IRV unconstitutional?

Anthony Simmons bbadonov at
Fri Mar 15 22:13:01 PST 2002

>> From: "MIKE OSSIPOFF" <nkklrp at>
>> Subject: Re: IRV unconstitutional?

Well, this is amazing -- a message running over two hundred
lines (quoted in full below), and ending with "I don't have

I will reply to the smaller part (reductio ad absurdum, IRV
and the equal protection clause) first, and then respond to
the main part of the message, the bashing.

There is no way a court is going to accept that "equal
protection" prohibits IRV.  Courts don't take kindly to
manipulation of verbiage at the expense of intent.  The
intent of the equal protection clause is to require that the
same rules apply to everyone, and IRV clearly does not flout
that.  Even if you were to fool a district judge, you would
have to survive an appeal.  I assumed when you suggested it
that it was facetious, and treated it accordingly.

I mentioned parody and reductio ad absurdum, and used the latter
by applying your reasoning to plurality, showing that it
leads to an absurd conclusion (that plurality is
unconstitutional) and is therefore not valid reasoning.  I
suppose I should have explained that reductio is also applied
to derived inference rules, instead of assuming you knew
that.  Anyway, you know now.

Incidentally, your formulation of reductio is a bit off.
Formally, it's generally of the form:

    If assuming -P allows us to derive a contradiction, then
    P must be true.

Often, Q is P, giving a simplified rule:  If assuming -P
allows us to derive P, then P is true.

Note that in the latter case we derive P, _not_ known in
advance to be false (or true, for that matter), so your
formulation of reductio is clearly not quite right.  (We
could, of course, make the rule that says that the derivation
is completed when the constant "False" appears, and define
reductio that way, but it's a bit roundabout, since this is
always done by way of exhibiting a contradiction.)  Thus the
standard statement of reductio is that if assuming -P leads
to a contradiction, then P is true.

Though you got it close enough for most purposes.

And now for the main thrust of Mike's message, the bashing:

Everyone reacts to disagreement with some degree of annoyance
on occasion.  Some of us simply scowl and move on, some snap
at the perceived source (usually just the messenger), and
some, so the conventional wisdom goes, feel threatened, and
try to deter by way of attack.

I don't mind responding to barbs with a few of my own, as
long as it's kept within reason.  A challenge of wit can be
amusing.  In the best of times, it can be hillarious.  But
there should be limits; I have no use for hatefulness.  So I
face a quandary:  how to respond.

Comparable retaliation is prohibited by conscience, even if 
it were appealing. 

(Speaking of bashings, has anyone else been following the
election in Zimbabwe?  Talk about bashings!  Zimbabwe is now
a dictatorship.)

We can look the other way.  This past week, a newcomer 
criticized Mike's letter -- just one sentence about the style 
-- and got bashed.  I don't think people should have to be 
wary of what they say in order to avoid a bashing.  That just 
shows the perpetrator that it works.

   If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we
   should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough
   to disarm all hostility.         -- Longfellow

We could try to reassure each perpetrator, but I don't know
how to do that in an email group.

Or we can call attention to it and make sure that each 
bashing will be seen for exactly what it is.  I'm aware that 
this runs the risk of being interpreted as retaliation in 
kind, but talking about abuse should not be equated with 
abuse, as long as people are careful to respect the line 
between them.  We have the right -- and often the duty -- to 
object to abuse, and I think it can be done in civil fashion.  
The name calling didn't stop until it was dealt with 
directly; unfortunately, the result seems to be a change in 
tactics rather than abandonment of the vitriol altogether. 

So, I encourage anyone who has read this far to briefly 
peruse the message I'm replying to, preserved in its totality 
below, and ask, what is the purpose of this?  What is the 
motivation?  Let it speak for itself. 

Then I invite Mike to do the same, and answer those questions
(silently, to himself, of course) the way someone else would.

Now, I know you're thinking, "what about you?"  Yes, I've
reread this message and while it's not perfect, I've made a
concerted effort to keep it on the civil and unprovocative 
side of the line between constructive and viscious, and I 
think I've dealt with a distasteful matter about as well as 

Fortunately, Mike has already promised not to respond further
to anything I say.  While a lot of people would succumb to
the temptation to make excuses and weasel out of such a
promise, I'm crediting Mike with the strength of character to
keep his promise, so the matter is now closed.  And if Mike
takes my advice in the previous paragraph, we will see less
bashing in the future.

----------Original message----------
>> I'd said:

>> >>Anthony said that equal protection under
>> >>the law means that eveyone's favorite
>> >>candidate must win, or that it could be
>> >>so interpreted. Pehaps by Anthony.

>> Anthony replied:

>> Perhaps Mike is not familiar with the literary device of
>> parody

>> I reply:

>> Is that what you call it. And here I thought that you were
>> just making mistaken or irrelevant comparisons. Oh yes I assure you
>> I'm familiar with that device. Exaggerated dramatic misquotes,
>> comparisons that aren't really valid--these are all too familiar in your
>> postings.

>> Anthony continues:

>> , or the corresponding logical method of reductio ad
>> absurdam (it's one of those nefarious mathematical things).

>> I reply:

>> Perhaps Anthony doesn't know what reductio ad absurdum means.
>> So I'll carefully explain it to him: You demonstrate that what you
>> want to disprove logically implies something that is considered absurd
>> or known to be untrue. But you didn't show that what I said logically
>> implied what you said. As you said, you were using poetic license
>> to say something that didn't follow from what I said.

>> What was the date and/or message-number of the message in which
>> I said that mathematics is nefarious? Your hostility, which I
>> must admit that I don't understand the reason for, has, maybe
>> subconsciously, led you to cast me in the role of someone who
>> is anti-mathematics.

>> Anthony obviously identifies himself with mathematics, and so it's
>> disappointing that he doesn't understand what reductio ad absurdum
>> means. Or were we just using poetic license again? Maybe are we
>> more poet than mathematician? There's nothing wrong with that. But
>> my advice is to try to apply your poetry more productively, instead
>> of in the service of whatever petty hostility, animosity or resentment
>> you may feel toward another list member. What should I say?
>> Can we have a truce? I don't know how I got you started, but are you
>> able to stop?

>> As I said, I really don't understand what causes
>> your animosity, but I don't believe that airing it on EM is productive
>> for the purposes of the list. I claim that voting systems are the
>> proper topic here, and there's very little if any of voting systems
>> in your exaggerations, misquotes and mistaken comparisons that you
>> call parody.

>> Anthony continues:

>> [referring to the equal protection clause]

>> Perhaps Mike has forgotten a previous suggestion that
>> Approval is unconstitutional because it does not ensure that
>> everyone gets the same number of votes, and therefore
>> violates "one man one vote", or some such.

>> The mistake here
>> is the same as the mistake then, of failing to see that in
>> this context, a 'vote' refers to a ballot.

>> I reply:

>> The equal protection clause doesn't mention votes, much less
>> say that "vote" refers to "ballot".

>> Or are we now confusing the equal protection clause with prop
>> 43, which _does_ mention votes?

>> "Vote" refers to whatever the speaker wants it to refer to.

>> To the Plurality preferrer, everyone should have exactly one vote
>> to cast for one candidate, and that's what 1-person-1-vote means
>> to that person. But obviously that isn't necessary for fairness.
>> Fairness merely requires that each person have the same voting
>> options, counted by the same rules. I support your advocacy
>> for each person to have only one ballot, but no, Anthony, it isn't enough
>> for each person to have a ballot. For one thing, the ballot must
>> be counted. For another thing, there are count rules, some in use
>> and some hypothetical, that treat voters unequally. I doubt that
>> "1-person-1-vote" refers to the problem of some people receiving
>> 2 ballots. That isn't poetic license; you said that that phrase
>> refers to how many ballots voters get.

>> The definition of "vote" is irrelevant to the matter of whether
>> IRV runs afoul of the equal protection. I suggest that even when the
>> same count rule is applied to all the ballots, it's still treating
>> voters unequally when it it capriciously ignores voted preferences of some
>> people. And that unequal treatment could reasonably
>> be called a violation of equal protection under the law. There's
>> nothing in the equal protection clause that says it's only about
>> making sure that each person gets one ballot, and it gets counted.
>> Maybe, after Anthony re-studies "reductio ad absurdum", he'll want to
>> look up the equal protection clause. And next time, one may hope that
>> he'll check things like that before he posts.

>> Anthony continues:

>> "every vote must be counted" means "every ballot
>> must be counted".

>> I reply:

>> I assume that you're now referring to prop 43. That proposition
>> was written with Plurality in mind. Its wording suggests that it's
>> understood that each person has one vote in a race, and says that
>> it should be counted. Vote, in that wording, means vote. That's why
>> they said "vote" instead of "ballot".

>> But it's true that the votecounting failure they were concerned about
>> resulted from not counting a ballot, rather than from a bad count
>> rule like IRV. I believe that's what Anthony was trying to say.

>> So, going by that immediate intent of the proposition, a court would
>> probably say that it's enough to count everyone's ballot in accordance
>> with the count rule, whatever it is.

>> Still, it's reasonable to suppose that what really bothered people,
>> fundamentally, was uncounted preferences among candidates. And
>> that happens in IRV even when everyone's ballot is counted. So I
>> suggest that IRV goes against the wishes that motivated prop 43.
>> I'm not saying that argument will win in court.

>> I'd said:

>> >>Saying that everyone's favorite candidate
>> >>must win isn't like saying that everyone's
>> >>voted preferences must be counted. For
>> >>one thing, of course, it would be impossible
>> >>for everyone's favorite candidate to win in
>> >>any meaningful sense.

>> Anthony replied:

>> The important thing about the two examples is that both are
>> fallacious -- mine intentionally, as an example
>> , Mike's apparently not.

>> I reply:

>> But because your example was fallacious, it wasn't useful for
>> demonstrating anything, except your sloppiness--excuse me, your
>> poetic license.

>> You say that Mike's example was fallacious. It isn't quite clear what
>> you mean by that. What example? Are you trying to refer to my
>> claim that counting some preferences but not others violates
>> equal protection? If that's the "example", how is it fallacious?

>> When some prefernces are counted, and some are not counted, without
>> any guarantee that this is done equally for different people, I
>> call that unequal. Is that fallacious? You claim that the equal
>> protection clause is only about the requirement to give everyone
>> one ballot and count it. Maybe "fallacious" isn't the word for that,
>> but "ignorant" may be the right word to describe your grasp of the
>> equal protection clause. You see, Anthony, you're attributing to that
>> clause a precision or specificity that it doesn't have. It's more
>> general than just saying to count each ballot.

>> I'd said:

>> >>Californians have just passed a state
>> >>constitutional amendment requiring that
>> >>everyone's vote must be counted, suggesting
>> >>that not only is that possible, but it's also
>> >>considered reasonablle.

>> Anthony replied:

>> There's a common belief that reality can be manipulated by
>> manipulating the corresponding ideas and, very importantly,
>> the words that represent those ideas. Thus, if we can come
>> up with some bizarre interpretation of the notion of counting
>> a vote, then we have somehow changed the reality.

>> I reply:

>> As I said, most likely prop 43 was motivated by the desire that expressed
>> preferences not go uncounted.

>> But I'm not saying the court would go by that. I only meant that
>> it isn't at all unreasonable to ask that all voted preferences be
>> counted. Actually, of course, the reasonableness of that doesn't
>> depend on any interpretation of prop 43, and so there was no need
>> for me to make the statement that Anthony was answerin there.
>> Saying that voted preferences should be counted has none of the
>> unreasonableness of Anthony's statement that everyone's favorite
>> candidate should win.

>> Anthony continues:

>> If Mike were to take such an argument [as the claim that prop 43
>> was motivated by the desire that voted preferences not go uncounted]
>> to court, he would end up sitting next to the guy who is
>> arguing that Texas is still and independent republic.

>> I reply:

>> I didn't say that approach would win. The court would probably
>> point out that the proposition was written because ballots weren't
>> counted, not because a count rule was bad, and that therefore,
>> however badly a count rule unequally ignores voted preferences,
>> prop 43 doesn't apply. Maybe, but the desire that ballots be
>> counted resulted from the desire that voted preferences be counted.
>> That's obvious. IRV's ignoring of some voted preferences goes against
>> the intent that motivated prop 43.

>> As I said, I don't know where Anthony gets the festering anger
>> that seems to drive his replies to me, but I don't have time to
>> answer another letter of his this time. Maybe when I don't answer
>> his next one, he'll quit.

>> Mike Ossipoff

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