[EM] Election Methods, Condorcet List, and Gatekeepers

Abd ulRahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Mon Sep 19 21:00:00 PDT 2005

Another writer on EM has complained about rejection of his messages 
by Jeff Fisher, moderator of the Condorcet list.

It is my view that the moderator of a private mailing list has the 
perfect right to accept or reject posts as he or she sees fit; 
however, properly, the policies of the list should be explicit in 
advance; otherwise writers may spend hours preparing a post for the 
particular time and context of the list, only to find it rejected 
because of unanticipated or unclear criteria.

On the face of it, the Condorcet list is operating as a project to 
advise Toby Nixon, a Republican State Representative in the state of 
Washington, who is considering presenting election reform proposals. 
Much of the discussion on this list, and in particular the quite 
cogent comments made by Rep. Nixon, have been broad and general. 
However, based on some standard that remains unclear to me, I've had 
a few posts rejected, because they were discussing topics related to 
election reform but not specifically to Condorcet voting, per se, 
though surely it is impossible to consider the wisdom of Condorcet 
voting, as well as the possible obstructions that might exist to its 
implementation, without considering other possible election reforms, 
such as IRV and Approval.

And Mr. Nixon has currently been discussing Range Voting, and there 
has been discussion, in particular, of whether or not it would be 
advisable to work for Approval Voting.

I just received this rejection note:

>From: "Jeff Fisher" <subscriber at jeffryfisher.net>
>To: Abd ulRahman Lomax <abd at lomaxdesign.com>
>Subject: Message not approved: Asset voting (was:Approval versus 
>Ranked methods)
>Asset voting is off topic, and one of our primary objectives is to
>eliminate primaries. If I missed the off-topic mentions in Forest's
>post, I apologize, but I thought I bounced his also. -- JRF

I had commented that Asset Voting would be excellent for primaries, 
where the two-stage process would actually be a benefit rather than a 
problem. If there is a clear winner in a primary to choose a 
candidate, that would be it, no need for further process. But if you 
are electing delegates, Asset Voting would ensure that no votes were 
wasted (to the maximum possible extent).

But my point here is this lesson:

If you want to set up a public forum to receive comment and advice, 
and to discuss proposals, don't allow a single person to be a 
gatekeeper who will restrict what kind of advice can be given, unless 
you think that person will understand the situation better than you, 
as well as better than the public who will participate. In which case 
I would wonder why you'd be soliciting comment from the public in the 
first place....

There are ways to filter the comment on a list without arbitrary 
censorship. But people who end up as gatekeepers generally, 
especially when self-appointed but also sometimes when selected by 
others, I find, are generally not interested in immediate democratic 
process, and quite clearly don't want to hear about it.

The description of the Condorcet list on yahoogroups is:

***begin description***
Washington state representative Toby Nixon plans to introduce 
Condorcet legislation for the state of Washington in the next 
session. Since WA has lost yet another electoral system to 
unconstitutionality, and since WA House representative Nixon is the 
ranking minority member on the committee that would rewrite it, his 
intent is most auspicious.

Representative Nixon has asked for a Condorcet "think tank". Its 
primary mission will be to politely educate Washington State's 
decision makers (legislators and key lobbyists). Its secondary 
mission will be to proofread and comment on the evolving legislation. 
Its tertiary mission will be to stimulate and carry out other forms 
of political activism (such as recruiting people to testify before 
Washington State's House and Senate committees) to move Condorcet 
legislation forward.

To that end, I have created this Condorcet Yahoo group, and 
representative Nixon has already subscribed. It's to be more than 
just a discussion. If you can contribute to any part of its mission, 
then please join this vital new *work* group:

PS: If you know any others who could be helpful, please recruit them.
***end description***

Nothing is mentioned about the list being moderated. The welcome 
message does not mention it. If you don't look at the full headers 
(in which case you will see an approval header for any message 
requiring approval), and until you have a message rejected, you might 
not notice that your messages were being moderated. It has not been 
mentioned on the list, to my knowledge. There is only one moderator, 
Mr. Fisher, who is the list owner.

Moderation of a list which is partly a brainstorming list inhibits 
the process substantially, by introducing quite a bit of delay. Yes, 
it will reduce traffic. But why? Traffic reduction is desirable if 
there is someone to be protected from excess traffic, but moderating 
a list is a bit like giving a committee sedatives. Yes, things will 
be a bit calmer....

In any case, I've decided that the Condorcet list is just too much 
trouble. Much of what I wrote which was rejected by the moderator was 
specifically written in response to and as suggestion to Mr. Nixon. 
If he is interested, I'll send the rejected posts directly to him. 
Among what was rejected was consideration of how to use a public list 
to gather comment and analysis, without arbitrary censorship, and 
without becoming overwhelmed with noise, i.e., more traffic than one 
can handle....

One more comment: most lists which have rules requiring that posts be 
on-topic do not restrict dicta, or side comments, provided that a 
post is substantially on-topic. The moderation standards being used 
for the Condorcet list are tighter than is normal.... One of the 
posts of mine that was previously rejected was clearly on-topic, but 
included mention of something that Mr. Fisher considered off-topic.

Mailing lists are not committee meetings where discussion might not 
be allowed to stray from strict adherence to the topic; for with 
face-to-face meetings when someone speaks off-topic, it takes up the 
time of everyone. With list mail, a reader may easily decide that a 
post has strayed too far from the topic of interest and may simply 
stop reading it.... or will start skimming, scanning for material of interest.

We have seen before how Center for Voting and Democracy apparently 
made up its mind that IRV is the method to promote, and how they 
essentially became impervious to argument. CVD, like most political 
reform organizations, is not democratic. It has become quite clear to 
me that many of those who would reform democracy actually don't 
believe in it. They are convinced that if you want to get anything 
done, you must avoid democratic process like the plague. Personally, 
I consider that the modest level of democracy that we enjoy in the 
United States is a major factor in the success of our society, and 
that areas where we are failing are largely due to our failure to 
continue to develop democratic process. It is quite clear that 
democracy, badly implemented, is messy and even dangerous. But when 
Churchill noted that "Democracy is the worst form of government, 
except for all the others," he had only experienced a narrow range of 
what is possible. Electoral democracy, in particular, as it has been 
implemented everywhere, effectively disenfranchises much of the 
electorate. It can hardly be said that a voter is represented by 
someone who the voter voted against and with whom the voter strongly disagrees.

There are solutions to this problem, some of them are very old, but 
for some reason which remains obscure to me, they have never been 
tried in the political realm; but the problem of politics is the 
essential problem of human organization, and human organization is 
also required for business, and business solved and settled on 
certain solutions which remain strangers to political process. Those 
solutions themselves, as they have become traditional, are far from 
perfect, but the problem of representation failure because of 
elections would have been intolerable to the founders of share 
corporations, so they solved it. Indeed, the solution was so much a 
permitted thing at common law that only because it was specifically 
and statutorily forbidden did it not come to common use in politics. 
And there seems to be no good reason for that, the matter is never 
argued, most people seem completely unaware of the possibilities.

I am, of course, referring to proxy representation, which can be used 
to set up representative bodies without elections. Asset Voting is an 
example of how proxy concepts could be applied to create proportional 
representation with almost no wasted votes, no votes that do not end 
up being voluntarily assigned to a winner. Asset Voting can create a 
peer assembly in which all members have the same voting power, which 
may be desirable and which is certainly the custom in politics. 
Delegable Proxy can more simply and directly create a representative 
assembly, but with variable voting power of members, and is thus 
closer to business practice. (Delegability is proposed as an addition 
to standard proxy representation as a means of making organizational 
structure scalable while allowing proxy assignments to take place on 
a small scale, so that high-level proxies need only directly 
communicate with a few people, and base-level members may be assured 
of a proxy who will, for example, answer their phone calls -- because 
proxies in general would not take on more *direct* proxies than they 
can handle.)

These are generic organizational concepts, and they can apply to such 
relatively informal bodies as advisory panels. Delegable proxy sounds 
much more complicated than it would be in practice.... It really is 
as simple as a list of members with a list of proxy assignments. From 
that, delegability builds a fractal structure that (excepting 
assignment loops, a problem which can be easily solved) automatically 
creates a tree that would almost certainly concentrate representation 
into a relatively small committee that would represent nearly 
everyone. But the proxy functions in more ways than just as a voting 
device. The proxy is essentially the link between the individual and 
the organization, the person for the member to contact if the member 
has concerns or suggestions, as well as the person who would 
routinely pass on suggestions from the organization for action, where 
member action is appropriate. The proxy structure would be like a 
nervous system for an organization. And actual nervous systems are 
quite similarly organized....

The "organizational chart" would be *quite* complex. But each member 
would only see a small part of it: the member would see whatever 
meetings the member attended or watched, and the member would see the 
member's chosen proxy, and would be aware that there was a chain of 
proxies leading to the top levels of the organization. In small 
organizations, there might be only one layer, in large ones, there 
might be many, but it should be noted that if a proxy only represents 
twenty people, the organization could have over a billion members 
with a proxy chain to the top being only seven or so proxies. Each 
one of these proxies would be dealing with twenty members below and 
one above, as the basic structure, but there would also be a lot of 
redundancy, cross-connections, alternative pathways. Just as in the 
human nervous system.

At the core of a good organizational system we will find noise 
control. Proxies will function as noise filters, protecting the 
members from information overload due to organizational traffic and 
protecting the higher layers similarly from noise from the bottom. If 
you are going to be protected from noise, it is important that the 
protection be voluntary. Otherwise we would call it censorship and 
thought control....

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