Ranked-Choice Voting in Maine

Because of my concerns for its possible impact on voting reform attempts in this country, I payed a lot of attention to and contributed two items in the British press (see www.nationalrenewal.org) to the debate which proceeded the May 2011 British referendum on introducing instant runoff voting ( in British parlance the alternative vote) in British parliamentary elections.  Fortunately the referendum failed.  But what astonished me was the degree to which prominent public figures and academic individual on both sides of the issue in Great Britain were so ill informed of the insights of the technical literature on voting systems. 

Unfortunately, that pattern repeated itself in the Maine campaign for introducing ranked-choice voting in its elections as illustrated by the following exchange with Peter Ackerman who was Chairman of the Chamberlain Project that was promoting the yes campaign.

In thinking about policy issues, as I suggested in the case of the Maine voting referendum, it is important to do due diligence and I intend to do so if elected to the office of US Senator from Michigan.

From: Peter Ackerman <packerman@rockcap.com>
Date: Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 1:36 PM
Subject: The People’s Veto protecting Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in Maine
To: John Howard Wilhelm


Dear John,

This note is a post script to the victory at the polls two weeks ago ratifying the People’s Veto protecting Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in Maine. Last week we sent you the enormous portfolio of media coverage celebrating the outcome.

Attached is an article in the American Interest by Stanford University’s Larry Diamond, our nation’s preeminent scholar on the state of democracy abroad and in the United States. It is a beautifully written article accurately characterizing the victory for grassroots political reform in Maine as perhaps the most important election in the United States in 2018.

Frankly, having just read it again it is amazing how our battle to save RCV survived the onslaught when all the levers of power were overtly or covertly working to block it.  We share one common idea with those who oppose ranked choice voting in Maine.  We are all amazed that we won.

And now, a question for those supportive of Ranked Choice Voting. Can the Maine experience be expanded to other states?

We are glad to hear from you on that matter.



Peter Ackerman                                        Cara McCormick

Chairman, The Chamberlain Project        CEO, The Chamberlain Project

From: John Howard Wilhelm
Date: Fri, Jun 29, 2018 at 1:09 AM
Subject: Can The People Make a Good Decision When Ill Informed?
To: Peter Ackerman

Peter Ackerman,  Thank you for your June 28, 2018 e-mail with a link to the piece by Professor Larry Diamond.  In you e-mail, you stated that you would be glad to hear from us on the matter of the  RCV vote in Maine.  I hope that that is an honest statement on your part and that you will make the effort to give this response serious consideration.

In his piece Professor Diamond wrote:

Along with a growing number of municipalities, political   scientists, thoughtful media, and democratic      reformers,      I have come to think that ranked-choice voting is the  single most                 promising achievable reform for making our  politics more open, more civil, more democratic, and more      amenable to compromise.

For me that statement was deeply and personally shocking.  For many years I have tried to engage Professor Diamond on the voting reform issue and the gross unsuitability of ranked-choice voting or instant runoff voting, IRV, for the purpose of making our politics more open and more democratic.  When I learned that Professor Diamond was scheduled to give a talk at the University of Michigan in February 2016 I arranged an hour long meeting for him with Professor Thomas Weisskopf of the Economics Department, with Lawrence Kestenbaum our Washtenaw County Clerk and a repentant former supporter of IRV and myself to discuss the issue of IRV and voting reform.  After that Professor Robert Norman of Dartmouth College spent a two week vacation in Palo Alto in which he was able to meet with Professor Diamond for an half hour to discuss that issue.  Alas, to no avail as the piece you sent me from The American Interest testifies.

After our meeting with Professor Diamond, I sent him a detailed e-mail, which I am forwarding to you and the others copied in on this e-mail, that had links and citations to the technical literature.  I did so under the presumption that an academic has a responsibility to do due diligence before advocating a policy, especially in areas where there is a technical, or if you will scientific, literature.

I admire the efforts you have tried to make to improve our politics.  But for a person with your resources, I must ask if you don’t also have a responsibility to do due diligence before advocating something  like IRV?  After the latest Maine vote one reporter wrote me that ” I am quite sure this whole issue deserves much more scrutiny than it’s had.”  Given the technical literature, it is clear to me that the Maine voters were ill informed when they voted.  And given the severe pathological behavioral problems with IRV which aren’t apparent to voters because of its opaque nature, this issue surely does need more discussion before great harm is done to our country and the much needed process of political and electoral reform.  I hope we might discuss this.  Regards.

John Howard Wilhelm, Ann Arbor, MI, Tel. 734/477-9942

From: John Howard Wilhelm
Date: Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 12:34 PM
Subject: Follow-up on Voting systems from J. Wilhelm 1 of 4
To: Professor Diamond

Professor Diamond,  While the hour you gave us when you were in Ann Arbor to talk about the Democracy Recession was quite useful and you were a very good interlocutor, there were a number of items which I thought could use some elaboration that were raised in our discussion.  In this e-mail, I would like to outline for you and/or a student studying voting systems some of the materials I suggested with comments and some additional items that might be of interest as well.  In the following e-mail, I would like discuss in more detail some of the issues raised in our exchange in Ann Arbor. Regards. John Howard Wilhelm, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Given your location in the SF Bay Area, I would very much encourage you or any student looking into voting issues to get acquainted with Richard Winger  (Tel. 415/922-9779, E-mail richardwinger@yahoo.com).  Richard Winger is the publisher and editor of Ballot Access News.  The following link if scrolled down will get one to the January 1, 2015 article in the newsletter where your involvement in the Level the Playing Field effort was mentioned.


For any student or yourself looking at the literature on voting systems, I would suggest first looking at the following article by Duverger on Duverger’s Law.


The texts I suggested looking at in the order I would recommend looking at them with some additional suggestions are as follows:

  1. William Poundstone, Gaming the Vote, Hill and Wang, New York 2008

I reviewed the book in Chapter 8 of my electronic book “Third Parties and Voting Reform: The American Dilemma” which is posted on my website www.nationalrenewal.org.  At the end of that piece I cited some other items, some of which may be useful for bibliographic sources in addition to the very good sources list at the back of Poundstone’s book.

  1. Sir Michael Dummett, Principles of Electoral Reform,  Oxford University Press, 2004 Reprint.

I learned about Sir Michael’s book from an exchange with Anthony Gottlieb after reading his very good 2010 article in the New Yorker “Win or Lose: No voting system is flawless.  But some are more democratic than others.”  The article is formally a review of the book “Number Rule,” which I have read but did not think much of.  But it covers a lot more than that and is worth reading. It can be found through the following link:


I have read the book three times now and each time have gotten a much better understanding of some things concerning voting systems and voting system reform.  After reading the book, I would recommend taking a look at Poundston’s piece “A Text Drive of Voting Methods” which focuses on, credible to my mind, simulations of alternative voting systems by Ka-Ping Yee, whom I would strongly recommend you or a student looking at voting systems try to contact since I believe that he is also in the SF Bay Area (E-mail kpy@google.com). The link to Poundstone’s piece is as follows:


3,  Steven J. Brams and Peter C. Fishburn, Approval Voting 2nd Edition, Springer 2007.  This is the book that introduced me to the issue of voting systems and I think important to read.  It has an extensive Bibliography in the back.

  1. Michel Balinski and Rida Laraki, Majority Judgment, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 2010.

This is a highly mathematical book and while I read it and learned a great deal, I really would not put too much emphasis on it other than to point out that it has an extensive list of references at the back of the book which is important to look at.  As an alternative to reading the book, you or a student could take a look at their article on Majority Judgment which is much more prose and quite readable.  You can get it by going to the following link and scroll down to item 28 to look at or download the piece.


In their Chapter 18, Balinski and Laraki argue that outside of claims that approval voting is easy to understand and use in practice none of the traditional arguments for approval voting have stood the test of time.  I do not agree with that as is clearly the case with Professor Brams.  On this score, you or a student might find of interest Brams’s review of their book in The American Scientist and his exchange with the authors on his review in the following two links.



In addition to these materials, I would recommend that you or any student looking at the issue of voting systems see if you can have some exchanges on the issue with Professor Steven Brams of NYU (Tel. 212/998-8510, E-mail steven.brams@nyu.edu) and Professor  Robert Z. Norman (Tel. 603/646-2762, E-mail robert.z.norman@dartmouth.edu).  Both of these have been very generous with me in sharing and bringing to my attention relevant materials on voting systems and in providing critique of some of the items I have written on the subject.  And they are in my judgment first class specialists in the area.

In addition to the above, you or a student looking at voting systems might also find it useful to take a look at The Center for Election Science website and blog.  The link to its website is as follows:


The link to their blog is as follows:


I look at that not that often, but understand that Professor Brams pays considerable attention to the exchanges on the blog