Ballot Length in Instant Runoff Voting


  • Kiran Tomlinson Cornell University
  • Johan Ugander Stanford University
  • Jon Kleinberg Cornell University



GTEP: Social Choice / Voting, GTEP: Mechanism Design, MAS: Mechanism Design


Instant runoff voting (IRV) is an increasingly-popular alternative to traditional plurality voting in which voters submit rankings over the candidates rather than single votes. In practice, elections using IRV often restrict the ballot length, the number of candidates a voter is allowed to rank on their ballot. We theoretically and empirically analyze how ballot length can influence the outcome of an election, given fixed voter preferences. We show that there exist preference profiles over k candidates such that up to k-1 different candidates win at different ballot lengths. We derive exact lower bounds on the number of voters required for such profiles and provide a construction matching the lower bound for unrestricted voter preferences. Additionally, we characterize which sequences of winners are possible over ballot lengths and provide explicit profile constructions achieving any feasible winner sequence. We also examine how classic preference restrictions influence our results—for instance, single-peakedness makes k-1 different winners impossible but still allows at least Ω(√k). Finally, we analyze a collection of 168 real-world elections, where we truncate rankings to simulate shorter ballots. We find that shorter ballots could have changed the outcome in one quarter of these elections. Our results highlight ballot length as a consequential degree of freedom in the design of IRV elections.




How to Cite

Tomlinson, K., Ugander, J., & Kleinberg, J. (2023). Ballot Length in Instant Runoff Voting. Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, 37(5), 5841-5849.



AAAI Technical Track on Game Theory and Economic Paradigms