[EM] Election Reform
Forest Simmons
fsimmons at pcc.edu
Thu Mar 8 19:31:16 PST 2001
Dear EM list members, this is a draft of an article that I am sending to a
progressive newsletter that I subscribe to. Before I submit it, I would
like your comments and suggestions.
Thanks to all of you for ideas you have already given me.
Sincerely,
Forest
-------------------------------------------------
Dear Editor:
As mentioned more than once in your newsletter an important priority is
election reform, including some kind of instant runoff method that
ameliorates the "spoiler effect."
One of many such methods, Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), has pre-empted the
phrase "instant runoff" as part of its name, giving the false impression
that it is THE instant runoff method. That false impression wouldn't be
such a big deal if it were clearly better than any of its serious
competitors.
To compare some of these methods, let's imagine some future election where
a third party candidate has a little more support than Nader did, but
still cannot command as many first place votes as either of the two
corporate party candidates. Let's also assume that neither of the other
candidates has more than half of all the first place votes.
Suppose that there are three major factions with preferences as summarized
in the following table:
preference: first to last (left to right)
-----------------------------
Faction 1: Repub > Green > Democ
Faction 2: Democ > Green > Repub
Faction 3: Green > Democ > Repub
Now let's consider who would win the election according the the various
leading methods.
First IRV:
Since we are assuming that Faction 3 is the smallest, its first choice,
the Green candidate, would be eliminated, and the election would go to one
of the two corporate candidates.
Next Coombs:
Under Coombs, when there is no first choice majority, the candidate with
the greatest number of last place votes is eliminated. Under the above
assumptions that would be the Republican candidate, since the first
faction (which is not a majority) is the only faction that did not rank
him last. In the instant runoff the Green candidate would win since only
the second faction (which is not a majority) would prefer the Democrat
candidate over the Green.
Next Borda Count:
In Borda Count, first, middle, and last place preferences receive two,
one, and zero points, respectively. Under our assumption of no majority
faction, the Green candidate would win. (This can be proven by solving a
system of inequalities based on our assumption of no majority faction.)
Next Condorcet:
In Condorcet the candidate who would win all the head-to-head contests is
the winner. Under our assumptions Faction 2 is not a majority, and that
is the only faction where Democrat is preferred over Green, so Green would
beat Democrat. Similarly, Faction 1 is not a majority and is the only
faction where Republican is preferred over Green, so Green beats
Republican. The Green candidate wins under Condorcet.
Cardinal Rating (CR):
In this method each voter rates each candidate on a scale of zero to four.
(Other scales can be used, but this one is familiar as the basis for grade
point computations: A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, and F=0 .) This allows the voter
to distinguish degrees of preference that cannot be expressed on a plain
order of preference ballot.
Let's assume that all three factions give their first place choices A's
and their last place choices F's. The middle candidates could be rated
anywhere between F plus and A minus. But it is very likely that the
average rating of the Green candidate in Faction 2 would be at least a B,
and likely that average rating of the Democratic candidate by Faction 3
would be no better than a B. (In a CR election many Greens would realize
that they have enough strength to win outright, so there's no need to hold
the nose and give maximum support to the lesser evil.) And let's be
pessimistic and suppose that the average rating of the Green candidate by
Faction 1 is between a C and a D.
Solving the system of linear inequalities based on these assumptions
yields the result: Green wins again.
Approval:
This last method is based on the fact that when a CR election involves
hundreds of voters (any major election) the average ratings of the various
candidates will suffer at most negligible change if the voters are limited
to the extreme ratings. In other words if each voter must rate each
candidate with either an A or an F, the law of averages dictates that the
candidates' grade point averages will be virtually the same, except
perhaps in elections with only a few dozen voters.
An analogy is in order. As a math instructor I award partial credit for
good work (despite the wrong answer) for psychological and educational
purposes, NOT because I am under any illusion that it will make a
significant difference in the students' course grades.
Approval would almost surely give the same result as CR. Green wins again.
Well then, if Approval (almost) always gives the same answer as CR, why
not just stick to CR ?
For one reason only: The Approval ballot is the simplest of all the runoff
method ballots, and we know the importance of simple ballots from the
Florida fiasco.
In fact, Approval ballots are identical to normal ballots. The voter uses
a number two pencil to shade the ovals adjacent to the names of each
candidate that she rates as C plus or higher, and leaves the other ovals
unshaded.
There may be enough psychological advantage to CR to justify using the
ballots requiring ratings. Even these ballots would be familiar and easy
to use for anyone who has ever taken a scantron graded multiple choice
test.
In our example a CR ballot might look like this:
Candidate | Grade | A B C D F
-----------------------------------------
Bush | ____ | ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
-----------------------------------------
Gore | ____ | ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
-----------------------------------------
Nader | ____ | ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
The voters would be instructed to print each grade in the space provided
under the heading "Grade", and to shade the corresponding oval to the
right with a number 2 pencil.
By way of comparison the Approval ballot would look like this:
Candidate | Oval
-------------------
Bush | ()
-------------------
Gore | ()
-------------------
Nader | ()
So far we have seen that of all the leading contenders among runoff
methods, only IRV gives the election away to a corporate candidate.
This was based on realistic minimal assumptions about some future election
when a progressive, populist third party candidate has a broad enough base
of grass roots support to get most of the second place votes if not as
many first place votes as the corporate candidates.
In fact, why just talk about future elections? The assumptions we made
would not be too far fetched for last November's election if it were to be
repeated with preference ballots, CR ballots, or Approval Voting with
ordinary ballots. No where did we assume that Faction 3 was larger than
the few percent it would take to spoil majority first place for each
corporate candidate. Nader accomplished that even without election reform.
It was the large second place preference that made all the best methods
pick the Green winner. Remember the grass roots support at the Nader /
LaDuke super rallies? Remember all of your friends that said, yes they
preferred Nader to Gore, but felt obligated to hold their collective nose
and vote the "lesser" evil? Remember the election poll web page of the
Time Magazine web site, where Nader won hands down? (If Gore had won that,
it would have been all over the corporate news. Time Magazine kept it
quiet.)
Nader might well have won under Coombs, Borda Count, Condorcet, Cardinal
Ratings, and/or Approval! Think of all the non-voting Nader admirers that
might have gone to the polls because of the added hope of a decent
election method!
In a short article I cannot run through all the various advantages and
disadvantages of the various competing methods. I will just mention a
few of the most important considerations.
Of all the leading methods, only CR and Approval never suffer from
strategic incentive to reverse a preference on a ballot; all of the other
methods still suffer from the spoiler problem in one degree or another.
Condorcet is almost immune to this problem, as well, and would be immune
if it used random methods to break ties. But three way ties in Condorcet
are just common enough to make the random tie breaker undesirable.
Other reasons for choosing CR or Approval over IRV or Coombs, is that both
IRV and Coombs suffer from the basic problem of all methods based on
elimination. When the election is close, how can you tell whom should be
eliminated first? How do you know you are not eliminating the best
candidate? One rule might give the best result in one situation, another
elimination rule in another.
No simple elimination rule can always eliminate the worst of three
candidates.
If it could, applying that simple rule to the same ballots with
preferences reversed would choose the best candidate. There would be no
need to go through the elimination process.
In this connection, IRV sometimes picks the same candidate for both best
and worst.
Since no simple elimination rule can always eliminate the worst of three
candidates, there is no way of knowing if the two runoff candidates are
the best two candidates. The runoff is a sham, especially if all three
candidates are strong contenders, as in the examples of interest to us.
IRV is one of the worst runoff methods for breaking the two party duopoly.
Any of the other contenders mentioned above would have a better chance of
lowering the third party entrance barrier to the level that someone other
than a returning war hero (not likely to be progressive) could break
through that barrier.
IRV is good for the two party duopoly because it gives the appearance of
majority rule. The embarrassment of last November's election would be
solved by IRV, and make the corporate parties very happy. But as we have
seen, that majority win with IRV is an illusion, because after the
inadvertent elimination of the head-to-head winner, the last comparison is
a sham.
THE END
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