A Better Election System

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by Sneeper, Oct 11, 2004.

  1. Sneeper macrumors regular


    Aug 5, 2004
    San Francisco
    After reading the Slashdot interviews for both the Green and Libertarian candidate, I was awakened to the world of election reform. It also turns out that for this upcoming election, San Francisco will be using a voting system where we rank our candidates in order of preference for local elections. I thought I'd share with you my thoughts on the various systems.

    There are four systems I am now familiar with - Plurality, Instant Runoff Voting, Approval Voting, and the Condorcet system. I am ranking them from least favored to most favored, at least to me.

    Plurality is our current voting system. The one advantage of the current system is that it's extremely simple. Each person gets to vote for one person. All the votes are tallied and the winner is the guy with the most votes. Everyone can understand it. (It's rather sad that with such a simple system, there is a lot of corruption -- votes not being counted, votes being thrown out, etc -- and we have to go through recounts). I don't need to say much about this system other than it perpetuates the 2 party system. Unless you are a democrat or a republican, a sincere vote (i.e. a vote for the person you really want as president) is basically a protest vote. Even worse, it suffers from the 'spoiler effect'. If you consider the republican or the democrat the 'lesser of two evils', you can spoil the other candidates chances of winning by not voting for him. Many people were angry at Ralph Nader voters in 2000. If all the Nader folk had voted for Gore (which they probably would have if there were only Bush and Gore on the ballot), then Gore probably would have won. By voting sincerely, they caused their least favorite candidate to win. Because of this, it's even to the advantage of the democrats and republicans to have a better system.

    Instant Runoff Voting is the most popular alternative voting system. It's been used in Australia for almost a century and it's going to be used in SF for local elections very soon. Green candidate David Cobb supports this method. People rank their candidates in order of preference. First, everyone's first choice is counted. if nobody gets a majority, then the candidate with the least votes get thrown out. People who voted for this candidate now have their votes count toward their second choice. A simplified example:

    10 Badnarik, Bush, Kerry
    10 Badnarik, Kerry, Bush
    30 Kerry, Badnarik, Bush
    35 Bush, Kerry, Badnarik

    In this case, nobody gets majority on the first round, so Badnarik gets eliminated. And his voters votes go to their second choice. The second round
    looks like this:

    40 Kerry, Bush
    45 Bush, Kerry

    Bush gets the majority vote and win the election via IRV.

    You might think this system is great because people can vote for their candidate (a 'sincere vote') without having to worry about the spoiler effect.. but you'd be wrong. IRV is fundamentally flawed -- there are situations where by voting for your favorite candidate first, you could cause your *least* favorite candidate to win! consider the following (very simplified) example:

    45 Kerry Badnarik Bush
    25 Badnarik Bush Kerry
    30 Bush Badnarik Kerry

    With IRV, Bush wins this situation -- Badnarik is eliminated and the 25 Badnarik-Bush votes go to Bush, giving Bush the majority. However, had the Kerry-Badnarik voters listed their second choice, Badnarik, over their primary candidate, they would have kept Bush from winning office! By ranking their favorite (Kerry) first, they caused Bush to win. A better strategy would have been to rank their second choice first. This is called strategic voting has opposed to sincere voting). IRV, like plurality, does not satisfy the 'monotonicity criterion' - in some situations, if a voter or group of voters decides to rank a preferred candidate lower, it can result in that candidate winning the election, whereas if they had ranked the candidate higher, according to their sincere preference, that candidate would not have won. It
    gets worse the more candidates you have. In effect, IRV is almost equivalent to plurality. In some ways, it's worse because people will be under the illusion that their ranked preferences are working in their favor and not against them. For more information on how IRV and it's problems, check out:
    http://www.electionmethods.org/IRVproblems.htm and

    I believe a better system is the Approval Voting system. This system is supported by libertarian candidate Badnarik. In this system, you don't rank the candidates at all -- you instead vote for all candidates that you can live with. One advantage is that it's simple. You wouldn't have to change the ballots much -- just change "Choose one candidate", you say "Choose one or more candidates". Like plurality, votes are tallied up once and the person with the most votes win. This system does not suffer from the spoiler effect as minor party people would also vote for the lesser of two evils in the major parties. The major advantage of this system is that it's easy to implement and easy to understand. The only real disadvantage of this system (except perhaps making it harder to catch tampered ballots) is that if your (minor party) preferred candidate actually has a chance of winning, how do you know then to stop voting for the 'lesser of two evils' as well? By voting for your preferred minor party AND a major party, you aren't giving your minor party candidate an advantage over the major party candidate. Knowing *when* to start voting for only your preferred candidate is strategy, and strategic voting is bad in my book. You may be interested in Russ and Mike's (of electionmethods.org) essay on why Approval Voting should be implemented *now*: http://www.electionmethods.org/approved.htm

    Finally, we come to Condorcet system (sometimes called 'pairwise'). I've come to the conclusion from reading about it online that this would be the best system to implement. Like IRV, voters rank their candidates in order of preference. Unlike IRV, voting for your preferred candidate will never cause your least favorite to win. It passes the monotonicity criterion. The disadvantage of Condorcet is that it requires high-school mathematics to calculate the results. This would be done on computers, of course. In an ideal system, the computers could calculate the results and print out an explanation so people aren't blindly trusting them. I'm a believer that any electronic voting system should be open-sourced. Public source code leaves little room for corruption. But I digress.

    Condorcet takes everyone's rankings and pits each candidate against each other. For example, if I list Cobb first, Badnarik second, Kerry third, and Bush
    fourth, and there is just one voter (me), then Cobb beats Badnarik, Cobb beats Kerry, Cobb beats Bush. Badnarik beats Kerry. Kerry beats Bush. etc. With multiple votes, you count the votes for each pairing. If more voters rank Kerry over Cobb, then Kerry beats Cobb. If more voters rank Cobb over Bush, then Cobb beats Bush. When you are done, you are left with one ranking of candidates. You can have a situation where you have a cycle like so: Kerry beats Bush who beats Cobb who beats Badnarik who beats Kerry. In this situation, who is the winner? There are different methods of removing cyclical ambiguities, but the most preferred simply keep removing the weakest pairwise victory until there is no cyclical ambiguity anymore. (This is where the high school math comes in).

    Condorcet allows one to vote sincerely. One does not have to come to the voting office thinking about strategy or worry if their vote will "spoil" the lesser of two evil's victory. Read Russ and Mike's explanation on the Condorcet system:

    Please take a look at their technical evaluation of several voting systems. it includes an explanation of the various criteria that a voting system is put to:

    I feel that changing our voting system is immensely important, although the Republicrats may not agree as it keeps them in power for the most part. I think we need a system where people aren't afraid to vote sincerely and and where people can vote without fear that their vote will be 'wasted'. I also am afraid that the wrong system will be adopted (like IRV). If we are going to change our voting system, let's change it to one that works to everyone's best interest. Although I suppose that one advantage of IRV is that we can use it as a stepping stone to Condorcet since the ballots are identical. Get people used to ranking their choices and switch the back-end to a non-flawed one at some point. But why start with a flawed one at all? The flaws will be publicized shortly after they are implemented, and it could discredit the reform all together. The last thing we want is to go back to our current system. Ick.

    Thanks for listening to me rant. :)

  2. zimv20 macrumors 601


    Jul 18, 2002
    thanks for the writeup. i learned some stuff.
  3. Xtremehkr macrumors 68000


    Jul 4, 2004
    Some good ideas.

    I am fond of the idea that proposes limiting a President to one six year term. That way a President would not have to pander in order to get re-elected. A President could make some tough decisions and follow through without having to worry about a re-election in the middle. The term would be shorter but that would be made up in what could be done in six years.

    There are more than likely some disadvantages to this idea as well, but it could not be any worse than the current system.
  4. Thanatoast macrumors 6502a


    Dec 3, 2002
    How 'bout some good 'ole proportional representation? If the House of Representatives was voted by PR, third parties would actually have a voice, and more people would be represented more acurately. The downside is that this would never happen, as it would hurt the two parties in power.

    But you're right, something needs to change.

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