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

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Thu Mar 15 08:47:27 PDT 2007

At 08:25 AM 3/15/2007, Howard Swerdfeger wrote:
>Abd ul-Rahman Lomax wrote:
> > 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).

This is not a description of deliberative process. Deliberative 
process debates every vote before the vote is taken. If it were true 
that "generally the votes are ... the same [as they would be at the 
outset], why bother with all those boring speeches. Just vote!

You could argue that the speeches are grandstanding, to inform others 
of why speakers are going to vote a certain way, but it is a rare 
*real* society where people simply hold fixed opinions. Besides, 
having an opinion on one motion does not mean that one would 
therefore reject any alternative motion.

Quite simply, it is not true that in deliberative process, as 
actually used, "people are of the same opinion at the first vote as 
at the last" and it is not even clear what this would mean, if the 
first question and the last question are different. Remember, votes 
in deliberative process are generally Yes or No. Not A, B, or C.

> > 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.

Yes. And it is best if they change *during* the election process, 
particularly after voters become more informed due to that process, 
both as to arguments and facts that might affect their vote, but also 
as to the opinions of others and the balance of power of those opinions.

>  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.

Hopefully, it isn't noise. Change in opinion can come from wavering 
and what I had for breakfast, but "clear trends" don't result from 
that, in general. Rather they result from, often, learning.

>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.

In a deliberative body, there is no "person in charge of deciding 
when the vote is held." A chair may function in this way, but only 
with the consent of a majority. Typically, Robert's Rules requires a 
two-thirds vote to close debate and proceed to vote, so if a chair 
decides, "It's time to vote," and starts to say "All those in 
favor...." anyone can "Object!" And then the chair is obligated to 
respond, most normally by asking for a motion to close debate, to 
"Call the Question." Usually that motion would be made and seconded, 
and then the chair would hold an immediate vote. Not on the main 
motion, but only on the motion to close debate and proceed to vote.

Note that if a majority really considers it an emergency to go ahead 
and make a decision, they can override this whole process, bypassing 
the normal cloture rules. In the U.S. Senate this was called the 
"nuclear option," because it is seriously dangerous, uprooting 
precedent. There better be a good reason!

In practice in large deliberative bodies, some persons can hold 
serious power, allowing them to determine timing. But this is, in my 
view, a corruption of democracy made possible by the needs of large 
assemblies for efficiency of process, and better avoided -- and I 
think there are ways to avoid it.

>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.

It can be. And, in fact, I agree that in large groups, it normally 
becomes quite difficlt. And this is where most people stop.

But what if there is a way to reduce a large number of people to a 
small number, acting on behalf of nearly all of the large number? 
Take whatever number is a good compromise between full representation 
and process efficiency, i.e., making full consideration possible of 
all needs that are at least represented by a member of the reduced 
group, and set the assembly size at this number.

This does not have to be a real assembly, it could be a working group 
or committee within one. Or just an independent organization of voters.

And this is Delegable Proxy, as we expect it could be used, and we 
propose the *immediate* -- i.e., as soon as possible -- formation of 
Free Associations to use it to seek consensus and then recommend it 
to members. These are "Free Associations" because they are free in 
many respects, most notably they are, as associations, free from 
bias, and they leave members totally free with regard to the exercise 
of power. There is no "dictatorship of the majority" in them, because 
the FA is not actually making the final decision on anything, that 
power remains with the members. The FA merely acts, through 
*complete* representation -- as nearly complete as is possible -- to 
find a maximized agreement *prior* to participating in public process 
such as elections.

>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.

Sure, but *who decides the balance.*?

My claim is that the proper arbiter is the majority, acting directly 
or by proxy.

What some utopians try to do is to set up a rigid system to enforce a 
presumed balance.

But if the majority is informed -- or, more likely, those who 
represent it are informed -- the majority can presumably consider the 
argument that a premature decision will harm society.

A good system for making collective decisions will, in my opinion, 
maximize the intelligence and wisdom of these choices, and I think I 
know how to do it.

And if it is correct, my understanding, a relatively small 
organization using these principles would generally be more 
successful than those using alternative principles, and thus might 
grow rapidly. It starts with a very few people who understand the 
concept.... and that is extraordinarily difficult to find.

Even though the concepts are very simple, from my point of view. 
There are maybe two or three people in the world that I'm confident 
understand it. That's progress. Several years ago there was maybe 
one. At this rate, how long will it take?

(My guess: about ten, maybe twenty years before FA/DP *or something 
better* is exercising major influence. It could be as little as a 
year, though, or it could take longer. Or it could become moot.)

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