Ideal (?) Instant Consensus voting method

John De Lasaux jdelsey at
Thu Apr 10 21:01:55 PDT 1997

"Instant Consensus" is an oxymoron. 

How did that name ever get applied to just another way of counting/weighting
votes? Consensus is such a powerful and useful concept, it seems a shame to
imply that it can be accomplished "instantly".

"Formal Consensus" is a process that has been developed to a fine art. Look at

for an enlightening exposition on the subject.

"Formal Consensus" is a method of decision makeing wherein each person must
be allowed to voice his/her objection to the proposal, and the single
objection is discussed until a modification to the original proposal is
either accepted by everyone, or the original proposal is conditionally
accepted, subject to the next objection. The final version of the proposal
therefore incorporates all of the minor corrections  which are necessary to
allow each and every participant to accept the proposal.

The rules of  "Formal Consensus" assist the Facilitator in keeping the
discussion on course, by making sure that the discussion is limited to the
particular objection being considered. By focusing on one issue at a time,
the process moves right along. Also, because everyone is guaranteed a
hearing, no one feels pressured to try to force their own agenda for fear
that the final vote will be taken before they have a chance to be heard.

The method results in a very powerful decision, because there is 100%
agreement that the final proposal is the best agreement that can be reached
at the time. Therefore, all the participants pull together to implement the
proposal, without any serious disagreement or holding back.

A similar process of consensus was used to make a "picture height" decision
several years ago in a group which I was in. The process brought out two
interesting ideas, which were accepted by the group. The group agreed that
it was more important for children to have a clear view of the pictures, for
their learning about art., so the pictures were lowered about 8 inches from
the median of the adults' preferred heights. And, to accomodate the "older"
folks, it was decided to provide several chairs, which not only gave a
better view of the pictures, but also turned out to be an unique addition to
the ambience of the exhibit.

Rather than forcing a decision which would leave one third of the goup
unsatisfied, everyone felt proud of the exhibit and extolled its virtues.

Too bad there isn't some way to cause Congress and other bodies to adopt
such a method.

John De Lasaux

At 06:52 PM 4/10/97 -0400, election-methods-list at wrote:
>(method recap at end of this message)
>I note that this method will not reliably find the most central (highest)
>point in the case of a simple Gaussian distribution.
>For example, suppose a group was voting on the "best" height to hang some
>(We are describing a simple idealized situation here to allow a rigorous
>determination of the "best" outcome.)
>Assume that the voters' heights form a standard Gaussian (bell-curve)
>distribution - the expected distribution for a large group.  Assume all
>voters vote their honest preferences.  Assume that looking up and looking
>down are equally uncomfortable, the further from ideal the worse, and that
>all voters are identical in all other ways except on the issue in question
>(which is solely a function of their height).
>This is just about the purest, simplest possible situation.  (Many other
>possible situations are too complex to permit establishing an
>unambiguously-correct solution, but this one is not.)  Perhaps it is not
>realistic, nevertheless we should expect a proposed voting system to product
>the correct result for such an extremely simple case, right?
>For a simple Gaussian distribution, clearly the "best" result is at the
>middle of the central peak, i.e. at the 50-percentile point.  Surely we can
>all agree on this, right?  The most central point will definitely maximize
>the number of contented members and minimize the overall level of discontent
>- better than any solution to one side or another.

>Mike Saari
John De Lasaux

On Voters:
"Refusing to participate in fraud 
is not the same as apathy."

More information about the Election-Methods mailing list