[EM] The path to election reform, was Re:

Kevin Venzke stepjak at yahoo.fr
Sat Dec 6 11:13:40 PST 2008


--- En date de : Jeu 4.12.08, Abd ul-Rahman Lomax <abd at lomaxdesign.com> a écrit :
> > Ok, so sincerity doesn't matter. It's a red
> herring, it's something not
> > to be dwelled upon.
> My, my, is this an appeal to the common meaning of
> "sincerity"? After all we've done to point out
> the technical meanings and to respond to others who have
> called these words "terms of art," i.e., not to be
> taken in their common meanings?

No, it was almost certainly me trying to summarize something you had
said. I'm pretty sure you have said yourself that sincerity is a red
herring. Whether you were then using a different meaning of "sincerity,"
or a different context, is difficult for me to tell.

> Voting is a choice, not a sentiment. Consider a voting
> method as a black box. It has some controls on the outside.
> You manipulate the controls and you influence the result.
> How the controls translate to influence is well known, with
> simple methods, not necessarily with complex ones.

I'm starting to wonder whether this viewpoint is of any use to you.
It seems to me that perhaps all you can do with it, is argue that the
placement of the Approval cutoff need not correspond to any absolute,
abstract preference.

> Certainly a voter may push the buttons
> "insincerely." But that would mean, to me, that
> the voter does not seek to maximize the outcome. A vote for
> a frontrunner in a Plurality election, if the voter would
> prefer someone else, is that "sincere"? 

Either answer is possible.

> Does your
> answer change if write-in votes are allowed? (Usually,
> voters have someone else that they could write in whom they
> would prefer.)
> My contention is that the frontrunner choice is a sincere
> expression of preference within the narrow confines of
> casting an effective vote, making the real choice. It is
> *not* a sentiment, and, in fact, it does not even express
> any kind of absolute approval. It is a choice constrained by
> practical reality, generally.
> The expression of sincere preference is a fairly *easy*
> method of voting, and a system which responds to this well
> is clearly better than one which does not. The question is
> "responds to this well."
> Open Voting (Approval) responds well to the expression of
> sincere preference; however, it is like Plurality in that
> one cannot express sincere preference for one candidate
> alone without, sometimes, concealing a preference. However,
> the Approval expression is always sincere, or may be seen to
> be so, once it is understood as a set preference rather than
> a single preference. Yes, it takes more judgment to make a
> choice of a set rather than of a single individual. However,
> isn't it a good idea to empower voters who will exercise
> judgment?
> In Approval, these voters who take advantage of strategic
> knowledge never, as a result, vote insincerely. (At least
> not to maximize results). Their vote is always a sincere
> preference for a set over the remaining set.) But it does
> conceal an exclusive preference, sometimes. Rarely,
> actually. (By definition, most voters prefer one of the
> frontrunners and therefore vote for one of them sincerely.)
> We can call a vote concealing preference
> "insincere," but that does, indeed, take the
> meaning quite away from the common meaning. Note that if the
> voter bullet votes for the favorite, the voter is similarly
> concealing other preferences within the rejected category.
> If equal ranking in the presence of a preference is
> insincere, then *every Open Voting vote is insincere.*
> It's *impossible* to vote sincerely, under that view.
> Which is why the view is actually preposterous.

Well, that's not how I would argue that Approval encourages "insincere"
voting. But that's a separate issue.

So, one would rather say that every strategic vote is at least at the
same time sincere.

One could say that this is a bit of a trick. We can say that Approval
doesn't have "insincere strategic" votes, due to the way the method works.
But clearly it can only work this way by lacking a great degree of

> The question before us is really this: is it better that
> voters vote "strategy free," which is equivalent
> to voting "zero knowledge," or is it better that
> they adjust their votes according to their understanding of
> the context, i.e., what other voters think.

First of all I don't know what you mean when you say that voting
"strategy free" is the same as voting "zero knowledge."

My answer to this question is that I'm not sure; I think it depends; I
also think it's probably a moot point.

> To me, the gold standard is the degree to which a voting
> system mimics good deliberative, unlimited-ballot, process,
> where any result, however we got there, is validated by a
> majority before being effective.
> And in such a process, the voters have interacted with the
> rest of the electorate, in order to discover some
> compromise. A good voting system extracts the information
> from the votes that allows it to imitate this process. It
> assumes fixed preferences, those expressed at the time of
> voting, which is, indeed, an inherent defect in
> single-ballot deterministic systems. In a deliberative
> process, the electorate learns, it does not merely express
> preferences. Myths are dispelled, facts come out that were
> hidden or unnoticed before.
> In any case, it's obvious that preference strength
> matters. If there is a way to determine absolute preference
> strength, it would produce superior results, with proper
> use, than any method which doesn't use this. Such a
> method then allows a rough prediction of how the
> negotiations of deliberative process would go. We can
> predict that those with a weak preference will be more
> willing to compromise than those with a strong preference.
> Any method which satisfies Later No Harm must not provide
> this information, or, at least, must not use it. This is why
> Later No Harm is actually, itself a poor election criterion.

I think that is premature. Of course this makes sense if we're only
discussing FPP and IRV, and there aren't many other choices. But the
methods MMPO and Woodall's DSC method satisfy LNHarm, and it wouldn't
be true to say that they don't use the lower preferences. They just
are careful to not use those preferences against the voter.

> Voters may desire to vote Later No Harm, but this is the
> kind of concealment of preference that reduces election
> efficiency. It is a concealment of true preference
> strengths, so, again, any method which follows Later No Harm
> has *required* the concealment of preferences. We avoid some
> level of strategic voting by *requiring* all voters to vote
> that way.

Ok. That is an interesting argument. It seems to work in favor of Approval
against both IRV and Range.

> But if some voters conceal preference, and others do not,
> with a good method, the results are better than if *all*
> voters conceal preference. Further, a good method allows the
> expression of all significant preferences without harm to
> the voter. "Harm" must mean, not that the voter
> fails to get their first preference, but that the preference
> strength between that candidate and the winner is not
> minimized. Since IRV is not monotonic, as an example, it can
> seriously harm the voter's interest if that is expressed
> sincerely. The only reasonable defense against this
> criticism of IRV is that this is rare. 

That's not very generous. I can think of a couple of defenses. One would
be to point out that it is necessitated by the other criteria that IRV
satisfies. All things being equal, I consider LNHarm more desirable than
monotonicity, for instance.

> Strategic voting, if we allow it to include the deliberate
> concealment of a preference (or minimization or maximization
> of preference strength -- they go together), as distinct
> from the old meaning, reversal of preference, in Range,
> harms the outcome. It does not harm the voter, if done
> wisely. For the voter, the expected outcome is improved.
> Now, this seems, at first glance, to be a problem. It
> rewards, on the face, "selfishness."
> Yet that this does harm can only even be perceived if we
> have sincere Range votes, for all voters, to compare the
> results with. Range strategic voting does not harm results
> to the point where they become as inefficient as those of
> less accurate methods.

If you're talking about simulations now, this doesn't seem to be true.
"Strategic" Approval (however that was defined) was worse than the
sincere Condorcet method. You can say that it isn't fair to compare
strategic Approval to sincere Condorcet, but there aren't any serious
alternatives for comparison. It's an "unknown" at best for Approval.

I'm not sure we really need simulations for this. I try to imagine how
insincere Condorcet voters would have to be, to reduce the quality of
the method to the equivalent of only having two rank levels.

> Indeed, since a maximized vote in
> Range is an Approval style vote with an accurate prediction
> of who the frontrunners are (or, alternatively, a vote which
> is maximized with the frontrunners, and certain other votes
> may be fully sincere -- accurate -- and may still indicate,
> in high-res Range, preferences, but not necessarily
> disclosing accurate preference strengths), the efficiency of
> Range must vary between that of Approval and
> all-voters-fully-sincere-and-accurate Range, and the mix is
> monotonic, i.e., the results will improve with the degree of
> accurate expression.

What I am unable to get past, is that there is no theoretical reason
for Range voters to vote "accurately" other than that we can agree that
we would like them to. So the accurate, non-strategic Range voters are
either voting in error, or they are choosing to play nice.

I think it would be reckless to just assume we would get this, so I
cautiously view Range as exactly the same as Approval. Approval is in
my top 5 list, if I were able to propose something. But I have 
reservations about it, and think we can probably do better without losing

> In an election like this, I'd always have a runoff.

If you simply have a runoff, what's to stop clever candidates from running
with a clone? Do you think these candidates' supporters would become
offended by this behavior?

> The point is that, yes, if the isolated voters are
> exaggerating their expressed preference, the overall result
> has not been optimized. But by how much did it fall short?
> Very, very little. In the Range 100 example, overall
> satisfaction, assuming that the isolated voter really had
> the same preferences as the others, only reversed, has been
> damaged by 9999 minus 9801 = 198, which is 2.0%.

I'm not sure how you can tell whether this is big or small. Typically
one's vote makes no difference at all.

> > > Under many voting systems, a voter may vote a
> preference
> > > that is not the voter's true preference,
> specifically,
> > > that *reverses* preference. The most common form
> of this is,
> > > of course, voting for a frontrunner in Plurality
> when one
> > > would prefer a different candidate *if that
> option were
> > > considered possible.* In the U.S., where write-in
> votes are
> > > generally allowed, this means that *almost
> always,* voters
> > > are voting *insincerely*
> > 
> > But this is subject to a certain interpretation of
> what sincerity means
> > under Plurality.
> Indeed. What I've been pushing for is precision in the
> definition, not just the sloppy use of a very hot-button
> word without careful definition and application. Many
> writers, early on, noted that "sincere vote" with
> Approval did not have a clear meaning, that there wasn't
> just one "sincere vote," there were many. 

By "writers" are you talking about published articles, or EM participants?

> Within
> that many, though, most didn't define some as
> "sincere" and others not. That came, I think,
> later, where writers started to assume that the voter had
> some absolute approval cutoff, and was concealing that by
> voting differently. This is underneath most of what I've
> seen as criticism of Approval on the basis of
> "vulnerability to strategy."

The criticism could rather be that Approval *requires* strategy, which
means it isn't clear how to translate sincere preferences into an
Approval vote, which means that, once you have identified the Approval
winner, it is extremely difficult to explain why that is a good winner,
in terms that relate back to the original sincere preferences/utilities.

> We need to define "sincere vote," as it applies
> to voting systems, using a uniform definition that applies
> to all methods, or we cannot determine whether a method
> encourages "sincerity," or treats sincere votes
> properly. What are sincere votes?

I don't think we will be able to define it. I don't think we need to,
on this list. We can define what we mean when we make the claim.

If we could agree on what "sincere vote" means, then yes, we could go
around advertising our methods as certified as Strategy-Free. And this
would help us gain followers.

> > I'll say I agree with you, that Plurality creates
> incentive to reverse
> > preferences, and that this destroys information, all
> things being equal.
> Sure.
> > Ok, but you can interpret voters to be voting for
> lotteries no matter
> > what the method is or even if it isn't a method
> but some other framework
> > for a decision. If the action is consistent with what
> you prefer, then
> > it is sincere.
> That's correct. The vote is a sincere expression of
> preference among lotteries. So all voting systems, seen in
> this way, reward sincerity.
> Which points out, really, that sincerity is a red herring.

What I repeated at the beginning of this post, surely.

> What we need to do is look at how systems treat (1)
> preference reversal, i.e., clear insincerity, (2)
> concealment of preference, and (3) fully sincere votes. 

I think you are breaking this down more than is desirable. I'm not sure
these categories are useful. #3 is probably meaningless under Approval,
so that gets us nowhere. Regarding #2: Isn't there (or couldn't there
be) a qualitative difference between IRV's treatment of lower preferences,
forced compression under Approval, and, say, truncation?

> So if
> you like a third party candidate, you can decide how much
> you want to risk the election of that candidate, and if you
> wouldn't mind terribly, give him or her some votes. This
> is why Warren thinks that Range will have an incubator
> effect. We will see some kind of sincere ratings of third
> party candidates. And a centrist might actually win, if most
> voters prefer that centrist to either extreme among the
> major parties. Rationally, that would mean that they would
> rate the centrist higher than 50%. But "strategic
> voting" may cause them to rate the centrist lower. This
> is another example of how strategic voting can harm results.

Though, when you aren't aware of the assumption that voters may play
nice under Range, saying that "strategic voting can harm results"
is happily not very meaningful.

What you're talking about here isn't even "playing nice," it's more
like using lower ratings as loose change to toss into an (inadequate)
street musician's hat. I'm not clear on what motivates that either.
I don't think I've ever wanted to communicate to a candidate that they
aren't acceptable (i.e. worse than what I expect out of the election
after considering both frontrunners' odds), but should keep trying.

> > However, this is a completely different notion of
> "sincerity" from what
> > we mean when we say that FPP encourages insincere
> voting in the sense
> > of "order reversal" in the sense of
> "voting for a candidate who isn't
> > your favorite in the abstract sense."
> Yes. But what I'm doing here is noting that the common
> meaning of sincerity does not automatically apply to voting
> systems. The real argument is that votes are choices, not
> sentiments.
> If we want optimal results, we need to find ways to
> encourage sincere voting, that's true. But we need that
> preference strength information to optimize results. 

What if you can't get it? I think you can only get it indirectly, by
forcing voters to make strategic decisions.

> Only with Range, though, does it even become possible to
> exaggerate preferences. And the meaning of
> "exaggeration" is unclear, we have to define what
> a "fully sincere" range vote is, and that is not
> particularly easy. 

Well, I think it's fairly easy. Especially since you are totally free,
as far as I can see, to declare that normalized ratings are sincere.

> But we can say, as with Approval, that
> any vote that does not reverse preference is not insincere.
> And then we say that "fully sincere" means that
> preference strength is expressed with reasonable accuracy,
> fidelity to true underlying utilities, and thus useful for
> finding compromises assuming that further information cannot
> be obtained (as with a runoff).

You can do this, but as soon as critics realize that in order to speak
your language they need to use the concept of "fully sincere," you'll
find you haven't gotten very far from them.

> Range makes it *possible* to move beyond the assumption of
> fixed preferences. 

Well, the Range *ballot* does.

> It does not guarantee that we will, but I
> don't see that, when it does not, it has therefore been
> a net harm over fixed preference systems.

Certainly difficult to say for sure.

> Plurality is generally considered to satisfy the Majority
> Criterion. (Actually, I think Woodall may have concluded
> differently, but I don't have the reference handy.) 

Well, I have told you at least twice that the reason Woodall says
Plurality fails Majority is because his "Majority" criterion is not
the same.

Here is an example.

7 A
6 B>C
5 C>B

According to Woodall's Majority criterion, the winner must be B or C,
because more than half of the voters are solidly committed to the set
of candidates {B,C}. Plurality elects A and thus fails the criterion.

It would be misleading to say that Woodall says that Plurality fails 
the Majority criterion without clarifying that he doesn't use the same
definition of the criterion.

> So why is Approval considered to fail the M.C.? Believe me,
> I've been around and around this in other discussion.
> It's because multiple approvals are considered sincere
> votes, so the voter has voted sincerely. And voting
> sincerely has been considered the necessity in deciding MC
> compliance. Why was that the definition?

Actually most of us define criteria to avoid referring to sincerity at
all. The real question is how to interpret the approval ballot as a
rank ballot.

It is certainly possible to say that Approval satisfies Majority, but
it is at least as possible to say that it doesn't. It you interpret
the approval cutoff as something external to the underlying rank ballot,
then it surely doesn't.

> It wasn't mentioned in the early definitions. In fact,
> those definitions did not even mention the possible gap
> between voter preferences and voter votes.

They should not mention them, in my opinion.

> Why is all this important? Because these terms are bandied
> about as if they condemn a method. "Rewards insincere
> voting!" "Fails the Majority Criterion!"
> "Vulnerable to strategic voting." I just saw
> someone write that, sure, with "sincere votes,"
> range is an ideal method, but "because it is vulnerable
> to strategic voting, I cannot support it for public
> elections."

I don't really see what the big problem is. Even if you don't like the
terms being "bandied about" you can at least understand the criticism
being made.

You don't need the term "Majority Criterion" to understand the criticism
that Approval can fail to elect the favorite candidate of a majority
even when the voters are not being fools. Won't happen often? Doesn't
matter. That's how criteria work, as you know. It's not a wording problem.

I know you dislike the term "vulnerable," but it seems to me that the
criticism that Range is "vulnerable to strategic voting" is at least
quite clear in what it refers to.

> > Ok. So Range ballots could permit the collection of
> information needed
> > to provide an "optimized outcome," if the
> voters are accurate, which
> > they won't be, because there is no specific
> meaning to the ratings they
> > can give.
> That's not true. It's just that there is not *one*
> specific meaning. It's like Approval in that way.

Ok. How far do you think this realization would get us? It seems to me
that even if everyone agreed that Approval and Range allow multiple
sincere and meaningful votes for a given set of sincere preferences, 
the criticisms would still be exactly the same. Only the terminology used
might change.

Surely all this discussion isn't just to get people to change the terms
that they use...?

> Or we could just start with Bucklin. Simple. Allows the
> expression of preferences (up to three in Duluth Bucklin).
> Phases into Approval as a majority winner is not found with
> a canvassed rank. Add in the next rank votes. Preferential
> voting method that incorporates Range-like characteristics
> and is not vulnerable to Center Squeeze. At least not as
> seriously as IRV. We still see Center Squeeze if all the
> voters really want Later-no-Harm and insist on it by not
> ranking anyone else.

I'd rather "start" with MCA (two rating levels plus the option to
not rate at all) and stay there, as I think MCA is at least a little
better than Approval.

> (I've proposed, yesterday, a hybrid IRV/Bucklin method
> that allows voters to insist on LNH compliance with their
> votes....)

I'll have to find this as it's not clear to me how this would work.

> > In this discussion we probably should not use the term
> "strategy-free"
> > except in cases where there are no meaningful
> decisions.
> My point is that it was used that way, in peer-reviewed
> publications, with a lot of agreement, re Approval.

Did anyone use it that way who was not advocating the method?

> > Well, none of this matters much as long as we use
> consistent terms
> > when having a discussion.
> Perhaps. But a discussion will also be read by many others.
> It's tricky to use words with a specialized meaning when
> a larger audience will read the text with generalized
> meanings. Hence "accurate," which itself needs
> definition, is far less a loaded term than
> "sincere." Accurate raises the immediate question
> "accurate to what?" And that's what a reader
> would need to know.

I want to note that I'm only interested in the terms used, in order
to understand the underlying issues. I'm not interested in discussing
what terms *ought* to be used.

> The point is that the additional preference information
> available in Range does not harm the outcome over not
> allowing that information.

However, this argument is only useful when you're talking to an Approval

> Okay, Approval may encourage third parties. This is a real
> objection which has been used, in the past, against both
> Bucklin and IRV. It's false with IRV, we are pretty sure
> about that. Bucklin might be the same, actually. (All this
> is irrelevant with nonpartisan elections, by the way.)
> Approval, I'd guess the same. Not much of a real help,
> because it takes away the stinger that third parties can
> threaten major parties with. Listen to us, or we will run a
> spoiler. Range, though, does something else, a little better
> than Approval. It allows a measurement, not perfect, but
> better than what we have, of real support for a third party,
> because the expression of this is safe. It would allow major
> parties to detect a third party sneaking up on them, and to
> become more responsive to the positions of this party before
> it whacks them upside the head in a surprise election. They
> can tell by the votes how many of *their* voters are
> impressed by the third party and might switch. It may not
> eliminate the party system, but it will surely make it more
> responsive.

My feeling lately is that it might be better to arrange the incentives
of a method so that a third candidate is likely to be able to gather
enough support, as opposed to simply getting rid of all barriers to
entry, which could tend to leave the two frontrunners unharmed.

Kevin Venzke


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