[EM] Extremely simple voting for committee [Was Re: PR vs. Geographic Representation]

Jan Kok kok at surfbest.net
Sat Jan 31 19:27:02 PST 2004


I commend you for getting involved in choosing a voting method for
forming a committee.  This is an opportunity to educate other people,
and especially some of the leaders in your organization, about voting

I can offer a bit of advice from my own experience: find out who will
have the final word about how the election is conducted, and work
closely with that person to come up with exact, written procedures for
nominating candidates, for filling out ballots (voter instructions), and
for counting the ballots and determining the winners.  If you are
willing to write a detailed proposal yourself, I think there is a very
good chance that your proposal will be accepted as-is without discussion
or objection!

I participated in the formation of an organization of about 30
engineers.  It was decided to form a board (committee) to represent the
members.  I spoke for two or three minutes in the general meetings about
the need to decide on nominating procedures and voting methods for
forming the board.  I also wrote a two-page email (as short as I could
make it) to the business professor/consultant who was leading the
meetings, offering suggestions and alternatives.  I didn't get any
reply.  At a later meeting, a date was proposed for electing the board
members, when the procedures for forming the board and assigning roles
had not been discussed very much, and the voting method had not been
decided or even mentioned by anyone but me!  At that point, someone
asked me what method I would recommend.  I was not well prepared for the
question, because I was not very familiar with multi-winner election
methods (I had been assuming a series of single-winner elections for
chairperson, secretary, treasurer, etc.), so I blurted out that we could
probably use something like Approval - each voter votes for as few or as
many candidates as he wants, and the top vote-getters win.  This
appeared to be accepted without further discussion.

When the election was held, there were 9 candidates for 7 board member
positions.  We were given paper ballots, and we were instructed to vote
for 1 up to a maximum of (surprise!) 7 people.  My last-minute objection
that we should be allowed to vote for 8 as well was disallowed.  So,
since I only wanted to disapprove one person, I chose someone else who I
thought would surely win (and did win) as the other person to

As it turned out, the organization has been doing OK, the board has been
doing OK, and the voting method that we used probably had little impact
on the course of history. :-)

What I learned was: the vast majority of the population knows nothing
about voting systems except plurality (in the US, anyway).  Even among
engineers (who we might expect to be curious about mathematical things
like voting systems), I was the only one out of 30 engineers who even
thought about how we should elect our board members.  And the simple
method I proposed somehow got garbled between the time I explained it
and the time that it was implemented.

So, if you want your organization to use some particular voting system,
it is up to you to make it happen, and to make sure that the people
implementing the voting system know exactly what they are supposed to

And be careful what you wish for - you may just get it! :-)

- Jan

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