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YA Call for preferential ballot

We see the talk of an America divided in 2, but in fact it's not. There are more viewpoints than that. Normally a 2 party system tends towards the middle, this election was unusual in having a larger than normal difference among the candidates.

But perhaps now is the time to take the Democratic energy and try to push it into a movement for real reform. Not ballot recounts, not crazy dreams that can never happen.

By that, I mean getting at least one state to move to a preferential ballot system, such as Australian "Instant Runoff," Approval or Cordorcet, with an unfortuantely complex additional rule for how to cast in the electoral college when done.

Reforming the electoral college is unlikely (though an interesting hack is discussed elsewhere in this blog). 3/4ths of states must ratify any change to the college, and the small states would need a big constitutional price in exchange for stripping themselves of the extra power they have in the college.

However, individual states can change how they select their electors through ballot resolution or legislative action. Entirely on the local level. Ballot resolution seems the simplest approach. The only thing standing in the way is that many voters get confused by instant runoff systems. Basic Condorcet is easy to understand, but the tiebreaker modifications are often hard to understand. Still, the Australians manage it.

The first effort will probably fail and only educate the public. Eventually, some state, probably a small one, will go over and have such a ballot. This in turn will start to educate the rest of the nation. The ideas, once understood, are good ideas, and will appeal to the populace. It's hard to argue against them.

However, the 2 major parties will _want_ to argue against them because they are bad for those parties. In many elections, there is somebody who won because there wasn't a preferential ballot. In particular, Bush in 2000 and (arguably) Clinton in 1992. (On the other hand, Bush the Elder arguably _lost_ because there was such a system, and thus might support it.)

That's why a ballot proposition is the right way to do this.More bad news though. The system needs to be doubly complex. Once a state has a preferential order for its votes, it must deal with the ordinary majority needed in the college. So it would have to play an instant runoff of its own, using the fact that all other state's choices (including other states that switch to a preferential ballot) are public. As such, they would take the state's first choice, and see if it would get first or second in the college. If not, it would try the state's second choice and so on until this was true, and the state would cast ballots for that candidate.

When only one state did this, what would be the gain? Well, minor parties would start polling really well in those states, since voters would have no reason not to vote for them if they like them. So you would start seeing results like "20% of Californians voted Progressive, then passed on to join the 35% who voted Democrat giving Democrate 1st place." The message -- there is lots of Progressive support.

What is the good that would come from this? The big parties would fracture. The Democrats would probaby fracture into a "Progessive" and a Moderate-Liberal wing. The Republicans would fracture into a Religious Conservative wing and a Libertarian-Conservative wing.

This is a good thing, I would hope. Eventually the small parties might rise and get dominance, there being fewer barriers to it.


Brad, it's desperately important that we inform the folks who support Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) of the truth about IRV and convince them to choose a simpler and better strategy.

Here's the truth: IRV is not an improvement. It is worse in many ways than the current system where each voter chooses one candidate.

1. The ostensible motivation for IRV is to prevent the "spoiler" problem so that voters aren't forced to hide their support for smaller parties, with the eventual goal of breaking the two-party duopoly and allowing more parties to be represented in government. IRV does not accomplish this; in fact IRV prevents third parties from winning.

It may appear to you that IRV lets you safely vote for a third party and rank a major party in second place to prevent your ballot from being wasted. Unfortunately, this is only true if the third party has no chance of winning. Once the third party gains non-negligible support, IRV puts you in the same position of having to choose the lesser of two evils. That is to say, IRV only provides the *illusion* of letting you vote for a third party; it only allows you to do so if your third-party vote is purely symbolic.

2. IRV additionally introduces many disadvantages. IRV is complicated and hard to explain to voters, which is a showstopper since voters have to understand the system in order to have any faith in the results. IRV is expensive and error-prone to implement, because the vast number of permutations on the ballot prevent precincts from totalling up their results as a small set of numbers; instead all the data for each individual ballot must be collected in a central location for processing.

And, perhaps worst of all, IRV exhibits extremely pathological behaviour whenever an election becomes close. In such situations, voting FOR a candidate can actually cause the candidate to LOSE. Such crazy behaviour is simply unacceptable.

(The basic reason this happens is that even though you are marking many candidates on your ballot, only one of your entries is going to count; the entries above it will be eliminated and the entries below it will be ignored. The problem is that you can't predict which! Which entry counts depends in a complicated way on the rest of the ballots.)


IRV is the wrong path. Fighting for IRV not only wastes the energy of the people who want voting reform; it risks wasting the patience of the populace who will no longer be open to other voting reform ideas when IRV is adopted and it fails.

Condorcet, as you mentioned, is one possibility. It behaves much better than IRV and is probably the most accurate method for choosing the best candidate. But it is still very complicated to explain and implement, probably more complicated than IRV, and i consider that fatal.

The best practical answer is approval voting.

Approval voting is extremely simple to explain and implement. Here is the explanation in only 15 words:

"Vote for as many candidates as you like. The candidate with the most votes wins."

In approval voting, every vote counts. Period.

Approval voting even works with existing ballots.

And it's trivial to see that there can never be a spoiler in an approval voting election. Your decisions about each of the candidates are completely independent.

Please, please consider promoting approval voting instead of IRV. I need your help to make this idea take hold.

Note that while I understand your concerns about IRV, it is worth noting that "only working if the third party has no chance of winning" is not a failure. It's the pathological behaviours when it gets close that are the failure.

It is generally understood in most elections, even in multi-party nations, that only 2 parties really have a chance of winning. (This is less true in small regional elections for representatives.) All voters will tend to include a vote for one of those predicted winners over the other, though after their 3rd party choice. The main goal is to send the message about how much support the minority opinion has. As that support grows, eventually the minority party becomes one of the two that has a chance. However, it's true there might be an election of transition where it's close and you don't want to have odd results.

The Canadian Province of British Columbia is in the process of exploring electoral reform in a multi-party environment. More details are available here. They have also assembled some Learning Resources, although as with anything it is likely to have its own biases in its examination of various systems.

Australia held elections on I believe it was October 9th, and as of November 5th their primary vote tally is shown as about 95% complete. The two-party preferred count is about 90% complete. The Australian Electoral Commission also provides information on how their elections work.

Whether it is a Single Transferrable Vote or some other form of Proportional Representation, I'm not convinced that it's an improvement over First Past The Post. Different, yes. Better, not so clear.

Okay, so I entered the links as HTML anchors (as is done on some blogs) and they got absorbed into the ether. Sorry 'bout that. I'll try them inline.

The BC Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform:

The Australian Electoral Commission:

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