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Let’s move from FPTP to IRV…useful and non-controversial electoral reform

May 11, 2012

India’s current system is first past the post (FPTP) where every voter selects the most preferred candidate and the candidate with the highest votes wins. Very simple.

We need to move to instant run-off voting (IRV) where every voter ranks the candidates.

Say, there are 10 candidates, the voter knows 5 of them and likes 3 of them. In this case, he should ideally press 3 buttons (first for his 1st preference candidate, then for his 2nd preference candidate and then for his 3rd preference candidate). If a voter doesn’t understand ranking/preference or is unaware, he can simply press 1 button (same as now).

Counting of votes is complicated (Start with the 1st preference votes, eliminate the candidate with the least no. of first preference votes, redistribute his votes using the second preference of those voters and so on) but easy to automate /leave to experts.

The cost of moving to IRV is one-time: upgrading the EVMs to allow ranking rather than a single choice.

The benefits of IRV vis-a-vis FPTP:

  • encourages more people to vote by allowing them to articulate their choice better (its easy to curse people for not voting but currently the vote is too weak for many rational people to take the effort of using it. We need to incentivize the voters by strengthening the vote – introducing right to reject is another way to strengthen the vote)
  • eliminates tactical voting: Currently, instead of  voting for their most preferred candidate A, many people vote for a more famous candidate B so as to decrease the winning chances of their least preferred candidate C. B wins despite being less preferred than A. Under IRV, people can choose A as their first preference and B as their second preference
  • fairer outcomes eg: a candidate with a 30% vote but hated by the other 70% might win under FPTP but will lose under IRV
  • encourages more people to contest elections not just by ensuring fairer outcomes but also by eliminating the risk of being a ‘spoiler’. eg: Currently, if there are 2 candidates – a liberal and a leftist. I am also a liberal. Even though I do not like the liberal candidate for some reasons, I do not contest elections for fear of splitting the liberal vote.

Proportional representation is an even better method but generally opposed since it is believed to substantially increase the likelihood of minority/unstable governments – I don’t think it does but that is a slightly complex argument that I will make some other time.

Update: Please see this post where I explain how proportional representation can substantially clean Indian politics.


  1. sounds like a far better option thn wht we people currently have….although to bring it into practise is with the election commission or the parliament ??…..coz if its the parliament this would be a dream…..if election commission can bring such changes thr is hope…..

    • parliament…so yes, its just a dream 🙂

      the only thing is, if and when there is scope for reform in India, this is a non-controversial reforms to implement…and has long-term benefits!

      separately, while i think most of our corrupt politicians are indeed corrupt / arrogant / self-centred, some of the bad policies are due to incorrect understanding…and not just bad intention. This makes it important for us to positively engage with politicians rather than just curse them.

  2. Prakash permalink

    Hi Shailesh,

    My understanding is that IRV is not a condorcet method (pairwise winner never loses) and hence is inferior to condorcet methods.

    Condorcet methods are difficult to explain mathematically, but they are as simple as IRV to actually vote for (it is ranking)

    Both Condorcet and approval voting are better in avoiding tactical voting than IRV. Right now it is all mathematical speculations only, but if people are putting forth proposals, might as well put in better ones.

    • i agree with you Prakash….although superior to FPTP, IRV is not the best and i fully support anyone who proposes Condorcet, approval voting or any other superior methods.

      I just wanted to put in a non-controversial, easy to explain proposal….

    • by the way, in my view, Proportional Representation methods are the best….but its such a complex thing that indian politics will never be able to make that decision….so, i advocate IRV…(only incremental change but atleast easy to understand)

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