[EM] Using Borda to Set an Agenda

Paul Kislanko jpkislanko at bellsouth.net
Sat Nov 1 11:39:01 PST 2003

It was questions such as this that got me interested in "election methods"
in the first place (and as many of you know, was immediately over my head or
out of my league, so to speak).

As I've read the posts lately, it has occurred to me that while there can
never be a perfect general method for determining group preference from
individual preferences, it very well may be true that for a specific group
there might be a method that is "better" for a particular purpose of that
group. Something that is unsuitable for the population at large (for
whatever reason) as an "election method" might be quite suitable for
something else.

The "catch-22" that lies at the logical heart of the problem for any group
is that when there are alternatives that may be appropriate for the
function, the group has to choose one, which means they have to vote on
which election method to use, and the infinite loop occurs when they have to
choose a voting method to "elect" a voting method.

But there are practical solutions to problems of more limited scope. For
instance, in the case of "setting an agenda for a meeting" one that I've
used with great effectiveness is just to allow all participants to
"nominate" agenda items with specific time requested for each item. If the
sum of the requested times is less than or equal to the time available,
everybody "wins", if not the sponsor of the meeting assumes the role of
dictator and moves some of the items to a subsequent or separate meeting (in
practice, more a facilitator than dictator, because the nominators are
consulted). Clearly this only works for regularly scheduled meetings of a
well-defined group. Our guidelines were that nominations were closed early
enough for the formal agenda to be set by the meeting's sponsor before the
meeting occurred.

That's only an "election method" in the sense of the dictator principle, but
it did help very much in developing a "group consensus" of what the agenda
should and would be by the time the meeting occurred. Since the way we did
it all group members were immediately aware of all nominations for agenda
items, by the time of the meeting we were all prepared to discuss the topics
that were thereby placed on the table. Another practical thing that made
this work was a "standing agenda item" for open discussion to handle things
that came up after the deadline for nominations ("write in votes?"), where
again it was up to the sponsor/facilitator/dictator to either open the
discussion or postpone it to another meeting.

Sorry for the length.

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeffrey O'Neill <jeff_c_o at yahoo.com>
To: election-methods at electorama.com <election-methods at electorama.com>
Date: Monday, October 20, 2003 10:18 PM
Subject: [EM] Using Borda to Set an Agenda


Poor Mr. Borda was recently dissed on this list. :)  I'd like to suggest a
of the Borda count.

What is the proper voting system to set an agenda for a meeting.  Suppose 50
proposals are submitted for consideration at a meeting which is to last
hours.  How do you choose which proposal should be considered first, second,
and so on until the meeting is over?

In just such a situation, I first proposed using STV.  STV was used to
the top five.  This was then repeated to choose the next five and so on.
hand count was tedious and it isn't clear to me if PR is appropriate for
situation.  Why spend time on a proposal supported only by a small group if
majority is required for approval?

For the next meeting I sugested using a Borda count.  Intuitively, a Borda
count seems more appropriate, but I find it difficult to express the proper
principles.  Practically, it is a straightforward method for ranking all of

Any thoughts?

PS. I'd also like to point out that there is some proportionality to using a
Borda Count with multi-member districts.  Let me give an example for a
district.  Using SNTV, IRV, or STV, a candidate is guaranteed to be elected
he or she receives at least 25% of the vote.  This is sometimes called the
"threshold of exclusion."  With Borda, the threshold of exclusion will be
higher (it is straightforward to compute it exactly) but there will still be
some proportionality.

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