FAQ Candidate (Re: [ER] Methods versus Selling)

Rob Lanphier robla at eskimo.com
Sun Feb 16 16:02:55 PST 1997

On Mon, 3 Feb 1997, John De Lasaux wrote:
> When the mathematical/logical issues get to be so complex that well-educated
> people like the ones on this list can't agree on the utility of a particular
> method in a stated situation, I wonder how the electorate (much less a
> legislature, riddled with secret political agenda) could ever reach agreement.
> Has anyone addressed this issue?

As has become obvious on the ER list, not to everyone's satisfaction.

I've switched this thread to the EM mailing list in my response to you
because a stated goal of the EM list is to provide much-needed educational
material.  A frequently-asked questions list would be an excellent thing
to have, and this issue probably belongs at the top of it. 

Here's my attempt to rephrase (yes, this is slightly different than the
question you initially asked) and respond:

Q:  All of these methods are so difficult to understand.  How can
something I can barely grasp benefit me, and how can I be sure that it

A:  Some of the most powerful and useful things in modern society are
difficult to understand, but simple to benefit from.  Very few of us
know exactly how jet propulsion works, yet buying an airline ticket is
a reasonably straightforward process (disregarding, of course, the black
art of getting cheap airfares).

Most voting systems don't ask nearly as much of the voter as they do of
the voting officials responsible for tallying the ballots.  Our current
vote-for-only-one voting system is only marginally easier to understand
than a ranked-ballot system, where the voter is expected to rank a list of
candidates by preference.

The only confusion, then, occurs when trying to understand the mechanics
of the system.  It is quite reasonable to want to understand a voting
system before endorsing it.  However, we would be a rather

If you feel uncomfortable supporting new voting systems because you don't
understand them, but are at least convinced that something is wrong with 
the status quo, here are some things that you could do that would allow
you to stay true to yourself and still promote the betterment of the

a)  Ask your elected representitives about these issues.  Sadly,
the chances are that they will have no clue about this stuff, but you
will have raised their awareness of the issue, and if they are a great
representative, they will investigate this issue as your representative.

b)  Support efforts to investigate the merits of alternative voting
systems.  The need to find the best system is great, and the only way to
find them is to start looking.

c)  Ask your mathematically-inclined friends about these systems.  Once
they understand how they work, they may be able to give you the
information you need to make up your mind.

d)  Read about it.  There have been several articles printed in magazines
and journals about various election methods, as well as web sites
dedicated to them.  Try your best to understand the debates there.

As a member of a democratic society, everyone is a decision-maker, and
with that comes the burden of understanding the issues at hand.  If you
want to move on to the jet-age of democracy, you have to accept that
things may get more sophisticated and potentially confusing in the
process.  Hopefully, we can evaluate systems on their merits rather than
our ability to size them up in a 5-minute readthrough of a voters' guide.

This may be trimmed down and changed quite a bit, but I think the answer
to this question should try to engage the unengaged rather than trying to
trying to convert the unengaged from a dead-stop.

The blue-ribbon panel in New Zealand had a large role in helping
proportional representation in the door there, since there were those that
took it on faith that the panel did their job. I think having a body
responsible for investigating election methods would be a good way to at
least give these methods a moderated forum to duke it out on merits.  I'm
not so naive as to believe that the politics of the entrenched status quo
wouldn't enter in, but at least it would be better than nothing.


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