Condorcet pairs on the ballot

Hugh R. Tobin htobin at
Wed Nov 27 21:53:40 PST 1996

Steve Eppley wrote:
> Hugh T wrote:
> -snip-
> >For three-candidate races, where it is not burdensome, Donald's
> >Condorcet ballot may be better even without computers.
> -snip-
> I don't think it's wise to allow voters to vote intransitive
> preferences.  I don't agree with Hugh that there's something
> significant which would be gained.  And it would make voting
> too error-prone.
> For instance, what do you make of the vote:
>    A>B, B>C, C>A
> Is it more likely such a vote was a mistake or that the voter had an
> unusual set of preferences?
> ---Steve     (Steve Eppley    seppley at

Perhaps because I look at these matters as a voter rather than a
theorist, I tend to think that allowing voters more choices has value,
and I am skeptical of arguments that choices must be denied, or
expression of false preferences must be compelled, because otherwise
voters might do something wrong.  I have experienced the desire to vote
only in one pairwise race when there are three candidates for a minor
office.  I think society may be better off if I don't vote in either of
the two pairwise races in which I am wholly uninformed about one of the
candidates, but rather let the outcomes of those races be decided by
those who know enough to have a real preference.  (An exchange with Mike
on this issue did not make it onto the list; I won't post it unless

Even if one assumes that the hypothetical ballot above is likely in
error, it does not follow that putting pairwise races on the ballot
makes voting error-prone.  Does Steve assume, or have evidence, that any
ballot with three two-person races for different offices produces a
significant number of mistaken votes?  And why should a voter be more
likely to check the wrong candidate than to put a number such as "1",
"2" etc. next to the wrong one, or to omit to write down a number that
he would intend?  Will a voter who is so inattentive that he cannot
check three races without getting one wrong understand that the ballot
calls for rankings, or will he just check his favorite, without
realizing there is another race in which to vote, between the other two
candidates?  Will a voter understand that he has the right to rank two
candidates equally first, and how to do it?  With the pairwise races set
out, he need not even understand what he is doing in terms of rankings:
if he prefers each of A and B over C but is not sure between A and B he
simply votes directly the preferences that he feels and leaves the other
race blank. 

Does Steve's objection apply only to paper ballots? I have previously
noted that a computer interface need not allow intransitive choices,
though I have also suggested why these might be rational, i.e. the voter
consciously chooses to vote the combined preferences of himself and
others.  With a computer interface that fills in provisionally all
choices implied by transitivity, as I suggested, I think the risk of
erroneous votes would be insignificant, and the question is whether to
allow intentionally circular ballots. 
Would Steve at least agree that if circular ballots are prevented by the
computer there is no reason to deny the voter the option to vote in
pairwise races directly?

Happy Thanksgiving.

-- Hugh Tobin

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