Join 3,438 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Are we using the worst voting procedure?
November 5, 2002 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Are we using the worst voting procedure? "Voting theorists argue that plurality voting is one of the worst of all possible choices." Plurality voting, in which each voter selects one canidate, is vulnerable to a third party spoiler (Nader) or with many canidates can lead to the (near) election of a candidate most voters despise (le Pen). Some alternative voting systems include instant runoff where canidates are ranked by voters, a Borda count where voters assigns points to each canidate, or approval system where voters vote for as many canidates as they like. (via argmax.com)
posted by Quinn (63 comments total)

 
I personally like the Australian system, where voters get to list their choices in order of preference.

In Canada we have a first-past-the-post system and it has degenerated into region-based parties, with the Liberals, who control the biggest region, Ontario, being the de facto governing party.

Of course, with a 2 party system like they have in the US, it really doesn't matter how the voting is structured if both parties engineer themselves to get 50% plus 1 of the votes / seats.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:40 AM on November 5, 2002


I like the Iraqi system, where voters get to pick Saddam. It's refreshingly honest.
posted by Fabulon7 at 11:44 AM on November 5, 2002


I fail to see how the spoiler factor is necessarily a bad thing. Its as if the author is arguing that Nader voters somehow didn't know they weren't helping Al Gore by not voting for him. The multiple candidate problem thats raised sounds just as easily solved by utilizing a two-party system along with plurality voting as it does thru their run-off methods.
posted by schlyer at 11:47 AM on November 5, 2002


My problem with this article is that the writer continuously says that Americans vote for their candidates in a Presidential election, which is of course untrue. We vote for electors in the Electoral College, which is even stupider given the size and population of the country today than simple plurality voting.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:48 AM on November 5, 2002


candidates

spell check
posted by Holden at 11:56 AM on November 5, 2002


The 50% plus one is only for the Congress in the US, a separate issue all together than Presidential politics.

The Electoral College is a far outdated system, a leftover from the days when the elections took weeks to count and distant states might not be heard from for a month, everyone elected electors who would go and vote in a central place, now we know the winner long before they've won thanks to our enlightened TV networks!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:57 AM on November 5, 2002


the fact remains that a democrat in a predominately republican district or a vice versa is not represented. it could be argued this is taxation without representation.

also krist novaselic (nirvana bass player) has a webpage about this issue
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 12:07 PM on November 5, 2002


I like the method where the Supreme Court chooses our leaders for us. It's very efficient and Iraq should be paying attention.

But seriously, the IRV method is great.

Along with a "none of the above" choice on every ballot.

And elections held throughout an entire weekend so ALL working people have a chance to vote.

And limiting the politician's salary and benefits to the mean salary and benefits of the citizens would do wonders towards a living wage for all.

Vote for me!!
posted by nofundy at 12:10 PM on November 5, 2002


It doesn't just advantage Gore. It also seems that, under the "instant runoff" system, a candidate that would have been a "spoiler" in the plurality system would have a much better shot at pulling off an upset. I'm sure that at least some of the Gore voters would have loved to see Nader get elected. They picked Gore because, under the plurality system, it's sometimes reasonable to vote for one's second (or N-1th) favorite candidate, in order to avoid a candidate that one *really* hates.
posted by originalname37 at 12:14 PM on November 5, 2002


Elections belong to the outdated Newtonian deterministic worldview. Quantum politics dictates that representatives should be appointed by random selection.
posted by quercus at 12:21 PM on November 5, 2002


The electoral college should have been done away with decades ago, but there are just too many small states that would have a hissy fit if their 1 man 2 votes status was taken away.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:22 PM on November 5, 2002


A Democrat in a Republican district HAS representation, just not the one that they voted for, now as for us in DC...
posted by Pollomacho at 12:24 PM on November 5, 2002


nofundy, in San Francisco, voters have been able to vote early the past two weekends, and for most of the past two weeks. i'm not sure, but that seems reasonable. i'm surprised more cities don't do it (unless, of course, they already do).

i'll vote for you, btw. just show me where to sign.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:28 PM on November 5, 2002


Are we in a situation where the majority of voters feel like they are not being adequately represented? I think not. Maybe the majority of mefites, but the country seems relatively happy. Therefore, I conclude that it ain't broke. So don't fix it.

Also it's worked for over 200 years.
posted by callmejay at 12:32 PM on November 5, 2002


A concept which still confuses me, Space Coyote. A state only having 3 electoral votes is going be looked as just as insignificant on the campaign trail than if the population total counted amongst the rest of the country.

The only valid pro argument is that the EC requires candidates to actually campaign across the country: feasibly, with popular vote, the Democrats could just try to take all of New York and California area and the Republicans would just stay in the South, and not bother to move around Middle America. The problem is that this is pretty much happening already. Most political analysts would say that the electoral victory of maybe 6 or 7 states pretty much determines the election. The media today makes the campaign reach everyone simultaneously, therefore allowing viewers in Idaho to see the campaign in California for a lot cheaper than actuall flying over and spending a week there. Hell, CNN and the other even show other states' local campaign ads to me.

The entire idea of the president campainging to get local support bothers me, anyway. The job of the president is to be the executive, and run the country as a whole. Therefore, he/she should be elected not because of localized popularity but because of his/her popularity among the collective American people. Individual states and counties and towns already have local politicans that should campaign for their specific issues: that's what state and Federal Congress is for.

Of course, the EC keeps the two-party system in efficiency, which is favored by the entites that fund the elections- the element that this really all comes down to. Unions and Philip-Morris don't want there to be five or six different presidential candidates because that means they have to start bribing six or seven people instead of two.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:34 PM on November 5, 2002


the fact remains that a democrat in a predominately republican district or a vice versa is not represented.

This would be equally true in a gerrymandered 75/25 district or a competitive 51/49 district. The losers still lose.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:38 PM on November 5, 2002


uh, callmejay, a majority of people in the US voted against the person who is now president, now I'm not saying that that a majority of Americans feel that the government is inadequate but...
posted by Pollomacho at 12:43 PM on November 5, 2002


Pollomacho: I thought you did not much care for direct democracy. Protecting the minority and all that. The electoral congress is Representative Democracy. Enjoy it.
posted by thirteen at 12:55 PM on November 5, 2002


i thought slashdot had an interesting discussion! and i also like this idea on "non-territorial voting" :D
But if representative government turns out to be your intention there still may be ways to achieve it better than the territorial district. For example you each represent about ten thousand human beings, perhaps seven thousand of voting age -- and some of you were elected by slim majorities. Suppose instead of election a man were qualified for office by petition signed by four thousand citizens. He would then represent those four thousand affirmatively, with no disgruntled minority, for what would have been a minority in a territorial consituency would all be free to start other petitions or join in them. All would then be represented by men of their choice. Or a man with eight thousand supporters might have two votes in this body. Difficulties, objections, practical points to be worked out -- many of them! But you could work them out ... and thereby avoid the chronic sickness of representative government, the disgruntled minority which feels -- correctly! -- that it has been disenfranchised.
also virginia's lieutenant governor was saying the other day how australia mandated voting, so like if you didn't you get charged $250 or something. and then mark warner chimed in "that would save the budget!" he also talked about prospects for online voting :D
posted by kliuless at 12:58 PM on November 5, 2002


The entire legislative process in the US contemplates a two party system with one party in the majority -- having third parties in the legislature in significant enough numbers to prevent majorities could have a lot of unforseen negative effects.
posted by MattD at 12:59 PM on November 5, 2002


Well, to get technical, Pollo, the majority of Americans didn't vote at all, and among those that voted, no candidate recieved a majority of 50% or more. Al Gore won the most votes, aka the Popular Vote, aka a plurality of the vote. The Left and Right can both spin it that technically nearly 75% of the country didn't want their opposition's candidate to be president, but it's all relative.

And thirteen, that's not really a fair argument. Every other election here is direct democracy, and even if the President is also elected that way it's still a representative government / Constitutional Republic, both of which are just a form of Democracy.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:01 PM on November 5, 2002


No, actually I don't care much for it, thanks. I also think representative democracy should be representative. When a tiny state gets 3 although deserves less than 3 or when California or New York can nearly determine an election outright, this is not representative of the voters. A Senator cannot win unless he/she wins the MOST votes, yet a president can be elected by far less than the most, that is not representative.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:02 PM on November 5, 2002


Districted elections-- which the Electoral College provides-- have a real purpose: they maximize the power of each individual vote. Required reading for anyone who wants to talk about Electoral College reform should be the article "Math Against Tyranny" from the November 1996 issue of Discover.

Without the electoral college, Presidential campaigning would concentrate on the D.C.-Boston corridor and the major cities of California. Where would anyone else's views be then?
posted by Cerebus at 1:07 PM on November 5, 2002


Yep, XQUZYPHYR, sorry, please insert PLURALITY for MAJORITY in the above posting, I will worry about trying not to insert my foot into my mouth in the next posting. I suppose what I was trying to say is that a majority of voters (that voted) voted against Bush (that's 49% Gore and 2% "other" for a 51% majority of voting voters)
posted by Pollomacho at 1:11 PM on November 5, 2002


When was the last time a candidate worried about carrying Wyoming or Delaware? The campaign already concentrates on Cali., Florida, Texas and the Boston-Atlanta corridor! What would be different without the EC? Without it a candidate could feasibly pull plurality of voters from all over big and small and actually win rather than concentrating on the 270 needed to win in the EC, easily gained through winning just key states.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:16 PM on November 5, 2002


While the article mentions Arrow's theorem, it doesn't point out how really dark this is. The practical upshot is that every method of making a collective choice -- even beyond voting methods -- is horrible. They all blow up spectacularly.

Plurality voting goes blooey when it picks Condorcet losers -- people who would lose any possible 1-on-1 election can win plurality elections with 3+ candidates... all die, oh the embarrassment.

Borda counts go blooey too in what's cleverly called the Borda reversal paradox. If the scores have lined up A beats B beats C beats D and we eliminate D from consideration, it can happen that the new scores are C beats B beats A. All die, oh the embarrassment.

Approval voting goes blooey too, they all do, but I can't remember how.

What all of this really boils down to is that the whole notion of collective preference, of the general will or the will of the people, is usually spurious and illusory. We the People might prefer A to B, but you can usually demonstrate that we also prefer B to C to A at the same time. Which means that it's all just choices, not the utterances of a secular divinity.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:18 PM on November 5, 2002


As someone living in Eastern Canada I can certainly see the problem of what would happen if representation was based on population alone. Quebec and Ontario would have more than 50% of the seats to themselves and could effectively tell the rest of the country to go to hell, even more so than they do now.

In Japan they split the seats between representative seats and proportional-representation seats. Unfortunately nearly all political activity takes place in Tokyo, with candidates often never returning to their districts after getting elected. This is partly due to the political culture that has arisin around the government and civil service in that country, but it's something to watch out for nonetheless.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:25 PM on November 5, 2002


I also think representative democracy should be representative.
I thought it was called that because your issues are handled by a representitive. The electoral college was set up to entice states to join the union, and assure them that their interests would not be ignored. I would prefer a direct democracy too, but it is hardly fair to pull out the rug and say "we have you now, so we do not need to keep the promise to you". Since there is no mechanism for secession, it is a pretty dirty thing to do. My reason for posting was just to point out that the direct democracy is a nicer system, and one we should be using more.

Every other election here is direct democracy, and even if the President is also elected that way it's still a representative government / Constitutional Republic, both of which are just a form of Democracy.

Every other election is local too. I would be happier to treat the nation election the same way, I just think it is strange to support this idea for some issues, and avoid it for others. If people can elect the president directly, they can vote regarding the laws that will govern them.
posted by thirteen at 1:26 PM on November 5, 2002


A state only having 3 electoral votes is going be looked as just as insignificant on the campaign trail than if the population total counted amongst the rest of the country.

The boost in influence is admittedly small per state (although it probably made a much bigger difference when it was concieved). But for n states, there are automatically n*2 (100 currently) more votes spread evenly throughout the country. No matter where a population density shift occurs, those n*2 votes will remain a somewhat significant factor, giving no especial boost to any one state, but ensuring attention to the whole remains significant.

As for the voting methods... I'm utterly convinced that plurality voting is ineffective, but I'm also convinced it would take a lot to wean the U.S. as a whole from it. I'm on the board of a non-profit, and I've suggested several times using approval voting (the conceptually simplest method after plurality voting, I think), and the other 7 people on the board simply don't get it. Anytime I bring up other voting methods, they get a glazed look....
posted by namespan at 1:27 PM on November 5, 2002


For an interesting perspective from my Con Law professor, Akhil Amar,....go here.

The argument he hashes out in class is basically that the EC is horribly antiquated as it really served just to protect the interests of the slave-holding South. Consider that the North had more eligible white/male/property owners than did the South (as it had far more blacks). The South's protection against this was naming 3/5 of its blacks as population. Increasing the population of a state leads to a greater proportion of electoral votes for that state, and so allowing slaves to count as 3/5 of the Southern population allowed the south to commandeer a firmer stance against the North in the national Presidential election. Consider also that Thomas Jefferson (Southerner from VA) only won the election of 1800 by a margin less than or equal to that of 3/5 x # of slaves. "Without the extra electoral college votes generated by slavery, the mostly southern states that supported Jefferson would not have sufficed to give him a majority." Indeed VA only had more EC votes than some free states (particularly PA) because of its 3/5 slaves advantage.

Whether this skewed example is evidence that the entire system is wack, however, requires more discussion than just slavery.
posted by superfem at 1:33 PM on November 5, 2002


I prefer C.
posted by Ron at 1:33 PM on November 5, 2002


Districted elections-- which the Electoral College provides-- have a real purpose: they maximize the power of each individual vote. Required reading for anyone who wants to talk about Electoral College reform should be the article "Math Against Tyranny" from the November 1996 issue of Discover

I remember that article. I read it before, and found it lacking, and skimmed it again to refresh my memory. The crux seems to be:
These insights came quickly, but it was many years before Natapoff devised his formal mathematical proof. His starting point was the concept of voting power. In a fair election, he saw, each voter’s power boils down to this: What is the probability that one person’s vote will be able to turn a national election? The higher the probability, the more power each voter commands. To figure out these probabilities, Natapoff devised his own model of a national electorate--a more realistic model, he thought, than the ones the quoted experts were always using. Almost always, he found, individual voting power is higher when funneled through districts--such as states--than when pooled in one large, direct election. It is more likely, in other words, that your one vote will determine the outcome in your state and your state will then turn the outcome of the electoral college, than that your vote will turn the outcome of a direct national election. A voter therefore, Natapoff found, has more power under the current electoral system.
What the author of this article fails to take into account is that the EC increases the voting power of some voters at the expense of others, relative to a direct election. A voter in one state has more power than one in another. The EC may even increase the average voting power of voters relative to a general election, but that's little comfort to those who have less power than they would with direct election.

The author acknowledges this objection, but does not overcome it:
Why worry how easily one vote can turn an election, so long as each voter has equal power? One person, one vote--that’s all the math anyone needs to know in a simple, direct election. Natapoff agrees that voters should have equal power. "The idea," he says, "is to give every voter the largest equal share of national voting power possible." Here’s a classic example of equal voting power: under a tyranny, everyone’s power is equal to zero. Clearly, equality alone is not enough.
Fair enough: equality alone does not a good voting system make. But Hively never addresses the fact that the EC gives more power to some voters than to others.

Hively also trots out the tired old World Series analogy that defenders of the EC often use:
Runs must be grouped in a way that wins games, just as popular votes must be grouped in a way that wins states. The Yankees won three blowouts (16-3, 10-0, 12-0), but they couldn’t come up with the runs they needed in the other four games, which were close.

...

The Yankees had finally toppled. There they were, ahead in the polls, piling up votes like nobody’s business, until one last swing of one player’s bat turned the whole season around. "Everybody regarded it as one of the most glorious World Series ever," Natapoff says. "To do it any other way would totally destroy the degree of competition and excitement that’s essential to all sports."
And without realizing it, Hively provides the refutation to the World Series analogy. The World Series is decided by games, not runs, becuase that's the more exciting way to do it. That's all well and good for sports. But the method we use to choose our president shouldn't be decided primarily on the grounds of what method is most exciting. After all, the 2000 presidential election was the most exciting in a long time, yet I don't see anyone clamoring to repeat that experience.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:34 PM on November 5, 2002


As someone living in Eastern Canada I can certainly see the problem of what would happen if representation was based on population alone. Quebec and Ontario would have more than 50% of the seats to themselves and could effectively tell the rest of the country to go to hell, even more so than they do now.

Thus, the U.S. Senate, where each state has equal representation regardless of population. I don't see anyone here suggesting that we get rid of the Senate or switch it to representation based on population. Just that we change the president to be elected directly, resolving the problem that some voters currently have more power than others in the election of the president.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:43 PM on November 5, 2002


I don't entirely agree with dismissals of the EC system as an artifact of the logistical challenges during ratification. It also has some legal significance, in that it indicates that the constitution is a compact between states as much as between people. Do the people that would get rid of it in favor of proportional voting also want to abolish the non-proportional structure of the Senate? Do you think that the UN general assembly should be dominated by China and India, which have 1/3 of the world's population but only 1% of that body's votes?

I dislike how electors are allocated in an all or none fashion in each state, but think the intermediaries of electors still serve a valuable legal function, and I wouldn't mind keeping them around as a safegaurd, as the founders intended.
posted by gsteff at 1:44 PM on November 5, 2002


"it is hardly fair to pull out the rug and say "we have you now, so we do not need to keep the promise to you". Since there is no mechanism for secession, it is a pretty dirty thing to do."

I like your imagery here, but when they devised the system 200 years ago for 13 much more nearly equal states it was a fine system in doing just what it was supposed to, which was protect the rights of the small states. Now we've got monsters like California with 54 votes (over 10% of the TOTAL)! I don't see how it protects the little guy at all anymore!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:44 PM on November 5, 2002


I don't see how it protects the little guy at all anymore!

I will certainly give you that, but it should be known I would advocate splitting California up into 5 or 6 states. I think 100 states in total would be a better number than 50. Too many people represented by far too few.
posted by thirteen at 1:52 PM on November 5, 2002


One person, one vote, period. Oh, and no incumbent re-election campaigning... If they're doing their jobs, voters will know them.
posted by LouReedsSon at 1:53 PM on November 5, 2002


I think 100 states in total would be a better number than 50.

No way. It might improve the electoral system, but increasing the size of the Senate would only make the body even slower moving. Nowadays, it takes 60 votes to get anything done in that body, and statistically, increasing the sample size is only going to bring you farther from clear majorities.
posted by gsteff at 2:00 PM on November 5, 2002


"Whether this skewed example is evidence that the entire system is wack, however, requires more discussion than just slavery."

I think we sort of sped over superfem's whole 3/5ths post. They may have emancipated the slaves but the 3/5ths rules still have life. They use three methods called cracking, stacking and packing to ensure that black (mostly Democratic I might add) voters from swaying congressional districts, but their numbers still add into the population totals. In short, cracking is splitting a predominately black district into two and tacking the smaller parts onto majority white ones. Stacking is burying black voters in white districts. Finally packing is making a very densely populated black district and smaller white districts to ensure a far fewer number of black elected reps. And we got rid of 3/5ths when?
posted by Pollomacho at 2:13 PM on November 5, 2002


There's always the option of switching to Monarchy, which would also solve the problem of our marketing-based culture giving us campaigns in which we're really just voting for spun-out focus-grouped products.
posted by COBRA! at 2:14 PM on November 5, 2002


No way. It might improve the electoral system, but increasing the size of the Senate would only make the body even slower moving. Nowadays, it takes 60 votes to get anything done in that body, and statistically, increasing the sample size is only going to bring you farther from clear majorities.


That sounds good to me.
posted by thirteen at 2:17 PM on November 5, 2002


(via argmax.com)

Also via jonvaughan in 21344.
posted by piskycritter at 2:18 PM on November 5, 2002


DevilsAdvocate: This is only true under the assumption that the race is deadlocked and each voter exactly and equally prefers each candidate. The counter-intuitive result of Natapoff's work is simply that-- direct elections are more "fair" than district elections only in the boundary case of a dead heat and perfectly balanced preferences

Recall from the article (regarding a direct election):
In a nation of 135 citizens, says Natapoff, one person’s probability of turning an election is 6.9 percent in a dead-even contest. But if voter preference for candidate A jumps to, say, 55 percent, the probability of deadlock, and of your one vote turning the election, falls below .4 percent, a huge drop. If candidate A goes out in front by 61 percent, the probability that one vote will matter whooshes down to .024 percent. And it keeps on dropping, faster and faster, as candidate A keeps pulling ahead.

The next step is the kicker. The effect of lopsided preferences, Natapoff discovered, is far more important than the size effect. In a dead- even contest, remember, voting power shrinks as the electorate becomes larger. But a 1 or 2 percent change in electorate size, by itself, doesn’t matter much to the individual voter. When one candidate gains an edge over another, however, a 1 or 2 percent change can make a huge difference to everyone’s voting power, giving candidates less of a motive to keep the losers happy. And the larger the electorate, the more telling a candidate’s lead becomes, like a house advantage.
In contrast, for a districted election:
The degree to which districting helps, Natapoff found, depends on just how close a contest is. Take as an illustration our model nation of 135, divided into, say, three states of 45 citizens each. When the race is dead even, of course, no districting scheme helps: voting power starts off at 6.9 percent in a direct election versus 6.0 percent in a districted election. But when candidate A jumps ahead with a lead of 54.5 percent, individual voting power is roughly the same whether the nation uses districts or not. And as the contest becomes more lopsided, voting power shrinks faster in the direct-voting nation than it does in the districted nation. If candidate A grabs a 61.1 percent share of voter preference, voters in the districted nation have twice as much power as those in the direct-voting nation. If A’s share reaches 64.8 percent, voters in the districted nation have four times as much power, and so on. The advantage of districting over direct voting keeps growing quickly as the contest becomes more lopsided.
Even further:
For very small electorates--nine people, say--he found that the gap between candidates must be very large, at least 66.6 to 33.3 percent, before districting will help. That’s why raw voting works well at town meetings, where electorates are so small. As the number of voters gets larger, the crossover point moves closer to 50-50. For a nation of 135, voters are better off with districting in any race more lopsided than 55- 45. For a nation with millions of voters, the gap between candidates must be razor-thin for districting not to help. In the real world of large nations and uneven contests, voters get more bang for their ballot when they set up a districted, Madisonian electoral system--usually a lot more.
This is not set up to provide for exciting elections. This is set up to ensure that the views of the minority nevertheless must be taken into account in the election of the president, by forcing candidates to solicit votes outside of their core majority. This neatly serves to moderate popular extremists, and avoids the "tyranny of the majority." James Madison said it himself: "Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction." (Federalist Papers #10).

The most compelling section of Hively's article (which I will admit is a little lightweight; but I selected it because it is easier to understand than a more technical treatment) is this:
A well-designed electoral system might include obstacles to thwart an overbearing majority. But direct, national voting has none. Under raw voting, a candidate has every incentive to woo only the largest bloc-- say, Serbs in Yugoslavia. If a Serb party wins national power, minorities have no prospect of throwing them out; 49 percent will never beat 51 percent. Knowing this, the majority can do as it pleases (lacking other effective checks and balances). But in a districted election, no one becomes president without winning a large number of districts, or "states"- -say, two of the following three: Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. Candidates thus have an incentive to campaign for non-Serb votes in at least some of those states and to tone down extreme positions--in short, to make elections less risky events for the losers. The result, as George Wallace used to say, may often be a race without "a dime’s worth of difference" between two main candidates, which he viewed as a weakness but others view as a strength of our system.
Interestingly, Natapoff continues on to show that the ideal district size varies depending on the proportion of preference. Close races give more "power" to large states; blowouts, to smaller states. It's obviously impractical to redistrict each election, so while there remains this flaw in the EC system, the variable sizes of our states provides some mitigation.

Note that this doesn't mean that each district (or indeed, the EC itself) could not itself select something other than the plurality method of voting.
posted by Cerebus at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2002


They should just combine the midwest and those stupid square states into one to even it up :)
posted by Space Coyote at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2002


Pollo, the 3/5 compromise is alive and well. Prisoners in state correctional facilities and jails are considered citizens of the state when it comes to population and redistricting; despite having no participation in consumption of resources or infrastructure, they are included in the census to give more funding allotment to the counties that incarcerate them.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:35 PM on November 5, 2002


Therefore, I conclude that it ain't broke. So don't fix it. Also it's worked for over 200 years.

Along these lines, I see no reason to use these newfangled "aero-planes" and "auto-mobiles". We've been getting around just fine on horseback for centuries.
posted by jjg at 2:45 PM on November 5, 2002


Pollomacho...there are, perhaps, those who vote based on their preference and not with their skin color. Just a thought.

In any case, as has been mentioned before, Arrow *proved* that no voting system with more than 2 candidates and 2 voters is flawed. Period. Without argument. There are *always* problems.

Approval (where you simply mark "approved" or "not approved" next to every candidate's name) seems fair. However, that gives the same weight to your least favorite "approved" candidate as the guy you really want to win. Most "approved" wins. If I were to start a new country, though, I would say Approval might be considered, but honestly, majority voting works just fine. Borda is seriously, seriously flawed in its regimented intervals.

As for the Electoral College, it's unfair, yes. But states like Delaware joined because they knew what the ec was. Remember, we're a collection of states, not a "country".
posted by Kevs at 2:53 PM on November 5, 2002


We've been getting around just fine on horseback for centuries.

Darn tootin'!
posted by oissubke at 2:55 PM on November 5, 2002


As usual, I will probably get slammed for my viewpoints. For an "open minded" crowd, you all can be pretty harsh at times...

I am all in favor for the Electoral College. It is not outdated at all. In fact, I think it is more in-dated today than it ever was. As many people are moving to the major cities, it would be possible for politicians to only appeal to only two or three states, namely California, Florida, and New York. But because of the EC, politicians are forced to get out and campaign and spend money on the smaller states. With the EC system in place, a candidate can't just sit on his bum and campaign in just a few states in order to win.

Let's look at the 2000 election. If Gore would have campaigned only in the midwest and South (not including Florida), he would have gotten a majority of the EC votes but a minority of the popular votes. If Bush would have done just the opposite, he would have lost due to a lack of EC votes.

The EC is just a way to even out the population a bit. Like every other system, it is flawed. Sometimes (twice out of 225 years of voting), the person with fewer popular votes gets elected. That's just how it goes. Sometimes innocent people go to jail. Sometimes we get taxed incorrectly. Flukes happen.

Now... my ideas on how to make voting a little more convenient:

I think we should all be given Voter ATM cards. You could go to your closest ATM, and your information on the magnetic strip would include who all you can vote for (district-wise) and if you have already voted or not. Then, I would make the voting period last through five days. I would also make it so results wouldn't be collected until the voting has officially stopped so that either side couldn't go out and rally votes and intimidate others just because they were losing. And, just like when you take out money on an ATM, you will get a "receipt" stating who and what you voted for so there will be no confusion.
posted by mychai at 3:26 PM on November 5, 2002


OOp. Is it too late to add some additional comments that I was going to add but forgot? No? Good.

Even though I think the Electoral College is a good thing, I think there are some tweaks to make it better. My main tweak would be to make electorates vote proportionately to the state's vote. For instance (2000 vote again), let's say that, in Missouri (where I currently live), Bush got 60% of the presidential vote, and Gore got 40%. I would have it so the same percentage of electorates vote in Washington as how the state voted.

But, then again, Electorates are free to vote for whomever they wish. Yet another flaw that I think would be fixed by this little tweak.
posted by mychai at 3:38 PM on November 5, 2002


Are we using the worst voting procedure?

No. Arguably, the worst (under reasonable orderings) would either be some randomized selection or dictatorship. But that doesn't mean that plurality voting is without fault. The problem with discussions like this is that we don't agree at the outset on what criteria determine when a system is "better" or "worse" than another. If you want to avoid spoiler effects, there are ways to do that. If you want to avoid Condorcet problems, there are ways to do that, too. What do you want your voting system to accomplish? The choice of systems will naturally hinge on the answer to that question.

I want to scream that all imperatives are hypothetical, but I don't think anyone would understand what I mean.

Oh, one other thing. The importance of Arrow's theorem is often greatly overstated. The theorem, as Arrow formulated it, applies to collective total orders (i.e., systems that not only determine the "best" alternative, but also the second-best, the third, etc.), when for most voting situations, all that is needed is a system that picks a winner. No total order is needed. Though, I admit total ignorance of extensions to the theorem, so maybe there are versions that are stronger...
posted by dilettanti at 4:28 PM on November 5, 2002


But, then again, Electorates are free to vote for whomever they wish. Yet another flaw that I think would be fixed by this little tweak.
I could be wrong, but I recall that this was another device of showing how we are a collection of states (federalism), not just a country as someone already pointed out. You yourself are not electing the Bush/Gore...Rather, you are electing someone to represent the state to vote. I also agree with the EC as it helped to dilineate state/country, a concept that seems all but forgotten (and what everyone else said about keeping some power w/in the states by forcing politician campaign in smaller states).
posted by jmd82 at 4:39 PM on November 5, 2002


We may have just been a collection of states 2 centuries ago, when New York was several days away from Boston, but today we have telephones and highways. The identities of states don't trump the national identity anywhere (except in the constitution, of course, and virginia).

As for the article in Discover, it seems to overlook the arbitrariness of using location as a means of dividing people into voting blocs. Why not divide by age, or ethnicity? Or why not just become aware of the fact that whether or not "districts" are drawn out formally, countless groups exist that, while at least slightly discontinuous in location, age, etc., are far more homogenous with regard to political ideology than states are, and tend to vote as blocs, at least to some extent. It's easier to alienate all Nader supporters (or NRA members) than to alienate half of them. Direct election allows these informal blocs to give individual voters more power (perhaps only in that their pre-election discussions and stated choices will influence like-minded people, but that's an effect that can't be discounted) while not biasing the vote in favor of, for example, Wyoming residents.
posted by Tlogmer at 5:46 PM on November 5, 2002


jmd and mychai...States can do that if they wish already. Witness Maine, for example.
posted by Kevs at 5:47 PM on November 5, 2002


good call Kevs...I had completely forgot about Maine and Nebraska. On the topic, would people be satisfied with their methods (elect an elector for each district vs. all or nothing) or would the EC nay-sayers not be happy untill they get an all-out plurality vote (not trying to sound snarky, just came out that way)?
posted by jmd82 at 6:18 PM on November 5, 2002


Tlogmer: Attempting to form districts out of voting blocs is called gerrymandering, and in general is a bad thing.

Consider a city with an poor urban core surrounded by more affluent suburbs three times the size of the core, geographically districted into four quadrants, each containing 25% of the urban center and 25% of the suburbs. This gives a suburban candidate 75% of the vote in his district-- a clear majority-- assuming voters vote in socio-economic blocs. Our city council will be made of 4 suburban candidates.

At first glance, this looks bad for the poor urbanites. We can redistrict to create three suburan districts and one district out of the urban center. Now we have a city council of 3 suburbanites and one urban councilman.

Which result is better? While the gerrymandered second case seems better at first glance, in this case each of the other three councilmen don't have to concern themselves with urban core issues at all, since they have no consituents in that socio-economic catagory. As a result, issues brought to the table by the urban councilman will face united opposition by the suburban council majority.

Conversely, in the first case, we have no direct urban representation, but *all* councilmen must cater in at least some regard to the urbanite bloc in their district, since in a close race between two suburban councilman candidates, that 25% bloc of urban voters will be critical. This gives an indirect, but more pervasive representation for urban issues-- all four councilmen must equally concern themselves with their urban voting blocs.

I know which I would prefer.
posted by Cerebus at 8:34 PM on November 5, 2002


Has anyone looked at the German constitution -plurality of states in a federal structure, no "first past the post" voting, always liked it myself.

Surely the point is this. In the US you have poor voter engagement. Why? People feel disenfranchised. Why? THere vote will only get them one of 2 very similar choices.

Go on, live a little, try a plural democracy with choice an proportional representation. You might just like it!
posted by lerrup at 1:42 AM on November 6, 2002


In Ireland we have proportional representation by single transferable vote (there are many forma of PR) which is considered by many to be the fairest system. In effect what it means is that you vote for the candidates in order of preference, and that your vote can be used many times. If your first choice doesn't get elected your no2 vote comes into use and so on, in the last election my vote was used three times with my no 3 getting elected. The downside is that it's a complicated system which in manual counts can take an age to get a result but we're in the process of introducing electronic voting which speeds it up and improves it's accuracy.

The system is designed to more accurately represent the share of the votes obtained by a party in terms of seats in parliament. So if a party get say 30% of the vote whereas in a first past the post system they get no parliamentary representation with PR they should get close to 30% of the seats. In practice this leads to coalition governments and a multi party system with minority parties getting a say that reflects their electoral support.

The problem I see with a winner take all system is that a party can effectively ignore large sections of the population and still get elected which can only lead to voter apathy. In a PR system this would be a foolish thing to do which tends to moderate governments.
posted by stunned at 3:16 AM on November 6, 2002


This neatly serves to moderate popular extremists, and avoids the "tyranny of the majority."

Tyrrany of the majority is prevented by provisions such as the bill of rights which limits what even a majority can do, and also provisions which require a supermajority to change such things.

The EC only prevents a "tyranny of the majority" by establishing a "tyranny of the minority" in some cases, as in 2000. Creating an occasional tyranny of the minority to prevent tyranny of the majority is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

direct elections are more "fair" than district elections only in the boundary case of a dead heat and perfectly balanced preferences

Only under Hively's strange definition of "fair" which defines the term to mean that each individual person has a maximum chance of altering the outcome of the election. That's not what I define as "fair."

Consider the following: I live in a very heavily republican district. According to CNN, votes in this district were 126,720 for the Republican, and 44,391 for the Democrat. So let's say there were 171,111 voters, with a 74% preference for the Republican. (I'm leaving out the libertarian candidate to simplify analysis; the math gets much uglier with three candidates.)

The chance of my vote affecting the outcome of the election is the chance that the votes of everyone except me split equally. This is (0.74^87055)*(0.26^87055)*[171110!/(87055!)^2], or about 4*10^25613.

That's 0.000000[imagine another 25,600 zeroes here]0000004.

Now imagine an alternate method of voting. Each voter writes the name of their candidate on a slip of paper. All of these slips are placed into a large barrel, and one slip is drawn. The person whose name is written on that slip wins the election.

Under this system, the chance of my vote affecting the outcome of the election is the chance that my slip is drawn. That's 1/171111, or about 0.000006.

According to Hively's definition of "fair" this lottery method is much much more fair than the standard election. Would you support changing elections to the lottery method, or would you prefer to reconsider your definition of "fair?"
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:52 AM on November 6, 2002


or about 4*10^25613

Arrgh. There was supposed to be a - sign in there. 4*10^-25613. Kind of makes a difference.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:55 AM on November 6, 2002


The EC is just a way to even out the population a bit. Like every other system, it is flawed. Sometimes (twice out of 225 years of voting), the person with fewer popular votes gets elected. That's just how it goes. Sometimes innocent people go to jail. Sometimes we get taxed incorrectly. Flukes happen.

Sheesh, it's not like the constitution was handed down from on high on stone tablets. If we find that a person convicted of a crime is actually innocent of that crime, we don't say, "Oh well, that's how things go" and let him rot; we release him. If a lot of innocent people are going to jail, we might tweak our judicial system so that fewer innocent people are convicted. If we find that we've been taxed incorrectly, there are procedures to correct that. And if we find that the electoral college results in undesirable outcomes, we can change it. Saying "That's just how it goes" is a cop-out.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:09 AM on November 6, 2002


Ack; I suspected I might get misunderstood. Cerebus -- I wasn't supporting gerrymandering; I was saying that for presidential elections, we shouldn't divide voters into districts at all because they'll do it themselves, informally, and much more fairly than a central authority.
posted by Tlogmer at 4:00 PM on November 6, 2002


You know, I think it says something that this thread was arguably not about the electoral college at all (if at all, then only tangentially) and yet discussion about it has dominated the thread. This is about alternatives to plurality voting. Did anybody actually read the thing?
posted by namespan at 3:02 PM on November 11, 2002


« Older Rez, a Japanese title for the Playstation 2 that w...  |  Maybe you're travelling to Nun... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments