[EM] divided house problem of close vote (50%+1)

Howard Swerdfeger electorama.com at howard.swerdfeger.com
Thu Mar 15 05:25:27 PDT 2007

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax wrote:
> At 09:32 AM 3/14/2007, Howard Swerdfeger wrote:
>> [it was written]
>> > In general, I dislike indefinitely repeated elections because they
>> > increase voting costs for both the society and the voters in propotion
>> > to the number of rounds they require.
>> agreed. This would only be appropriate for situation where, the cost of
>> the decision of little importance, when compared to the importance of
>> the decision it self.
> I think that it should be understood that in small groups, "repeated 
> elections" is the normal decision-making process. Robert's Rules, or 
> similar parliamentary rules, proceed with frequent votes on relatively 
> minor options, including amendments, motions to table or refer to 
> committee, as well as votes on whether or not the assembly is ready to 
> vote on a main motion.

One could look at it that way. But think generally the votes are all
with the same people, and generally they are of the same opinion at the
first vote as at the last vote (But not always).

> My own opinion is that the majority, quite properly, has the right of 
> decision and that rules which prevent the majority from exercising this 
> right are oppressive, in the end.

I agree, however I feel that we must recognize two things. Firstly that
a majority is not always a static thing, the values and opinions of
society are often changing. Sometimes the opinion on some topic over
time has a clear trend, and sometimes it is static hovering around the
same value for long periods of time. In both of these cases there is
some degree of noise in public opinion over time.

What if we assume the longterm average of some opinion in society stable 
at 45% support. But let us also assume that depending on when the 
polling is done it will go up or down 10% (35%->55% range).
Let us further assume that the person in charge of deciding when the 
vote is held can make a good guess about when the short term variations 
in support for this decision will be at its highest.

Given all of this, it is probable that when the vote is held it will 
pass with about 55%. But for the most part society does not want this 
decision to be made.

The result of the question is often more about when you ask it then 
about what you ask.

For some things this does not matter a lot as you can simply pass the 
opposite later, But some decisions can not be undone :
  * Burn Grandma's Piano for Firewood
  * Execute Person X
  * Go to war with Country X
  * Destroy Natural Resource X, for economic gain.

These things can not be undone and I dislike that something that does 
not enjoy popular support can be done if a "Transient majority" approve 
even for a second, and you ask them at just the right time.

> However, that the majority properly has that power does not mean that it 
> should routinely exercise it. Essentially, any society benefits from 
> decisions being made with general support. The experience of many small 
> societies has shown that it is often possible -- in such small groups 
> (perhaps up to thirty people or even more) -- to find total consensus, 
> and a decision which is supported by everyone will almost certainly be a 
> better decision (as long as that decision was sincerely supported, not 
> merely because the rules required consensus and, hey, we've got to do 
> something!)
> Essentially, the desirability of consensus is a social context issue. 
> I'm uncomfortable with building it into a system, unless the rule 
> created is merely a warning, an alarm. I.e., this would be true if any 
> decision made by mere majority vote must be accompanied by a finding of 
> emergency, i.e., a finding, by the majority, that the society would be 
> harmed by delay.

I am not overly interested in consensus in the context of this 
discussion. In general I find it hard to reach for anything over 8 
people or so.

> Now, if the majority wants to lie about this, what can we say? If we 
> have a society where the majority is willing to lie to get its way, at 
> the expense of a substantial miniority, we have serious problems, 
> entirely aside from majoritarian rules.

agreed that would be a problem

> (By the way, suppose the "harmed by delay" vote is sincere? This would 
> point out the danger of preventing the majority from making a decision. 
> This is especially clear when the status quo favors a minority which can 
> block changes due to consensus rules. And I have seen this happen.)

I agree society can often be harmed by delay. But as counter society can 
also be harmed by the decisions of Transient majority. That does not 
hold with the longterm popular opinion. I believe there needs to be 
balances to these two opposing threats.

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