[EM] Letter to Discover Magazine

Bart Ingles bartman at netgate.net
Sat Nov 4 01:26:55 PST 2000

I appreciate the comments, and yes, the possibility of using ratings has
been looked at both within this list, and in the published literature
long before this list existed.  In fact, when I was in the process of
"converting" from IRV to Approval Voting supporter, I spent a fair
amount of time looking at rating systems.

Since Mike has already pointed out that the best strategy under a
ratings system makes it the equivalent of approval voting, I won't
rehash that point.

What might also be interesting is to make the case that approval voting
is the equivalent of a ratings system.  Here's how:

Say you are completely on the fence regarding a candidate, and can't
decide whether to vote for or against him.  Why not flip a coin?  This
would isolate your vote from influence by trivial or subliminal factors,
and if other undecided voters do likewise, it would have the same effect
as all of the undecideds giving half of the maximum rating to that

Similarly, if you wanted to give a rating of "9" to a candidate, you
could roll a pair of dice and then cast an approval vote for the
candidate if you roll a "1" through "9", and no vote if you roll "10"
(and re-roll if "11" or "12").

Obviously this is not the ideal strategy, and you would be better off
making up your mind regarding each candidate.  Especially since the most
difficult decisions are usually the most important -- the candidate you
are having difficulty with is probably a front-runner who has a better
shot at winning than your favorite.  

This borderline-acceptable front-runner really represents your best
opportunity as a voter to influence the outcome of the election -- it
would be a shame to waste that opportunity by giving a half-vote, or by
flipping a coin, or by letting an arbitrary vote-counting mechanism
decide for you.

A better approach to decision making is to spend most of your time
researching this particular candidate.  The rest will be no-brainers,
either for or against.

Bart Ingles

Joe Weinstein wrote:
> Hello, everyone.
> This is my first list posting, and I won't be able to post anything more for
> a week or so, but I can't delay saying that I really appreciate Bart's
> letter and its example's insight into what is wrong with all schemes (or,
> for that matter, theoretical discussions and conclusions such as Arrow's)
> that look only at qualitative preference - or a la Borda assume a
> Mickey-Mouse quantitative preference wherein successive preference rank
> differences can be treated as equal (e.g., that for a live voter in a
> particular contest, rank 1 exceeds rank 2 by the same amount as rank 2
> exceeds rank 3).
> Bart's example is intended to make the case for 'approval' - i.e. a voter's
> pass-fail grading of all competing options (i.e. candidates or measures).
> In fact it makes an even better case for higher-resolution grading, where
> there are more grades than just 0 (fail) and 1 (pass). Using today's (or
> anyhow next year's) computer, there seems every prospect that elections can
> allow voters to use a higher-res grading scale, say the the scholastic
> 5-grade scale (F=0, D=1, C=2, B=3, A=4) or, better yet, the 0-100 grade
> scale.
> Such higher-res grading admittedly allows a hitherto seeming no-no: a
> two-option contest to be LOST by the option that is preferred
> (qualitatively) by the majority.  That is actually quite OK:  the
> sufficiently fierce preference of a sufficient minority OUGHT to outweigh
> the mild preference of the majority.
> Unconstrained high-res grading would seem to combine the best features of
> unconstrained crude-res grading (i.e. pass-fail grading - alias 'approval')
> and of artificially constrained high-res grading (e.g. ranking schemes).
> Joe Weinstein
> Long Beach CA USA
> >From: Bart Ingles <bartman at netgate.net>
> >Reply-To: election-methods-list at eskimo.com
> >To: "election-methods-list at eskimo.com" <election-methods-list at eskimo.com>
> >Subject: [EM] Letter to Discover Magazine
> >Date: Sun, 29 Oct 2000 22:30:21 -0800
> >
> >
> >Dear Editor:
> >
> >Dana Mackenzie's article [May the Best Man Lose, November] may be the
> >best treatment of the subject I have seen in a popular publication.  Of
> >the featured voting systems, Borda could well be the method of choice
> >for engineering applications where the voters are automata incapable of
> >varying preference levels.
> >
> >Not so with human voters.  Suppose the voters rate candidates on a scale
> >of 0-10 (ratings in parentheses):
> >
> >45%   Clinton(10)   Perot(1)   Bush(0)
> >25%   Perot(10)     Bush(1)    Clinton(0)
> >30%   Bush(10)      Perot(1)   Clinton(0)
> >
> >Here Perot is the Borda winner, even though 75% of voters strongly
> >dislike Perot.  The runoff winner (Bush) is despised by 70%, while the
> >plurality winner is only rejected by 55% (and seems the best choice in
> >this example).
> >
> >Of course, if either Bush or Perot were more highly rated as a second
> >choice, then Runoff or Borda would choose the better winner.  No
> >deterministic voting system can be correct in all cases where the voters
> >are either strongly for or strongly against each candidate.
> >
> >Approval voting does adapt to all of these scenarios, if we assume the
> >voters are rational and willing to make modest compromises in exchange
> >for large gains in probable outcome.  To me it seems more important for
> >a system to behave reliably in such highly polarized situations, than to
> >worry about which solution is best when the voters themselves are
> >ambivalent.
> >
> >Bart Ingles, Jr.
> >
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