[EM] Keeping elections simple

Martin Harper mcnh2 at cam.ac.uk
Sat Apr 14 07:48:43 PDT 2001

Just a thought...

It seems that most countries throughout the world try and keep their
elections nice and simple, by reducing the numbers of candidates running. In
the UK they charge people for losing their deposit, in other places they
require a minimum of X% of the popular vote to get any seats at all, etc,
etc. The other factors which do the same are the cost of mounting a campaign
which will actually effect the outcome, and the concern about vote-splitting
problems hurting similar candidates.

Reducing the number of candidates is good because it makes voting simpler,
and hence makes people more likely to go out and vote. I'd argue that people
who have to distinguish between lots and lots of candidates will find it
harder to vote accurately - in Condorcet and IRV because of the difficulty of
choosing an accurate ranking, in Plurality and IRV and Approval because of
the difficulty in strategising correctly. Hence there is more likely to be a
mis-election of the wrong candidate in these cases.

On the other hand, if there are two few candidates then some voters may be
disenfranchised because they think all the candidates are equally bad, and
hence it is not worth their while to vote. There is similarly a danger of
important options and debates being missed because nobody is standing up for

The question is - is it better to reduce the number of candidates standing by
charging candidates for standing, or by having a method which isn't fully
independant from vote splitting problems? What should be aimed for in terms
of numbers of frivolous and serious candidates standing?

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