[EM] Alternative electoral systems as tools to promote socialnetworks and activism

Bryan Ford baford at mit.edu
Fri Nov 26 11:43:37 PST 2004

Hi Jan, thanks for your comments.  Both of your objections center around the 
"granularity issue" - in the first case, allowing voters to choose only one 
delegate when they might like to support several; in the second case, 
allowing voters to choose only "whole candidates" without being able to 
differentiate among different issues the same candidate may have a position 
on.  From a technical viewpoint, your objections are quite legitimate - but 
you're thinking at a far different level of political awareness and technical 
sophistication than the intended "target audience" of indrep elections would 
be able to.  I want indrep elections to be immediately and easily accessible 
to the average Joe who has no clue about election systems and isn't 
particularly political in the first place.  Most people are _not_ "political 
animals" at all; see for example this great New Yorker article:


The "politics" of most people doesn't usually go beyond vague feelings and 
group identification - most people have no coherent political ideology, so to 
speak; they at best know a few people they feel they trust and identify with.  
Indrep elections give these ordinary people - all the "unpolitical animals" - 
the ability to support (at a personal level) the people they trust and 
identify with who _are_ "political animals."  Anyone who _does_ have a 
coherent political ideology, and _wants_ to be able to express their opinions 
at the finer levels of granularity that you're talking about, is expected to 
participate in an indrep election as a delegate rather than as an ordinary 
voter.  Since delegates choose themselves, there is no barrier preventing 
anyone from participating at this more politically sophisticated level.  The 
self-selecting body of delegates is free to organize further using more 
sophisticated election systems or participatory decision-making systems like 
those we usually discuss on this list - but that's beyond the scope of my 
main proposal.

The key purpose of the indrep election scheme is simply to create both a means 
and an _incentive_ for ordinary, unpolitical people to support the more 
politically sophisticated people in their social circles with whom they 
identify, and thereby participate indirectly in social and political 
organization even if they would never participate directly.  And at the same 
time, by rewarding delegates/activists with democratic "credentials", indrep 
elections create a stronger incentive for more politically sophisticated 
people like you and me to go out and interact with ordinary people and get 
them involved (even if only indirectly), instead of just spending all our 
time in mailing list arguments about obscure electoral system 
technicalities. :)


On Friday 26 November 2004 03:36, Jan Kok wrote:
> Bryan,
> I applaud you for thinking about, writing about, and promoting a mechanism
> that encourages grass-roots activism.  However, I see a couple of problems
> with the indrep idea in its present form:
> 1.  Why do you recommend allowing each voter to vote for only one
> candidate? That's Plurality voting, a method despised by most people who
> have studied other voting methods.  The main problem with Plurality voting
> when applied to the indrep idea is that most grass-roots activists have to
> earn a living in the real world and therefore only have time to study and
> promote one or two issues.  So a voter who cares about half a dozen issues
> may have a hard time finding a candidate who not only takes a position on
> all the issues of interest to the voter, but also takes a position that is
> acceptable to the voter.  I suggest using Approval Voting, which would let
> voters vote for one or more advocates for issue A, one or more advocates
> for issue B, etc.
> 2.  When a candidate takes positions on multiple issues, it becomes
> difficult to tell what votes for that candidate mean.  Did each voter agree
> with the candidate's position on every one of the issues?  Maybe one voter
> liked the candidate's position on issue A and had no opinion about issue B.
> Maybe another voter disagreed with the candidate about issue A but felt
> that the candidate was such a great advocate for issue B that it was worth
> overlooking the disagreement over issue A.  So, I think it would be better
> to structure the ballots as a series of referendum questions, with the
> advocates' names associated with the questions.  For example, "Do you agree
> with Jan Kok that Plurality Voting should be replaced with Approval Voting
> for all public elections in the US that are intended to select a single
> winner from multiple candidates?  Yes() No()"  Then voters could agree or
> disagree with my position on Approval Voting, independent of whether they
> agree with me about other issues that I might espouse.  In order to keep
> ballots at a reasonable size, candidates could pay for the number of issues
> they place on ballots and the amount of space they take up on ballots, and
> be paid for the number of Yes votes they receive.  Several candidates could
> also share the cost and rewards of placing an issue on the ballot.
> By the way, problem #2 occurs in every political system with any currently
> used voting method.  For example, what do all those votes for GW Bush mean?
> Do 56 million voters agree with everything that Bush stands for?  Of course
> not.  Wouldn't it be nice if there was a much more fine-grained separation
> of powers in the government, and we could, for example, vote for the
> Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of
> Education, etc.?  One obvious problem with that is, suppose the SoD wants
> to go to war, and SoT doesn't want to fund the war.  Who wins?  How would
> that kind of conflict between departments, which most likely arises daily,
> be resolved?
> Cheers,
> - Jan

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