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Western-Style Voting 'A Loser' 614

sethawoolley writes "In light of the upcoming elections in the US, author William Poundstone was interviewed about voting systems by Mother Jones. In it he advocates the benefits of Range Voting as a solution to Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. Approval, Borda, Instant Runoff, and Condorcet Voting, which are often solutions advocated by the Greens and Libertarians (in the US), are discussed, as well, in light of Warren Smith's recent empirical research using Bayesian Regret. My local party (of which I'm the Parliamentarian) uses Single Transferable voting, but we're considering using Range Voting in the future. One thing is for certain: any system is better than the West's out-dated plurality voting system."
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Western-Style Voting 'A Loser'

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  • PR-STV in Ireland (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zoney_ie ( 740061 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:54AM (#21931144)
    Here in Ireland we use Proportional Representation with Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV) which is pretty nifty (and apart from anything else, makes election counts a whole lot of fun and a spectator sport that can last for a week).

    The problem however is that no matter what system, we are voting for politicians. Our past election saw the Greens (a small minority party) get into government coalition with the main party here. They've already shown themselves to be well able to play the political game; and I don't mean that as praise.
  • Re:This is stupid. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ardle ( 523599 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:32AM (#21931308)
    The US "two-horse" election style only works (i.e. doesn't lead to social breakdown) because both sides' supporters are reasonably sure that, on average, the supporters of the opposition are not bent on their destruction. In Kenya (or, if you think about it, many countries to which democracy has been exported), citizens do not have this luxury and large-scale elections can have a more polarising effect simply because citizens have more riding on the outcome, I think...
  • by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:36AM (#21931320) Homepage
    Make a huge wiki of all the countries laws, policies and decision making.

    The government that anyone can edit.
  • by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:37AM (#21931326) Homepage Journal
    Correct, there cannot be any perfect system, except in the very limited case of exactly 0, 1, or 2 candidates/parties running. That's sort of the point of the Arrow Impossibility Theorem -- you can game any multi-candidate voting system.

    Preferential voting, range voting, whatever. There will be artifacts that will allow "dishonest" voters to game the system. Even the wikipedia page on Range Voting shows how it could be done with the Kentucky Capitol election example -- Memphis Voters artificially score Nashville low so they they are guaranteed to win the election.

    Our current system is a two-party system, with the system set up with a massive inertia to essentially discourage any 3rd party from running unless they can get a massive momentum from the start, like let's say by being a former president in the case of TR. This is bad. However, two-candidate elections also can't be gamed like preference voting can.

    Note that the primaries, which are not two-candidate elections can be gamed. For example, if I was a Libertarian living in California (a state with no chance of a Republican carrying the state, let alone a Libertarian), I might very well vote for a Democrat in a close primary election, if I think one Democrat (let's say Hillary) would be a disaster, whereas another candidate (Obama) would be less of a disaster (from the point of view of my hypothetical Libertarian sensibilities (which I'm not)).

    But once we're down to two candidates, you can no longer game the system by voting in a specific way.

    Therefore, I think that ranking or preference systems would be fine for *primaries*, but that maintaining a final election between two people is probably a good thing (for this and for the more important reason that we get to focus on the candidates more during the final cycle).
  • by dml_42 ( 448729 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:39AM (#21931334)
    Range voting has many nice properties that are very appealing. However, there are 3 major properties of voting systems that it fails to meet:

    1) Majority Property: If over 50% of voters prefer a single candidate over all others than that candidate should win the election.

    2) Condorcet Winners Criterion: If a candidate would win any head-to-head election then that candidate should win the election.

    3) Condorcet Losers Criterion: If a candidate would lose every head-to-head election then that candidate should not win the election.

    Arrow's theorem implies that EVERY voting system has MAJOR flaws. This includes range voting, instant runoff, etc.

    However, I have to say that I do like range voting (in particular its reduction of regret). But it should not be considered a panacea for alls the problems with voting methods.
  • by kanweg ( 771128 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:41AM (#21931346)
    All voting system are bad because they give the voter the idea that by voting he can influence the outcome of the voting process. That is only the case if there is a draw. Even if there are only 2 voters, that chance is only 1/3rd. Voting inaccuracies (have you never been surprised that if they do a recount after an election, that they don't end up with the same outcome, but may be hundreds off?). People who believe in voting suffer as much from delusion as a creationist. An election is just a very expensive poll with a large sample (yet still very often biased). It could be less biased by asking only 1% of the population to vote (computers select the voters randomly).

    Also, voting takes away any nuance you may have. For example, I'm a democrat in the sense that I'd want that civilians can influence the outcome of decisions by the government by supplying facts, arguments and ideas, and that the process is transparent. The party that defends democracy in the Netherlands, but they are old hat proponents of chosen mayor etc. More elections doesn't give an individual voter any more effect!! I want someone capable, not someone popular!!

    My idea of democracy is a kind of public wiki per topic that the government decides on, but it must be a moderated wiki to keep things organized, and civil. Politicians will be smoked out when they say stupid things that have been proven wrong in the wiki. Media will have a field day. So, politicians will pay attention. And yes, it is possible to do that without the moderators giving too much power.

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:46AM (#21931374)
    For starters, why should anyone dependent on the government for income or benefits have a say in how the system is run? It is in their financial interest to see the status quo maintained or expanded. The right to vote should be tied to at least two things:

    1) Gainfully employed on your own, even if it's at McDonalds
    2) Not drawing any income from the government. I'm dead serious on this one. Not even the military, of which I am a big fan and supporter (like most people that straddle the fence between conservatism and libertarianism), should be allowed to vote. If someone wants to sign up for the reserves, and really volunteer their time, they should have to choose to receive no pay at all while they maintain their right to vote.

    #2 is critical. How many welfare babies have you heard of that are down with the idea of limited government?

    I live in Fairfax County, VA, a place where a significant number of the wealthy voters are contractors and federal employees. It shows in their voting, as we are by far one of the most statist counties in Virginia.
  • Re:This is stupid. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kvezach ( 1199717 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:53AM (#21931400)
    Like in any constantly changing system, the pressures matter. One of Warren's other papers say that in a two-party state, the two parties have to show opinions that look similar to that of the usual voter (with one party slightly on the left and another slightly on the right). But since the parties aren't made of usual voters, that means they have to lie, and often quite severely, to affect that picture.

    It's also easier for third parties to appear when the voters know that their vote aren't wasted, and the results inform others that third parties can be a viable choice. This is what happened in New York in 1936 [] when they introduced the Single Transferable Vote; prior to it, the democrats pretty much controlled everything, but afterwards, many parties appeared. (It was eventually repealed - the main parties' Red Scare tactics with regards to elected Communists worked.)

    The point here is that a shift does not only change the situation today, but it changes the preconditions for the situation tomorrow. Changing the method could lead to more parties, and more parties would mean it's harder to bribe them all, weakening the power of capital, for instance.
  • by pthisis ( 27352 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @09:02AM (#21931442) Homepage Journal
    Correct, there cannot be any perfect system, except in the very limited case of exactly 0, 1, or 2 candidates/parties running. That's sort of the point of the Arrow Impossibility Theorem

    No it isn't, unless you're being tautological and defining "perfect system" as "one that meets the Arrow Impossibility Theorem criteria". Just reading through the definition of Arrow, IIA didn't seem obviously necessary or correct for a fair/perfect system to me. I then looked at the Wikipedia article and it seems that in fact, altering IIA makes designing a fair voting system possible and that that is what many proposed systems do.

    Essentially, it looks like the point of the Arrow Impossibility Theorem is that "this set of criteria is too simple to accurately model what real-world voting systems are trying to do". It does _not_ say that any sufficiently non-trivial system cannot be fair; it says they cannot meet an arbitrary set of criteria.

    (The whole thing is busted, and strikes me as akin to Econ 101 arguments about people being non-rational; classes often start off talking about utility functions, then switch to dollars for simplification of math, then go on to point out that people aren't rational because they won't bet their $1,000,000 life savings on a 100-to-1 shot at $100,000,001--without recognizing all the lectures they've just gone through about how the marginal value of someone's first dollar is greater than the next and that utility is not actually equal to dollars. No, people don't always behave economically rationally. But them not agreeing with your bogus definitions isn't an example of that)
  • by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @09:21AM (#21931544) Homepage Journal
    If you don't understand the terminology, perfect in this sense means that people get who they vote for, and the system can't be gamed. In other words, the election results will always perfectly reflect the will of the people.

    I think it's relatively trivial to show that the 0,1, and 2 candidate elections are perfect... why do you have trouble accepting that? 0 and 1 go without saying, and in a 2 party election people simply vote for A or B or not at all, and the election perfectly shows what people wanted.

    When you start doing things like Result Voting, then you get the Russians voting low scores for the Americans in Ice Skating, so that they drag their numbers below the scores for their own team... and the Americans reciprocate by doing the same thing. Or if you have a rival video on Youtube or something, you score them with 1 star (especially if the vote count is low) so that your own video appears higher on the sort-by-ratings list.

    The wikipedia article isn't the whole story on the Arrow Impossibility Theorem -- the reality is worse. You can always game a system that has >= 3 candidates. That's the end of the theory. The practical suggestion I made is that we thus use one of these alternative voting systems for primaries, and do a simple 2-party final election. That would eliminate the spoiler effect, while not penalizing people to freely vote for 3rd party candidates. Plus, it has the practical side effect that one simply cannot track the positions of large numbers of candidates.
  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @09:52AM (#21931698) Journal

    It wasn't the peons that made empires and kingdoms "work", it were the "nobility", right?
    The "peons" have always been the foundation of the empires that lets them survive and maintain their prosperity. But they alone are not enough to go further.

    Also note that classifying people into "peons" and the "elite" does not (and indeed, should not) have to be along class lines. What matters is one's contribution to society, both its size and its shape. The "peons" work their daily jobs, keeping the economy going. The "managers" direct the "peons" to where they can perform with maximal efficiency. The "geniuses" come up with bright new ideas every now and then, which eventually get adopted, raising the productivity of both the "peons" and the "managers". Both are equally important in the end, but this has little relevance as to who should be in charge. The Soviets tried that experiment in the early years after the revolution on a smaller scale, letting soldiers elect their officers, and workers run their factories. The result was economic disaster. You do need trained managers for things to go smoothly, and they will inevitably form the "elite" simply by virtue of being different. Politicians are really just a different breed of managers, meant to handle the large-scale tasks (well, they are meant to be, at least; mind you, I'm not considering the present-day USA a good model!).

    Total bullshit. The core of any economy are tradesmen (such as the majority of Slashdot readership), very small and small businesses, many millions of which operate in every country. Their owners are no more "special" then their employees and usually work hands-on in their chosen trade, as opposed to "managing" things or "investing" as is the case in larger operations. In most sane countries these owners also earn no more then double (after expenses and taxes) of what their employees make.
    While this is true, the interesting side note is that in any of the "class struggle" revolutions we had so far, it's the small businesses that are targeted first in the anti-capitalist witch-hunts. Probably precisely because they "usually work hands-on in their chosen trade", and are thus easiest to reach for the mob.

    Also, even if you take all the small business owners, they are still the minority. The vast majority are still working class and white-collar office workers.

  • Re:Wrong term ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @10:17AM (#21931858)
    My position is that until there is no improvement regarding political ethics you will end up with the same quality of political discussion/decision making that you have today. In short, you have to create a proper set of choices first.

    I really doubt you'd ever get the political parties fixed before you would the voting system. I'd argue that the key benefits of a proportional parliamentary system is that it limits the damage caused by one party over another.

    The problem with Western (I'm assuming American) Winner takes all is that you have 51% of the people literally telling the other 49% what to do without recourse. This gets exorbitantly bad when the same party controls both the Presidency and Congress. In fact, I'll argue that the quality of what the government does (or the fact it isn't doing as much) is when either the congress and presidency is in opposition.

    The only real good solution is to set up the system so that there is always an opposition or some sort of road block and consolation of the people who did not win the election.

    If you have ever studied US history, you will know that during the beginning the Vice President was not appointed or chosen by the winning President but rather was the person who lost but had the most votes. He didn't have veto power, but over all I think it provided some obstacles for a President who wanted to railroad the opposition.

    If we were to really reform in the United States, I would argue that the Vice Presidency go to the looser in the election and he would get veto power. Not an overriding veto though. If the President's party owns the congress and he wants to sign the legislation but the Vice President does not like it, the VP can of course veto it just like the president and congress has to get 2/3rds just like the regular President. However, if the President Vetoes a bill the VP can't unveto it and congress has to do the old 2/3rds method.

    Also, the President and VP can choose their Deputy President and and Deputy VP in case one of them dies or is hospitalized so that the Presidency or Vice Presidency stays within the same party until the next election.

    I suppose the biggest argument against this is that government won't get anything done, and I say that is a good thing because when you setup a situation in which every party must compromise with the other then usually the 49% of the losers aren't going to get railroaded with things they are vehemently against.

    As far as addressing proportional representations, I would argue that we would have to do away with the house of representatives as we know it and do a popular election. If there are a total of 500 seats then you would divide that into 300,000,000 you would get around 600,000 votes per seat. So you could run for a seat in the House and as long as you got 600,000 votes you would be guaranteed a seat. If you got more than that, it wouldn't count. Now of course since all 300 million people don't usually vote, you are going to get plenty of people who didn't get the 600,000 votes to get a seat so you just allow those runner up in the order of highest nation wide votes until you run out of 500 seats.

    That way candidates can run across states so have a more populist view.

    BUT in order to retain the power of the states, I would argue the Senate revert back to its old method of having the senators being elected directly by the state governments or a sort of electoral college for each of the states districts. Now this might seem a step backwards, but in order to balance things out and retain some sort of local constituency of the Senators, they need to be elected by the state or appointed by the State legislators.

    However, there might be better ways to reform the US government, but currently I think its quite broke that we let winners take all do whatever they want while the 49% who voted against the party have little or not say.
  • by KiloByte ( 825081 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @10:21AM (#21931888)
    The paper referred in the article is next to worthless, too. It goes to great lengths to say that "range voting is the best, because it represents the voters' wishes the best".

    Except, they assume that people will agree to throw away their vote just because they're don't agree with one side entirely. Range voting is nothing but approval voting with a possibility of casting only a fraction of a vote. This is what the paper refers to as "strategic range voting".

    The whole reasoning is busted, because it assumes people will agree to waste most of their vote just to make someone else more happy. WTF? Rational people vote the way which gives the best chance of getting results _they_ want.

    The paper also compares range voting to systems which are pretty bad but have been used historically, disregarding serious contenders like Condorcet.
  • by 314m678 ( 779815 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @10:31AM (#21931968)
    Instant Run Off is the opposite of democracy because voting for your candidate can cause him or her to loose. This is because IRV fails the Monotonicity Criterion. []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2008 @12:14PM (#21932664)

    Lets see, who are have income or cost break from the government:

    1) amtrak employees
    2) research grant recipients
    3) small business grant recipients
    4) students receiving interest rate break.
    5) parents taking dependency deduction
    6) retirees on Social Security
    7) auto inspection contractors
    8) medicare recipients
    9) medicare physicians and hospitals
    10) judges
    11) prosecutors and public defendants
    12) subsidized emergency relief organizations.
    13) charitable organizations claiming tax relief (churches, non-profits)
    14) riders of publicly subsided mass transit.
    15) Chrysler corporation
    16) families of 9/11 victims
    17) veterans
    18) pensioners of defaulted plans.
    19) banks (interest rates charged by Fed)
    20) regulated industries: example: communications, pharma, mining
    21) subsidized farmers
    22) firefighters and policemen
    23) airport employees
    24) park rangers
    25) garbage collectors
    26) office incumbents: mayors, county clerks, congressman
    27) homeowners (interest rate deduction)
    28) catastrophic health patients (medical payments deduction)
    29) the blind (tax deduction)
    30) those collecting unemployment or disability from state
    31) recipients of aid from poverty
    32) residents of rent-controlled apartments
    33) recipients of energy rebates

    Who is excluded from the above and CAN vote?

    1) fugitives (bail jumpers, jail escapees, 'enemies' of the government)
    2) illegal aliens
    3) coma patients
    4) people in their bomb shelter in Montana waiting for the Russians to drop the bomb.

  • by Eivind ( 15695 ) <> on Sunday January 06, 2008 @01:22PM (#21933214) Homepage
    That's why then, in USA you're -allowed- to grow your own marijuana and smoke it all you like -- aslong as you don't, for example, drive while intoxicated. (which would endanger others)

    You're also allowed to drink beer at 18 (again, provided you do it in a way that won't endanger others), walk nude trough town, sell your left kidney, marry your sister provided you get sterilised or are infertile, live in polygamy (or polyandri), or, for that matter, paint your house bright pink.

    Which USA is this again ? Certainly not the one over in North-America, there people regularily get punished for all of these, and a million other crimes which hurt nobody other than possibly themselves. (unless you adopt an extremely silly definition of "hurt")

    All governments aer "nannies" to larger or smaller degree. Overall I'm not convinced the US one is all that much less nannyistic than say the Australian or many European ones.
  • Re:Is it just me? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Sunday January 06, 2008 @01:59PM (#21933494) Homepage Journal

    Voting for issues is hard because there isn't a good way to model exclusion. The classic example is: Who wants to vote for better education? Everyone. Better hospitals? Everyone. Lower taxes? Ahh, we have a problem.
    So when polling for spending issues, do something like multiple-seat approval voting. Each ballot item would be phrased with respect to its effect on taxation, to the following effect: "Do you want to raise property tax to renovate elementary, middle, and high school buildings? [Yes | No]" After the votes are counted, the most highly approved ballot items get their budget increases.
  • by Fael ( 939668 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @01:59PM (#21933498)
    And in what magical fairyland, may I ask, do you live, in which the government doesn't watch over your every move and treat you like a child? Personally, I would prefer a government that compels its citizens to do things that are in their own interests over one that compels its citizens to do things that are in its own best interest.

    As far as your complaint about laws that protect only one person from themselves, most of the laws mentioned by the grandparent - compulsory voting, gun control, pet laws, socialized medicine - don't even come close to falling under this category. Censorship of videogame sexuality is a complex issue, but one that I would guess is not primarily aimed at protecting adults from their own baser urges. So I guess it's the seatbelt laws that have you all riled up?

    Anyway, all governments are what you dismiss as "nanny" governments. Some of them are just more pleasant about it than others.
  • by fyoder ( 857358 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:58PM (#21934982) Homepage Journal
    The problem with Ayn Rand and her philosophy is in its absence of compassion for regular people. She may have come up with it with Hank Reardens and John Galts in mind, but this lack of compassion makes it most appealing for assholes looking to justify greed and the ownership of more and more by fewer and fewer people. That's not to say there's no value in it if one looks at it purely for what it is, and to condemn Rand without reading her is contemptible, but it is incomplete. Recommended reading, especially Atlas Shrugged, but think twice before making a religion of it.

I am more bored than you could ever possibly be. Go back to work.