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We talk about different voting systems in use, the problems with them and some positive alternatives.

Topic Notes


  • Back to the year 2000
    • Bush and Gore are competing to become president
    • There is a recount in Florida
    • Ralph Nader was on the ballet
    • Bush beat Gore by 537 votes
    • Nader had received 97,421 votes
    • A plurality would have preferred Gore - accounting for maybe 40,000 votes

Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem

  • 1951 - Kenneth Arrow published Social Choice and Individual Values
  • The theorem shows that ranked voting will run into problems with more than two candidates
  • What is ranked voting? FPTP: First Past The Post & Ranked Choice
  • There are three problems that can’t be eliminated
    • Spoiler Votes (All like X over Y, does the group?)
    • Moderate-cum-dictators (In a polarized voting block, the middle makes the choice)
    • Third party scandals (Everyone feels the same about the top two candidates but number three just got busted)

Common Voting Systems

  • FPTP voting like we have in most places in the United States. We’ve seen problems with it in the past.
  • Ranked Choice Instant Runoff
    • Ranked Choice Voting / Alternative Vote / Instant Runoff
    • Australia, Fiji, New Zealand
    • Both Ireland and Northern Ireland
  • US Locals

Other Voting Systems

  • Borda - Ranked Choice joins forces with Addition. Add ranks, lowest wins.
  • Condorcet Method - Simulated election pairs. Shulze Method (widest path)
  • Bucklin Voting - Rank choices (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc). If you have a majority, stop. If not, add the next lowest level of preference.
  • Approval - Check the boxes of whoever you like. Really, as many as you want
  • Score Voting - Like Yelp or Amazon Reviews

Making a good voting systems

  • Avoid or make the problems Arrow described rare or impossible
  • Can be counted manually
  • Is easy to understand (improve legitimacy)

How do they Stack up?

  • FPTP
    • Spoiler problem is really common
    • Manual counting is easy
    • Very easy to explain
  • Ranked Choice
    • Less chance of a spoiler
    • Counting is super hard
    • Complicated to understand
    • Can lead to some weird results which leave someone who is less popular to be the winner
  • Borda
    • Has a reverse spoiler effect - a bad candidate who is close in position to another bad candidate will be helped
    • Counting is harder than FPTP but not hard
    • Fairly easy to understand
  • Condorcet
    • Can lead to a loop or cycle. Might be fine if the vote can happen again
    • Counting manually is very difficult
    • It is hard to explain
    • The Shulze method gets to crazy levels of difficulty to explain/count.
  • Bucklin
    • If the majority likes a group of candidates, one member of that group will winner
    • Counting is medium difficulty
    • Has been used in many elections in the US for things like primaries. Some versions were found unconstitutional
    • Explaining is medium difficulty
  • Approval Voting
    • No spoiler effect or minority dictators
    • Very easy to count
    • Easy to explain
  • Score voting
    • No spoiler effect or minority dictators
    • Counting is harder than FPTP but not hard
    • Harder than FPTP and Approval to explain but not hard
    • People may feel like they need to distribute their score to express themselves fully turning into a kind of Borda vote for them.

Where do I fall?

I am in favor of electoral reform. I think that many of these systems would be an improvement. My preference would be Approval Voting.


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