[EM] Re: Voting Systems Study of the League of WomenVoters of Minnesota
Abd ulRahman Lomax
abd at lomaxdesign.com
Wed Jun 8 07:32:43 PDT 2005
At 04:54 AM 6/8/2005, James Gilmour wrote:
>Abd ulRahman Lomax Sent: Wednesday, June 08, 2005 5:01 AM
> > Let me make sure I understand. If we had a face-to-face meeting, and an
> > election was held by show of hands, which is not an uncommon thing, I've
> > never seen a rule that prevents a person from voting for more than one
> > candidate. And the winner is the person with the most hands shown.
> > Essentially, approval voting is *standard*.
>My experience of face-to-face show of hands voting is limited to meetings
>in the UK, but I have never ever been present
>at such an election in which a voter had more than one vote, ie voter
>expected (or allowed) to raise his or her hand
>once only to vote for only one candidate. The standard assumption has
>always been that the election was a
>first-past-the-post plurality contest and that the winner would be the
>candidate with the most votes when each elector
>voted for only one candidate.
You may not have noticed. I'm quite sure that in some such elections that
I've witnessed, some voters raised their hands more than once, but nobody
was keeping track. I don't think I ever noticed it. This will happen if the
voter, for example, changes his or her mind after casting the first vote.
And I've never seen a formal rule preventing it. It is a near certainty
that some people will sometimes vote more than once in such elections. It
might be rare, but given the number of such elections and the nature of
people, I'm sure it happens. And what is not prohibited is allowed, until
and unless someone objects and the matter is considered. (And I've never
heard the "vote only once" rule stated in an informal vote.) Given that the
process does not record individual votes but only totals, most times the
exercise of such a right would go unnoticed unless someone noticed the
individual voter or unless someone noticed that the total number of votes
exceeded the number of members in attendance. Given that some people almost
always abstain, even this clue would be generally missing. The only way to
notice it in a meeting would be to pay close attention to who is voting for
whom. Which is considered a bit tacky. Only when a secret ballot is held
would the question arise. And why should secret ballots have a special rule?
What happens in informal organizations if someone marks more candidates on
a secret ballot than the apparent intended number? I've never seen the
question arise, though it easily could. Again, I'm pretty sure that it
happens from time to time, especially in multiwinner elections.
My guess is that the ballots are ordinarily counted. The counters may
grumble, but they may also realize that it is relatively harmless to count
both votes -- it works no inequity in a single-office election, and it is
not clear to me that it does in a multiple-winner election, i.e., if
someone marks too many candidates. But I haven't considered the matter deeply.
Or the counters may discard the ballot. But if they did that, I'd guess
they'd report it. I've never seen such a report in small organizations.
Again, in the absence of explicit rules to keep or discard, we might never
know what decision a counter made. In a multiwinner election, where a
violation is more likely to take place (the more winners the more likely an
overvote), it might not even be noticed, since counters would be looking at
many ballots and would likely not explicitly count the number of total
votes on each ballot. Rather they would be busy accumulating the totals. It
would be quite easy to overlook an overvote.
The "standard assumption" in an informal show-of-hands election is just
that. An assumption, not a rule. Organizations variously have majority or
plurality rules and handle elections with no majority winner by holding a
runoff. Which in an election by show of hands is quite easy to do.
And what would actually happen if someone raised their hand twice -- which,
again, I expect, is not very uncommon -- and someone noticed? Would they
interrupt the election with an objection? In an informal organization
following normal parliamentary procedure, the chair would rule, and the
ruling would be subject to appeal to the assembly. It is highly unlikely
that the chair, in such a case, would actually toss out the vote; rather
the chair would have two likely options: allow the vote, which would be
simple and the quickest resolution, or retake the entire election,
considering the first one spoiled. There would be pressure not to do the
latter, and, if the election were complete, it would only be done if the
vote changed the outcome. Except that someone else might object, "But what
if there were more than one such multiple vote, and only one was noticed?
Surely it is unfair to accept such an election while not accepting one
where the vote is critical, since we did not have any means of reliably
detecting such overvotes, and we only know about this one because of the
complaint of Mr. X, who is obviously biased, since it was he who lost
because of the overvote."
Under normal rules, debate is not allowed on such motions; but what I
speculated as the text of an objection is not a debate, it is an objection
on which the chair would rule immediately, subject to appeal to the
assembly, which would again vote without debate. My guess is that, however,
the sequence of events would stimulate consideration of the question at
> > The oddity is the practice of
> > discarding ballots which are multiply-marked, as if they were somehow
> > defective. Does anyone know the history of that practice?
>For most of last century, most UK single-winner public elections were FPTP
>simple plurality and to ensure that that
>system worked as intended, most ballot papers carried an instruction like
>"You may vote for one candidate only".
Yes. U.S. ballots say the same thing, and voters who violate the rule have
their ballots discarded. What I'm pointing out is this is at variance with
open balloting by show of hands, and I'm asking why. I have not yet
researched the law, which may vary from state to state. Nor have I
researched the previously mentioned court precedent, where a city ordinance
allowing a form of IRV (as I recall) was invalidated because it allegedly
allowed people to vote more than once. I intend to. But being creatively
lazy, I'm asking here....
>ballot paper marked with more than one "X" was automatically discarded as
>a "spoilt paper". This is still the rule in
>all our FPTP X-vote single-winner elections.
Yes. Same here. I think it may have thrown the election to Bush in 2000,
because of the Florida effect, and in particular because of the famous
butterfly ballot, which caused many voters to incorrect mark the ballot for
a third-party candidate whom they did not support. A certain percentage of
these, quite understandably, perhaps not having time to go back and get a
replacement ballot or not knowing that this was their right, attempted to
correct the problem by punching their desired candidate's position. At the
very least this would remove the erroneous advantage given to the 3rd party
candidate (I think it was Buchanan), and it would also have restored the
voter preference for Gore over Bush, if not for the rule preventing it and
spoiling the ballot. Since counting the ballot would be closer to
fulfillment of the Florida law requiring the counting of a ballot where the
intent of the voter can be discerned from it, it might be argued that the
rule spoiling such ballots conflicts with the law regarding counting, and,
if so, it might be vulnerable to legal challenge.
> If three candidates are to be elected by multiple X-vote (first three past
>the post), the voter may mark one, two or three Xs, but if the ballot
>paper has more than three Xs it is automatically
>discarded as spoilt.
Yes. Standard practice. And why? Somebody tell me!
(I can probably guess. It is so done because it violates an expectation.
Yet it does not seem to violate the legitimate purpose of the expectation,
it only formally violates it. It is common for formal rules in
bureaucracies to be applied outside their intention, it is one of the
reasons people get thoroughly frustrated by bureaucracies! "Sorry, your
application was rejected because you failed to write out the full four
digit year, as we require, and instead wrote, for your birthdate, 05-05-35.
You'll have to come back to the office to correct it.")
If there is any record anywhere of the debate leading up to the passing of
the spoilage rule, it would be interesting to see if it was even
considered, the effect of *not* spoiling such ballots. What damage would it
cause? And would such damage, if any, be more serious than the damage from
spoiling the ballot?
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