now have IRV for all local elections), and I also think it’s a critical electoral reform, but I wasn’t disappointed that it wasn’t mentioned in the film. First of all, Nader didn’t direct, produce, or (especially) edit the movie; he was just the subject. He didn’t have control over what was included or the direction the interviews took. Second, the movie was about Nader, not about electoral reform, and so an extended discussion of IRV would have been out of place.

      And third and most importantly, Nader featured electoral reform in general and IRV in particular in his campaign both in 2000 and 2004 (here’s the link for the latter). I heard him speak several times in 2000 and 2004, and he always discussed electoral reform and/or IRV. When you say he fails to speak about it “over and over in his own speeches and other interviews”, I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about; we’ve clearly been listening to different speeches and interviews.

      So to be so frustrated and angry at Nader’s disingenuousness (your words), and to posit theories about him being motivated by some (deeply uncharacteristic) desire for revenge, is in my opinion badly misplaced. Your anger is pointed in the wrong direction. I’d ask: why are you so upset with Nader, who’s highlighted this issue prominently, rather than the Democrats, who 1) clearly have a strong motivation to work on the issue, 2) actually have the power to make it happen at the state and local levels, but 3) have entirely ignored it in favor of deeply anti-democratic tactics and attacks?

    4. Howard Says:

      John, thanks so much for your thoughts and thanks for working on IRV. I understand what you’re saying, and let me respond to each of your points.

      Firstly, in the post I mention that I’m not sure if some people did mention reforms like IRV when interviewed for the film, but it was simply not included, or whether it wasn’t mentioned at all. So my frustration there lies more with the filmmakers for not even mentioning the issue. I would be very surprised if nobody else brought the issue up in all of that interviewing, but even then the filmmakers could have at least asked about it.

      As for why I was frustrated that Nader didn’t mention it, if this film was an exception I wouldn’t have brought him personally into this discussion. However, this is indeed a longstanding pattern. I was working on IRV diligently during the 2004 campaign and watched Nader over and over and rarely ever heard him mention IRV. Specifically, I almost never heard him mention it even once when the spotlight was brightest, for example when asked about potential “spoiling” on national talk shows and in widely publicized speeches. Beyond that, I personally talked to him about this issue, asking him why he didn’t promote IRV more widely. His response to me, in front of a number of people at a house party for his campaign, was not to say “Yes I do talk about IRV widely, you’re incorrect.” I don’t remember the exact wording, but his message to me was that if we had IRV, the Democrats wouldn’t listen to him anymore.

      It was very clear from his response that his main drive was to have influence over the Democrats and that reforming the election system in a way that would give more justice and choice to the voters while diminishing his leverage over the Dems would not please him. This was a moment of great disappointment to me, since we were in the middle of a campaign for IRV and by even mentioning the issue a few times publicly he could have helped us so much and instead he made clear that he’d rather keep his leverage over the Democrats. It definitely affected my feelings about him ever since. And his behavior in the last few years has only corroborated this as he continues to rarely ever mention the problems of plurality elections and the need for a majority system.

      I don’t feel a short mention of IRV in the film would have been out of place at all. Much time in the film was spent talking about the “spoiler” issue. It was such a crucial part of the film and the most crushing blow to Ralph’s legacy there is. And, in fact, almost every other angle on the issue was discussed in the film other than the most important one - the reason why it even exists. Plenty of time was given to discussing how the Commission on Presidential Debates unfairly keeps third parties out of the debates. Why wouldn’t it have been reasonable to mention that “spoilers” are a result of an unfair plurality system and delve at least for a minute into the origins of that just as happened with the debates? The debate issue was given a few minutes to trace it to its origins but the “spoiler” issue’s origins are never discussed.

      I saw the film on PBS, but I also now see that on the DVD are extras, including one discussing the role of third parties. At the very least, deeper discussion of the “spoiler” issue could go on there. I don’t know if it does. I also have looked at study and discussion guides for the film that are being used in discussions all over the country and none of them mention the faults of the plurality system either. They list many organizations and issues, but not one dealing with elimination of the “spoiler” issue.

      So contrary to the idea that this would have been out of place, I think in the context of everything else discussed, and the incredibly powerful effect the “spoiler” label has had on Nader, it is almost shocking to me that the plurality system wasn’t a least given a minute of discussion from any of those talking heads. And it is still beyond my comprehension why Nader doesn’t respond every time he’s asked that the very existence of “spoilers” is undemocratic and the plurality system should be reformed. The only thing that makes sense of it lies in the response he gave me when I asked him about it, which matches almost all his actions I’ve seen regarding this issue.

      I’m well aware Nader lists IRV on his platform. You know why? Because I was constantly in touch with Kevin Zeese from his campaign back then harping on him to please feature IRV more, to actually proactively promote it. To whatever extent he did talk about it, I’d like to think it came from our pushing him to do so. However, the one place our experience certainly does seem different is in how much we’ve heard him mention these things in his major speeches and campaigns. Personally, I have only heard him even mention IRV a handful of times ever, and many of these are only when somebody asks him directly about it. On the other hand, I can remember countless times that I have seen him again and again asked about the “spoiler” issue and say not one word about how the plurality system causes the problem. Instead, he launches into a tirade against the Democrats and how awful they are. It’s hard for me not to see this as Ralph letting his bitterness at being excluded by his former Democratic allies take center stage above his priority for reforming the system. Otherwise, how do you explain his repeated appearances on major talk shows, in major speeches, not mentioning IRV, when he should in fact be repeating it endlessly.

      However, in the end, we agree, which seems to be the nature of this issue. The only constructive approach is to simply work to push for IRV. Believe me, I’m upset at the Democrats and Republicans for supporting these reforms only where it serves them and not overall so we have fair elections everywhere. That goes without saying believe me, but that is also expected. And that’s precisely my point. That’s where Nader’s focus should be too. He should be time and again saying, when asked about “spoiling”, that the major parties have every chance to end “spoiling” by passing IRV, so if they are “spoiled” only they are to blame. However, he can only do that if he shows that he has been pushing them consistently to pass it and that they have been refusing. He absolutely has not been pushing for this hard and so he loses the high ground and passes up a prime opportunity to focus people onto the real leverage point for change. When he meets with John Kerry, is IRV one of the top issues he tries to get passed? No it isn’t even on the list. When he lambasts the Democrats now, does he focus on their failure to pass IRV as a key complaint? It’s very interesting how he goes to great lengths, even lawsuits, to fight his exclusion from the debates, but seems to put almost no energy or focus on supporting IRV measures.

      In the end, we both agree that IRV is crucial. We both agree that the Dems and Repubs are to blame for their own “spoiling” since they continue to back a plurality system. We both agree those major parties are disingenuous when they blame third parties for “spoiling” when their power gives them every opportunity to eliminate that possibility through IRV. And we agree that when people do push for IRV, to the extent that the major parties oppose it, they are complicit in any “spoiling” that happens later. All I’m saying is that Ralph Nader should be the person speaking out most widely about this disingenuousness in the major parties and pushing for IRV. He should be IRV’s loudest spokesman of all in this country. When I am getting more press for IRV myself than Ralph Nader, something is seriously wrong. And as for this film, I was disappointed that they would show how the “spoiler” issue has tainted the reputation of such a great man in the minds of so many people without even once mentioning the actual reason “spoilers” exist or even asking Nader why he doesn’t spend more energy trying to fight for a majority system when perhaps nobody in history has lost more personally as a victim of the plurality system.

      By the way, if Nader’s big cause is opening the door for more third party candidates, then why isn’t there even one of his many organizations whose main focus is IRV? It just doesn’t add up to me.

      Thanks again and feel free to stay in touch about this!

    5. Howard Says:

      There is an interview with Ralph Nader at that really shows what I mean in this post. In the interview, if you scroll down, you will see that Nader is asked point blank why he didn’t militate for Instant Runoff Voting. His response is “We have done that, but the Democrats have no interest in that at all. Before I did it, it was done by others in the national interest.”

      So Nader is trying to say his failure to militantly promote Instant Runoff Voting is because of the fact that Democrats weren’t interested? That is a very disingenuous answer. First of all, it’s the American people in general, including those who fail to vote at all because of their disappointment with the system to whom Nader should be appealing to to support the many IRV campaigns going on around the country.

      Secondly, since when is the lack of interest among Democrats a reason for Nader not to militantly promote something? The Democrats aren’t interested in changing the debate rules either, but that certainly doesn’t stop him from militantly advocating for a change in those rules, even going to the lengths of suing.

      What is his point when he says “Before I did it, it was done by others in the national interest.”? Good, it was done by others, and should keep being done by others until they succeed. And Nader should be supporting those people by directing attention to them when asked about “spoiling.” He shouldn’t just say “it was done by others.” He should say “It is being done by others right now and let me tell you who they are so more people can donate and get involved in that cause.”

      But as usual he says none of this. And then just a short while later in the interview he is back to talking about how to make the Democrats “pay dearly”. And he doesn’t just say they “will pay dearly.” He also talks specifically about how to “make them pay dearly.”

      All of this just further lends evidence to my point that Nader seems more interested in finding ways to get revenge on the Democrats for turning on and excluding him than he has in fixing the system to allow progress for third parties. And this is a true shame given that Nader is the person who is so good at finding the flaws in systems, as he did with automobiles, and getting those key flaws changed. The biggest flaw keeping third parties from building support in our country is the plurality election system. Nader must surely realize this. He is well aware of great people and organizations working tirelessly to reform this, something that he more than anybody else would benefit from. And yet he doesn’t bother to use his platform to promote their work and direct people’s attention to this crucial leverage point for change. It is, in short, a shame.

    6. Howard Says:

      Check out these excerpts from a debate in 2004 between Democrat Howard Dean and Ralph Nader. Notice how Dean, the Democrat, is more forceful about the need for Instant Runoff Voting than Nader. Nader talks about abolishing the electoral college and having a binding “none of the above” line on the ballot. But even when asked directly about electoral reform, Dean, the Demcrats has more specifically to say in favor of IRV than Nader does! Yet another example of how Nader prefers to bash the Democrats and gain “leverage” over them by “denying them votes” (in his words) than to give the leverage to the voters through Instant Runoff Voting. Unfortunately for Ralph, the Democrats have proven twice now that his denying them votes does not give him leverage as they seem more willing to lose elections than to take on his issues. It’s time to try the other strategy and give the voters the choices and leverage.

    7. Howard Says:

      One more example that shows the almost comical dearth of discussion on Instant Runoff Voting by Nader. I found this webpage with a video titled “Ralph Nader on Instant Runoff Voting.” Yet if you play the video, you will hear him mention the words “Instant Runoff Voting” one time within a list of other reforms and then go off for the rest of the video into other discussion, yet again not giving any explanation of IRV or strong advocacy for passing it. In reality, the entire video should have been him explaining the need for IRV and calling the major parties out for accusing him of “spoiling” while refusing themselves to push for IRV.

    8. Howard Says:

      I thought of a good analogy to explain this. When Nader saw people being killed by poorly designed cars, he realized the design of the car needed changing and fought for that change. But when he sees third party campaigns being destroyed by an unfair plurality election system, rather than fight to have that system changed (such as through IRV), he instead hops in the car and crashes it (he even titles the book about his 2000 campaign run Crashing the Party), expecting that if he crashes it a few times, the keepers of the system - the major parties - will take note and change something within that system.

      It is a feasible strategy. You can imagine Nader earlier on bringing attention to the need for safer auto designs by demonstrating their poor design through staged crashes. However, imagine if he crashed the cars and then, in the aftermath, never pointed out the car design flaws and demanded their changing.

      This is what Ralph has been doing. He runs for president within the flawed plurality system, makes a great demonstration of its flaws, and then doesn’t call for changing that plurality design that caused the problems he just demonstrated. And when he just crashes again, he continues the same approach, somehow expecting that this he’ll get different results while still within the same system.

      This plurality system is a car design that does not allow for third parties to build support (unless you have billions like Perot). Continuing to run within that system is only worthwhile if it is used to demonstrate the flaws of the system and push for redesign. To do otherwise is ineffective and leads to nothing but one big car crash for everyone.

      By all means hop in the car again, Ralph, and show us again what a disaster the design is. But then tell us how to fix that design and promote the measures that would do so. You are doing that in part by fighting the design of the corporate-controlled presidential debates. Now please fight just as hard to change the design of the plurality election system.

    9. Clay Shentrup Says:

      While it’s clear that our traditional “vote for one” (plurality) voting system is inexcusable, Instant Runoff Voting is not much better - and there are many better and simpler solutions. There is also a great deal of public misunderstanding and misinformation surrounding IRV, largely the result of the IRV propaganda organization, FairVote.

      One common myth is that IRV elects “majority winners”. But IRV can lead to the election of candidate X, even when candidate Y is preferred to X by a huge majority. It does not solve the vote-splitting problem. See:

      And a deeper result of this is that, contrary to the myth and talking points, IRV does not let voters “vote your hopes, not your fears”.

      And despite the common misconception that IRV helps third parties, it has produced two-party domination in every country where it has seen long-term widespread use, including Australia and Ireland. (Although most of the 27 countries with a genuine, not “instant”, runoff have escaped duopoly.)

      Election integrity experts and activists, like computer science Ph.D. Rebecca Mercuri disapprove of IRV because it is conducive to the adoption of fraud-susceptible electronic voting machines. IRV is also more susceptible to fraud because it is not countable in precincts. That is, candidate A could win every individual precinct, but bizarrely lose when the ballots are all summed together - which enforces centralized tabulation, which is more susceptible to central fraud conspiracy. And IRV typically causes spoiled ballots to go up by a factor of about 7.

      A much simpler and far better system is Approval Voting, described in this recent Newsweek article.

      Approval Voting is just like the current system, except that there is no limit on the number of candidates one may vote for. While it may seem initially less intuitive than ranking choices, deep scrutiny shows that Approval Voting produces a far more representative outcome, and is less harmed by problems like strategic voting. This is shown through an objective economic measure called Bayesian regret, which shows how well a particular voting method tends to satisfy the preferences of the voters. The improvement gotten by Approval Voting relative to IRV is especially large if the voters are strategic, as was described above (although FairVote promoters will often falsely claim that the best strategy with Approval Voting is to “bullet vote”). See:

      If we don’t mind a somewhat more cluttered ballot, we can upgrade to Range Voting, which uses a ratings scale, like Olympics scoring. Here’s a recent Newsweek articles on Range Voting, which is the the subject of the forthcoming William Poundstone book Gaming the Vote :

      Be wary of specious claims and clever marketing from IRV advocacy groups like FairVote. Look at what Ivy League mathematicians and political science experts such as Steve Brams, who write entire books on this stuff, say. Beneath the political big talk, there’s science to be learned.

      Clay Shentrup
      San Francisco, CA

    10. SystemsThinker Says:


      I’m perfectly open to the possibility that there are pros and cons to many non-plurality systems. From my experience, most of the hypotheticals given by people against IRV are extremely far-fetched ones that would never happen in reality. However, I’m all for us considering many possibilities.

      The more important issue, however, is that the plurality system is as you say inexcusable. Any of these systems would be an improvement. And I disagree that IRV is not much better. I think it is much better. Therefore, when I hear approval voting advocates lashing out at the “specious” arguments of IRV, I can only sigh in sadness. It’s almost a mirror image of the splitting that the plurality system itself causes among people who have relatively similar political views in different parties who should, by all rights, be working together. I can only imagine those major party supporters who benefit from the unfair plurality system grinning with joy to see non-plurality supporters attacking each other and dividing their ranks.

      I say let’s first work together to get ANY non-plurality system passed. Any non-plurality system is going to be a huge improvement. Then we can debate which non-plurality system is the best and it will be a lot easier to get people to try different ones once we cross the much bigger chasm between plurality and non-plurality.

      If we agree that the plurality system is as bad as it is, it’s sad to see people attacking each other about the pros and cons of non-plurality systems that are all an improvement. Is approval voting better than IRV? Maybe, maybe not. We can have that debate and it’s an interesting one. But both of them are a huge improvement over what we have now and our first job is to make an improvement.

    11. Clay Shentrup Says:


      First let me emphasize that I see plurality voting as the prominent evil, and I acknowledge that IRV reduces the rate of “spoiled” elections, ala Nader 2000. (Well, actually fraud was also a major cause of that.)

      The problems cited with IRV are not rare - that is a common misconception. Here are some examples.

      Also it’s important to understand what “rare” really means. In about 20% of IRV elections, a faction of voters who sincerely prefer X>Y>Z will get Z, but if they dishonestly vote Y>X>Z, then Y wins, and they get their second choice instead of their third.

      Now, you might say that 20% is “rare”, right? But here’s the thing. If candidate X doesn’t have at least a 20% chance of winning, then those voters are better off strategically burying X - it may not help them to do so, but it has a better chance of helping than not helping. That’s all it takes to make a strategy worthwhile.

      People in IRV countries certainly realize these burial strategies, because parties recommend apparently exaggerated rankings. An analogy would be if the GOP advised voters to vote GOP>Green>Dem — which would obviously seem weird, right?

      You say you disagree with my statement that IRV is not much better than plurality voting. Well, here are some social utility efficiency figures from Princeton math Ph.D. Warren D. Smith, of Range Voting fame:

      Range (honest voters) 96.71% 94.66%
      Range (= Approval, with strategic exaggerating voters) 78.99% 77.01%
      IRV (honest voters) 78.49% 76.32%
      Plurality (honest voters) 67.63% 62.29%
      IRV (strategic exaggerating voters) 39.07% 39.21%
      Plurality (strategic voters) 39.07% 39.21%
      Elect random winner 0.00% 0.00%

      With two sets of figures, from two different models (out of hundreds that were tried) the improvement of IRV is somewhere between 0% and 12%, depending on how strategic the voters are.

      Now when you factor in the increased ballot spoilage and susceptibility to fraud that comes with IRV, it’s questionable whether IRV is a net improvement or a net loss. But FairVote doesn’t care all that much, since their goal, and their reason for wanting to adopt IRV in the first place, is to get to proportional representation - regardless of how bad of shape that leaves single-winner elections like mayor, senator, governor, president, etc.

      So your argument about working to get any non-plurality system passed may be a case of the cure’s being worse than the disease. It is not 100% clear, but it is very plausible.

      I agree that fans of different voting methods are far less effective than they would be if they would unify behind a common system. Academics who study this issue seem far and away more in support of Approval Voting, or even Range Voting. So our case is that these diverse groups must unify behind Range or at least Approval Voting - even if they prefer other methods.

      I agree with you that our biggest challenge is to educate people that there’s a problem in plurality voting. Probably the biggest problem in the world. But I fear IRV may ultimately squander what little momentum we have for voting reform.


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      Carnival of the Liberals #55…

      Welcome to the frozen mid-winter Carnival of the Liberals 55…. But if it’s cold where you are, the outrage will warm you up. And if you’re tired of the hoopla over the primaries, have no fear: this edition of the Carnival of the Liberals won’t foc…

    15. Howard Says:

      There is talk of Cynthia McKinney running as a Green this year for president instead of Nader. I hoped she might have a better answer to the “spoiler” issue, but no such luck. I was deeply disturbed to find this video of McKinney today, where she is asked about the “spoiler” issue and gives no better an answer than Nader’s!

      She, like Nader, takes the route of arguing that the Greens weren’t “spoilers,” that in fact someone else was the “spoiler”, rather than arguing for changing a system that allows “spoilers” . If the Green candidate (and really any third party candidate)isn’t going to address the “spoiler” issue head on as an indication of the desperate need for change in our voting system, and to make it a top priority, then I think they waste a huge opportunity and ultimately defeat much of the purpose of them running.

      And let me be clear that while there is debate between which alternative voting system we should use (Instant Runoff Voting, Approval Voting, Range Voting), ANY of them is better than what we have now. For any third party candidate in this system not to speak loudly and often about the need for this change really makes little sense to me.

      —– Original Message —–

    16. Gene Says:

      I have seen and heard Ralph speak about the need for IRV (as well as other voting reforms) time and time again.
      It’s covered a bit in the bonus stuff on the DVD, but I don’t think that the guy is off just because he doesn’t make it his top issue. It’s in there it’s just not number one like you wish it was.
      Nader in 08 !

    17. Clay Shentrup Says:


      Well, if Nader wants there to ever be any hope of breaking up the stifling duopoly that exists, then changing the voting method is the number one priority. The relative importance of other reforms is very small by comparison.

      It’s also important to understand why Greens/Libertarians/etc. must support Range Voting, and not IRV, since IRV just continues the duopoly.

    18. Tom Johnson Says:

      I haven’t seen this movie, but you’re not the only one who was puzzled and frustrated by Nader’s not talking up IRV (or at least not to general audiences).

      Since both Obama and McCain are among those who advocate IRV, I wonder if it’ll come up at all this year (although ironically, McCain has been a beneficiary of the plurality system in the primaries).

    19. Clay Shentrup Says:

      You guys need to all check out the new book Gaming the Vote.

    20. An Open Letter to Ralph Nader « An Ordinary Person Says:

      […] UPDATE: A blog post about Ralph Nader and Instant Runoff Voting […]

    21. The Key Issue Suspiciously Missing from Ralph Nader’s “Table” Says:

      […] « Instant Runoff Voting Excluded: An Unreasonable Omission from An Unreasonable Man […]

    22. Bronx347 Says:

      This seems a straw man argument, though I agree with the sentiment that we have a seriously effed-up system. I mean, Nader is 74, is he supposed to radically reform the entire American electoral system before ever deigning to run for President??? And, speaking of glaring omissions and evasions, when will Democrats themselves own up to their complicity in allowing Bush to steal Florida. The numbers don’t lie; more purported Democrats either stayed at home or voted for non-Gore candidates including George Bush who, by the logic placed on Nader, was the biggest spoiler at all. Yes, if you ignore all those other factors and focus on Ralph, then in this warped scenario, he stole it from Bush, but that’s beyond childish. Even if Nader didn’t run, there’s no guarantee that the paltry amount of voters would have gone for Gore. Because what-if is meaningless, you can craft equal scenarios of those votes going to Gore, going to Bush, going to Buchanan, going to Browne, or just staying home. This whole “Blame Ralph” has was silly back then and it’s simply embarrassing (with the hindsight showing that Gore actually DID get the majority of votes) now.

    23. Amy Says:

      Hello, I don’t know if you still read the responses to this blog but I wanted to respond.

      It sounds like we have a lot in common. For many years I did a lot of organizing for Instant Runoff Voting after being deeply influenced by Nader’s 2000 run and how I was treated by people I knew for supporting him.

      I have also put a lot of thought into why Nader doesn’t mention IRV. I wish it were the first thing out of his mouth when the Nader haters bring out their same tired points. Here is the conclusion I have come to as to why he doesn’t and I think it is consistent with his motivation to strengthen the voice of citizens.

      Under our current system, let’s consider the choice of voting for the Democrats or voting Green. It is an either or thing. So if you vote Green you are withholding your vote from the Democrats. Call it spoiling, but if the left made proper use of this power, then the Democrats would be motivated to appeal to them for fear of losing their support. (As it is, nearly everyone on the left announces early on that they will vote for the Democrats no matter what and so they get what they ask for - nothing.)

      If we had IRV, my theory is that Nader fears that the same cowardly folks on the left will vote third party if they want, and always give the Democrats their second choice ranking without asking for anything in return, and the Democrats would still win without having to do anything for the left. I think there is probably a lot of truth to this.

      Of course I would hope that with IRV, sometimes the third party would win. Also, as hard as I have fought for IRV I would probably often leave my 2nd choice blank unless that candidate really earned it. But I’m sure I am an extreme minority there.

      Still, I credit Nader for always having it on his platform, even if he lacks the enthusiasm for it when one would think he of all people should be shouting it from the rooftops.

    24. SystemsThinker Says:


      Thanks for the comment and yes I do still read all of these. I agree with your assessment. In fact, it’s the one he basically gave when I asked him about this in person. But there is one additional factor.

      I think Nader is extremely personally angry at the Democratic party for how it treated him. He used to be a respected person even brought into discussions as an insider by the Dems in the 70’s. Then, soon after, they sort of discarded him and severed ties with him and then some of them went on to blame the entire 2000 election on him. I think he has let his personal animosity at the Dems become more of a focus than even his disgust for the policies of the Republicans. And I sense a lot of personal vendetta in what he has done (and not done or spoken about) in the last decade.

      I think, as you say, he realizes that the threat of spoiling in the current system is leverage. But I think at least part of his reason for wanting to keep that leverage is so he can be a thorn in the side of the Dems for revenge. Of course, this is all speculation. But there are a lot of factors that make me consider this.

      I don’t have a problem with the argument that it’s better to have the leverage third parties have with the threat of spoiling than to give that up. The problem is that, as you say, it doesn’t seem that that leverage is actually panning out anyway. How often do you see the major parties really tweak their agenda fundamentally so they don’t get spoiled? If the major parties were really incorporating good third party ideas often due to the spoiling threat, I’d probably feel less strongly about the need for IRV. But I don’t see that happening.

      Somewhere on this blog, I made an analogy about what Nader has been doing. I said it’s as if, during his Unsafe at Any Speed days, rather than demand the cars be fixed, he just kept crashing them into innocent people hoping that the resulting damage would make his point. I don’t really see this as a great strategy.

      The capper of it all is that Nader could at least take the tack of pointing out the overall dilemma. He doesn’t have to go out there and just blindly promote IRV. He could at least answer the questions in a way that lays out the whole dilemma as you’ve been describing it. Instead, he tends to just use the opportunity to bash the Democrats. And that is a big part of why I think he has let personal animosity take center stage rather than the good of the system.

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