Politics

Solving the electoral tie problem

In 2000, the Florida Presidential election ended up in a tie. Many people get offended at that remark, because they don't think of elections as being compatible with ties, they insist that their candidate really won.

However, to scientists, you have a tie when the results differ by less than the margin of error. And I refer not simply to the margin of error from the problems in the voting machines, but a much more bizarre margin caused by political pressure to interpret the results in different ways.

This is a curse because if you get a close result, there will be tremendous political and financial captial spent to try to push the results one way or another by redefining the rules. It's an unstable situation, solved that time only by damaging the surpreme court by forcing it to make such partisan rulings.

How to avoid this? One of the causes of the problem is that almost all states decide to give all their electoral votes to the winner of their state, rather than apportioning them. One reason they do this is that it makes the state a bigger prize in the election, and so the candidate works harder to please the state. (This is the same factor, as they will also work like crazy in a tie to be the prevailing party.)

To solve this I propose a slightly different formula for allocating the electoral votes. I'll flesh it out with 2 candiates in a state with 50 votes and 10M voters.

If one candidate gets, say, 51% of the vote (5.1M votes or more) then give them all the electoral votes. This, as before, keeps the candidate very interested in winning the state and pleasing its voters. If a candidate gets under 49%, they get zero as before.

If they get between 49% and 51%, apportion the votes on the pro-rata portion of this region. For example, if both candidates get 50%, they split the votes, 25 each. If one candidate gets 4.92M votes and the other 5.08M, we see 5 votes for the first candidate and 45 for the 2nd.

What this means is that if, by recounting or re-interpeting, you can add 4,000 votes to your total, you win one whopping electoral vote.

So it's worth fighting and recounting a bit, but not going crazy, because you aren't going to change the results a lot no matter what you do.

Yes, this means Gore and Bush would have split Florida's votes and Gore won the presidency, but of course it could easily benefit the other side under different circumstances.  read more »

Where's the shame?

Ok, so the USA invaded Iraq with fear of WMD the announced reason for the extraordinary step of a pre-emptive war. The White House doesn't plan to apologize or say oops as evidence mounts the reasons were bogus.

Question: Would it be a wise move for the Democrats, for example, to issue their own apology. To say, "We voted for this war because we were told there was a serious threat. Learning there was not, we are deeply saddened, sorry and ashamed. How could we have done this?"

Saying this would ask the other side of the aisle, "Why aren't you ashamed, too?"

However, saying you're sorry or ashamed is, for better or worse, un-american. It's weak, too many feel, to admit remorse for errors. You don't do it unless you're forced into it.

You can still feel removing Saddam was the right thing to do. And you can still blame the bad intelligence you were given. But if I make a grave error, even if I make it in good faith because I trusted the wrong people, I still feel remorse over the error. Can the USA? Can some of its politicians?

Back in 1984 I participated in the World Debating Championships. (My team just missed the quarterfinals, alas.) During the finals, the proposition being debated was "The USA should apologize for the American Revolution." One of the most amusing "pro" arguments was that the USA should indeed apologize, and just not mean it. That this was the true American way.

Was MoveOn really clever

Perhaps I am too cynical, and after this you're going to think I hate MoveOn, but I'm wondering if the publicity over CBS's refusal to air their anti-Bush ad in the Superbowl isn't the result of very clever strategizing.

CBS claims they don't air controversial ads like election ads during the SuperBowl and never has. As far as I know, that's true. Not that I'm approving of the policy, I think they should take almost any ad that pays the fee.

However, the cyncial part of me wonders, did MoveOn know this all along? Did they try to air the ad during the Superbowl knowing they would get turned down, and that getting turned down would provide immense amounts of publicity for the ad campaign?

Perhaps not, but being turned down has definitely been the best thing that could have happened to the ad, which as I pointed out in an earlier post, was not the best pick from their contest. And even so, I hope CBS relents though I doubt it. (They only relent when airing a show about the Reagans.)

Wonder why people distrust the USA?

Today, the U.S. Agriculture secretary issued a call that nations not ban beef imports from a country (like the USA) just because a single cow has been found with Mad Cow disease.

In other words, exactly what the USA did to Canadian beef when a single cow was found in Alberta with the disease.

And let's not get started on the Weapons of Mass Destruction question.

US agrees not to repeat Arar case

The USA and Canada have agreed to tell each other before deporting citizens to third countries.

In theory, that's to not repeat the horrific story of Maher Arar, the Canadian programmer, born in Syria, who, while changing planes in New York on a flight from Europe to Montreal, was grabbed by U.S. agents, grilled and then deported to Syria, allegedly so the Syrians could torture him in ways the U.S. could not.

Arar wasn't even trying to get into the USA. He had been investigated on some fairly weak connections and cleared, but his name got on the lists. The Syrians tortured him for suspicion of membership in a Muslim organization opposed (like the USA is opposed) to the Syrian regime while he was a teenager in Syria.

Instead of being deported to Canada, his nation of citizenship, he went to Syria.

This is a particularly nasty story which you should know about if you are a U.S. citizen. Arar was cleared, but the hard truth is the USA shouldn't be setting even the guilty up for torture, let alone the innocent.

Moveon's campaign

Just about every blog has pointed to Moveon.org's Bush in 30 Seconds contest for anti-Bush TV spots.

The candidate spots are witty and clever, but I think they miss the mark. For those who have already decided they will vote for anyone-but-Bush, they bring many cries of approval. But that's not who they have to convince.

They need to win the undecided voters, as well as a particular segment of the confirmed Republican block. You won't do that in 30 seconds, of course, but you might somebody on the path to looking at more issues.

A few of them are on-target, such as In My Country and Army of One. But the best of them, Child's Pay, seems way-off this target to me.

Of course, I'm not a US Citizen so I don't get to vote. If I could, neither the Republicans or Democrats seem likely to inspire me. But I do feel that due to civil rights concerns and the horrible damage being done to the reputation of the USA in the world, President Bush has to go.

As to the civil rights concerns -- there is a fairly strong contingent in the Republican zone that are big supporters of personal privacy and the 4th amendment. They're very scared of what's happening with the Patriot Acts and the actions of John Ascroft. They will turn on the President if they see more of this, some of them at least.

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