[EM] Re: the simplest election reform

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Thu Jun 16 15:33:36 PDT 2005

At 05:53 PM 6/15/2005, Araucaria Araucana wrote:
>Approval voting is a reasonable first step.  But what do you do about
>current top-two runoffs, or primaries in general?

In the U.S. top-two runoffs are unusual, if I am correct, most elections 
award victory to the plurality winner. We've been complacent about it, I 
think, because usually the winner does gain a majority, or is only a little 
short of a majority. But the conditions here strongly discourage third parties.

Primaries are a natural consequence of the party system. What is a little 
weird to me is that primaries have become publicly regulated elections. It 
used to be that political parties chose candidates based on a deliberative 
process, but the primary system has tended to create a situation where the 
party candidate is decided, through primaries, prior to the convention. The 
down side of the deliberative process is that much of it took place behind 
closed doors. But deliberative process, if it is open, is one way to move 
beyond the limitations of election methods. A primary process can fail to 
produce a good compromise candidate, one able to draw significant numbers 
of voters from the opposing party in addition to independent voters. 
Instead, primaries, I'd think -- I certainly don't consider myself expert 
on practical politics -- would in general tend to choose a candidate, if 
voters vote sincerely, near the middle of the party, not near the middle of 
the political spectrum.

It is center-squeeze prior to the actual election.

(The irreducible problem is that solutions like IRV try to create a virtual 
runoff to simulate a real runoff. But a real runoff is like a new election, 
and voters in that new election have more information. Asking them to vote 
the runoff in advance is asking them to *imagine* an inner process in 
advance of actually being faced with it. In a real runoff, voters might pay 
much more attention to a candidate than they paid during the initial 
election process, they will almost certainly learn more about the two 
candidates remaining than they previously knew. A real runoff is closer to 
a deliberative process than any single election method could provide 
(except for the delegable proxy process which I've described, which is 
coming from left field; it is, in itself, really a deliberative process 
instead of an election method.)

>Most of the highly-regarded single-winner methods discussed here
>involve eliminating the primary in addition to changing the ballot and
>tally methods.

My own proposals, of course, involve organizing the electorate itself in an 
overall structure that is nonpartisan. A subset of the electorate could use 
the process, to be sure, and this is likely to happen sooner than any 
overall organization. My theory is that once one party adopts a Free 
Association/Delegable Proxy structure, it will be so phenomenally 
successful that it will attract imitation. And FAs have this 
characteristic: they readily merge. All it takes, really, is a few 
cross-organization members. While FAs can restrict membership through their 
membership definition, it is difficult to enforce, and, in fact, broader 
membership is positively useful. By the nature of the structure, it's 
impossible to effectively pack the organization, because, not only can FAs 
merge easily, they can also split easily; indeed the DP structure 
automatically organizes the overall structure into caucuses, which are 
completely free to act independently.

The would-be packers could end up talking to themselves, and to others who 
know exactly what they are, and there is no central treasury or authority 
to co-opt. Even domain names are not terribly important, for all members in 
the proxy tree will have the necessary email addresses to reconstruct the 
organization if something serious happens. (They only have to have the 
addresses of their own proxy, plus the addresses of all those who have 
chosen them. But usually, I think, they will have more than that, caucuses 
or the "families" of high-level proxies will probably have their own 
mailing lists, even though many or most members may be on no-mail status. 
The basic definition of membership is the provision of contact information, 
and the next level, naming a proxy, cements the contactability.)

Once such a structure is in place, with many or most voters as members (and 
in an FA/DP structure, membership involves a minimum of effort; but it also 
allows each member to put in as much as they choose, efficiently), a 
process becomes possible whereby a recommended candidate can emerge. This 
candidate might be the candidate of an existing party, or he or she might 
be a dark horse. When the FA/DP organization is relatively small, it would 
probably decide to recommend existing candidates, recommending its own 
would probably be considered counterproductive.

The FA character of the organization implies that if it can find an 
internal consensus, it can act with great power, because FA/DP is 
trustworthy by design. If it cannot find some level of consensus, it can 
act simply to support existing parties; its overall effect is relatively 
neutral -- for FAs don't take, as an organization, positions of 
controversy. Rather, they simply report the results of polls taken after 
discussion, debate, and negotiation. The results, and the reasons for it, 
are taken back to the members through media, probably, but *also* through 
the personal contact afforded by the proxies. Each member, in the end, will 
likely be contacted in support of the caucus to which the proxy belongs, by 
the proxy, who was chosen by the member as trustworthy. The ultimate power 
remains with the members, who can then make financial contributions, 
volunteer themselves as political workers, and vote, all according to their 
capacities. The function of the FA/DP organization is to coordinate all this.

FAs have a motivation to find consensus, because if they can, they can act 
with high influence. If they can't, they still act, but mostly to delineate 
the issues rather than to decide them.

The FA/DP concept involves making an end run around existing political 
structures. It does not oppose them; instead it *uses* them, and 
theoretically it should make them tractable. The FA/DP concept came out of 
my own frustration with the existing difficulty of getting ideas to a point 
where they can either be implemented or known or demonstrated to be 
ineffective or harmful. The ironic thing is that if FA/DP existed, it would 
be easy to bring it (i.e., something new) into existence -- or, 
alternatively, to at least know *why* it was not going to come into 
existence. There are a number of election methods that are clearly superior 
to what is in standard use in the U.S. The simplest is Approval through the 
allowing of overvotes. But I think that readers here will agree that 
getting even a very simple reform accomplished can be a major task. Why? 
Shouldn't we have a society that is *eager* to consider new ideas and to 
find ways to test if they would work or not? I'm not recommending or 
seeking drastic change. Just the development of an intelligent process for 
considering it. Or, equally well, for acting to preserve what is good about 
what we have.

But we won't really know until it is tried. That's what I'm mostly working 
on, that is, on developing the structural technology through as wide a 
discussion as possible, and encouraging and providing resources to 
organizations that want to try it. It is possible that some large 
organization would, so to speak, see the light, but it is relatively 
unlikely. Existing power structures act to preserve themselves, I've seen 
it many, many times. Even very well motivated, charitable structures. 
People generally believe that they have a better understanding than most 
other people. It can't always be true! But if a person who so believes ends 
up with a position of inequitable power, they will see changes that remove 
this power from them as being threats to all that is wise and good. And so 
they will act to stop the changes. And, by definition, they are in a 
position of inequitable power, so they will tend to be effective in 
stopping the change.

All-or-nothing assignment of electoral votes in the U.S. is an example of a 
clearly inequitable system (with only the weakest of rationalizations being 
given for it) that was probably not anticipated by the founders. But 
because it always favors the majority party in each state, state by state, 
it is preserved, for that party has the power to prevent change. Oddly, 
most people focus on the college itself as being the problem, not realizing 
that the problem is not the delegation of voting power -- that was actually 
an advanced idea, and it still is -- but the deprivation of the minority of 
representation on the college.... and, in addition, the defacto stripping 
of power from the delegates through promised votes, destroying, with rare 
exceptions in U.S. history, the deliberative character of the college.


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