Wednesday, April 26, 2017

By-Elections or Filling Vacant Seats with RCV

Image of ballot box.Sometimes it happens that an elected office becomes unexpectedly vacant. The person who held the office may resign, be kicked out, or have died. When this happens, the office may remain vacant until the next scheduled election or a special election or by-election may be held specifically to fill the vacant seat.

One cool feature about ranked-choice voting is that it is REALLY easy to reuse the ballots to fill a vacancy. This avoids the expense and hassle of having people come out to vote again to fill the vacancy. We'll address single-winner and multi-winner elections separately because there are different considerations.

IRV or Single-Winner RCV

With instant runoff voting, it is especially easy to fill a vacancy. Here is what you do:
  1. Save the ballots from the original election.
  2. Mark the vacating candidate (and any others who no longer wish to run for the office) as withdrawn.
  3. Recount the votes!
When recounting the votes, they will be counted as if the vacating candidate was never running in the first place.

You can easily do this with OpaVote. When creating an OpaVote Count, there is an option to mark candidates as withdrawn before counting the ballots.

STV or Multi-Winner RCV

With the single transferable vote, it is a little more complicated because it is harder to maintain proportional representation with a by-election. It is still easy to do though, and there are a few options so your organization can choose which one it likes best.

Suppose a previous election filled 5 positions out of a field of 10 candidates using STV. Now one of the 5 candidates has vacated and that position needs to be filled. Here are three options for filling the vacant seat:

(1) Mark the vacating candidate (and any others who no longer wish to run for the office) as withdrawn) and recount the ballots to fill 5 seats. The first candidate to win a seat who was not previously a winner is selected to fill the vacancy.

(2) Look at the results of the original STV election results, and select the candidate with the 6th largest number of votes at the end of the election (i.e., the non-winning candidate with the highest number of votes).

(3) Recount the ballots with IRV to choose a new winner. This throws proportional representation out the window, but it is another option to consider.

One could propose other options that are more complicated than the above, but we have only presented options that you could easily implement with OpaVote.