[EM] Voting systems theory and proportional representation vs simple representation. (Abd ul-Rahman Lomax)

Kathy Dopp kathy.dopp at gmail.com
Sat Mar 13 12:53:47 PST 2010

Abd ul, I agree with virtually all you say that I had time to read,
but would prefer party list voting over asset voting simply because it
forces the #1 elector, as you put it, to state in advance who he will
nominate with any excess votes and also in some systems gives the
voters a chance to vote for changes in the order of the list.  This
gives options to those voters who are well-informed that asset voting
does not.


> Date: Sat, 13 Mar 2010 14:53:52 -0500
> From: Abd ul-Rahman Lomax <abd at lomaxdesign.com>
> To: EM <election-methods at lists.electorama.com>
> Cc: EM <election-methods at lists.electorama.com>
> Subject: [EM] Voting systems theory and proportional representation vs
>        simple representation.
> Message-ID: <20100313195610.C65308DB0062 at zapata.dreamhost.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"; format=flowed
> Voting systems theory should properly be a subtopic within social
> choice theory, which is -- or should not be -- based on instantaneous
> process, as from a single ballot, but from the whole set of
> procedures whereby a community of interest discovers and makes choices.
> In small-group process, choices by secret ballot are quite unusual,
> outside of elections, and, again, in such process, even with secret
> ballot (which is by no means universal), voting is traditionally
> vote-for-one, with a majority required for a result to be declared,
> otherwise the election is null as to legal effect and "must be
> repeated," in the language of Robert's Rules of Order. Which means,
> among other things, no eliminations are automatic, they are voluntary
> or up to whatever renomination process is used. However, the repeated
> ballots are based on information from prior ballots as to likely
> results, thus the results shift as voters compromise their positions,
> with communication outside the ballot process being quite likely. In
> the end, the proof of adequate compromise is in a result approved by
> a majority, and, in some organizations, even a supermajority is required.
> Generally, standard democratic choice is through votes which are Yes
> or No on stated propositions, which are themselves amendable through
> Yes or No votes on proposed amendments. The amendment process
> typically procedes until there is a supermajority in favor of closing
> debate and process on each amendment and then on the main motion.
> Thus a single final Yes or No decision may have been preceded by many
> polls, compromises, etc.
> Elections with multiple candidates might be seen as an exception;
> however, if the majority requirement remains, it represents a
> collapse of a longer process that would be the more rarely used
> election by orginary motion. Election by motion is, intrinsically,
> with adequate participation, Condorcet-compliant, and probably tends
> to be more social-utility optimizing than we might expect, in healthy
> organizations.
> However, with public elections, and particularly with secret ballot
> and the lack of an ability to conduct repeated ballots in short
> order, the focus came to be on methods of determining some kind of
> ideal winner from a single ballot, and this has suffered from lack of
> precision in the definition of "ideal winner," there are competing
> criteria that can sound optimal at first blush that may not be so.
> Returning to basic social choice process, it is easy to demonstrate
> that, under some conditions, the winners required by the Majority
> Criterion or the Condorcet Criterion may not be ideal, with ideal
> being defined as a result that would be approved by *all* voters
> given full information. (I have used the "pizza election" to show
> this, with an "ideal result" that would be approved unanimously by
> voters, even though the first preference of a supermajority of voters
> was different.)
> It is possible to roughly predict such results using social utility
> analysis, in situations where true absolute voter utilities are
> known. Those situations are rare; however, their value was not
> recognized by Arrow et al. Individual voter preferences are not fixed
> things, they are an interplay between the voter's ab initio
> preferences, which may be initially uninformed, and the preferences
> of the rest of the society. It is possible for voter preferences to
> actually reverse based on knowledge of the preferences of other voters.
> But when it comes to representation in public process, where scale
> does not allow direct participation by all voters, it has sometimes
> been assumed that representatives would be chosen based on overall
> utility for each choice, and this is diametrically opposite to the
> principle of representation by choice, as distinct from
> representation by appointment. I.e., the King might appoint a
> representative for a colony, that's by appointment, obviously. A
> choice of a single representative for a community by majority vote
> (or worse, plurality) is representation by election for the community
> as a whole. But it is not representation of the individual voters by
> choice, and those who did not explicitly accept the winner cannot be
> said to be personally represented in whatever decisions the elected
> representative makes.
> Proportional representation was intended to address this, bringing,
> at least and in theory, various factions to the legislative table so
> that they may negotiate more broadly acceptable solutions, which then
> become, to the extent that they are, in fact, more broadly accepted,
> unifying factors for the society, which increase efficiency and
> voluntary compliance and support and a sense of connection with government.
> However, the concept of representation remained collective rather
> than personal, severely limiting this approach. Generally, with PR,
> it is a party that is represented. If one is in a minority in the
> party, one can easily end up inaccurately represented. A totally
> different possibility has been suggested from time to time, but it
> has never, to my knowledge, been used in political elections. It's
> standard practice with corporations, in theory, though it is in
> practice corrupted by certain power-centralizing practices which were
> allowed to disrupte the democratic character of corporate elections,
> and shareholders were not sufficiently organized, independently of
> the corporations -- centralized power -- to resist this.
> Corporations generally allow proxy voting, so that those who actually
> vote in corporate elections or other decisions made at regular
> meetings of the shareholders are casting votes not only for their own
> shares (if they have any, there are professional proxies who do this
> representation), but for those who have voluntarily chosen them as
> representatives.
> Attempts have been made to apply this to public elections. I forget
> the city, but there was a proposal in the early 20th century to hold
> an election for a City Council where, in the council, representatives
> would exercise the votes they recieved in the general election. This
> would have been, for the first time, true and accurate representation
> before the Council. Because some council members would have many more
> votes than others, others would have less; this would produce a more
> representative result than a scheme in which votes are allocated to
> seats equally, because smaller groups could still obtain seats.
> (Assume a fixed number of seats. Suppose the top N vote-getters are
> elected in a vote-for-one election. Look at the minimum number of
> votes obtained by a candidate who nevertheless obtained a seat. In a
> system which redistributes votes somehow so that a faction with 2Q
> votes gets two seats, and Q votes are required to win a seat, and
> there are N seats, compared to one where the top N candidates get
> seats, with variable voting power, it's obvious that since for some
> seats in the latter case, more than Q votes were obtained, some must
> have less, and thus smaller factions get representation.)
> Arguments against systems like this, on the face, seem to be based on
> the idea that it would assign too much power to individuals, though
> the power of an indivicual councilmember would probably be less than
> that of, say, a single elected mayor; I would more precisely claim
> that opposition is based, in the end, on distrust of democracy.
> Fortunately, a relatively simple system, rooted in early study of
> Single Transferable Vote by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll),
> published in 1884 or so, allows the creation of a peer assembly,
> where all seats represent exactly the same number of voters. Dodgson
> recognized a basis fact of electoral democracy, one which actually
> underlies the power of Plurality Voting and explains why, in spite of
> its obvious deficiencies, it has remained: most voters have
> sufficient information to be clear about their Favorite, but may have
> much less information about lower preferences. Thus preferential
> ballot, so easily seen as obviously superior, may be collecting
> noise, unless special importance is given to the first preference.
> And where that preference is not strong, this, too, may be quite
> noisy. Dodgson harness the power of first preference, to create
> accurate proportional representation that did not effectively
> disenfranchise those who only voted for one candidate (when that
> candidate did not win). He hit upon the idea of what Warren Smith
> later called Asset Voting; it was earlier known as Candidate Proxy
> when proposed by Mike Ossipoff and Forest Simmons in the late 1990s.
> In an STV election, let the candidate in first position on any
> otherwise exhausted ballot recast the vote.
> Dodgson's proposal was lost in the noise for a long time, even though
> he's been considered one of the foremost experts on voting systems of
> the nineteenth century. The implications and possibilities are
> enormous, from such a simple tweak.
> A long time ago, the United States was founded on rhetoric about "No
> Taxation without Representation." But I have personally never been
> represented by anyone I chose, nor, even, by the somewhat lesser
> standard of being represented by someone who was chosen by someone I
> chose. In direct democracy (i.e., New England Town Meeting
> government), I can vote directly on many issues. But as the scale has
> increased, this ability is almost always lost, for reasons that are
> obvious and that are not addressed merely by devices such as internat
> voting. Deliberation by representation is essential when the scale
> becomes large.
> And no voting system that massively anonymizes the process can
> actually create this, no matter how idea the system seems on pater as
> to "social utility" or various measures of representational quality.
> What Asset Voting would do is to create a set of "electors" who then
> *publicly* elect an assembly to actually conduct legislative
> business, which could include the election of public officers, which
> can then use the highly effective deliberative processes, not
> depending only on limited single-ballot procedures or even restricted
> ballot (i.e., top-two runoff, as an example).
> I would know where my vote went, exactly, I would know if it was used
> a part of the election quota, or perhaps was wasted, and if it was
> wasted, in general, I'd know that the candidate I trusted might be
> responsible. I've recommended the Hare quota, i.e., a fixed quota
> designed to set a maximum number of seats, not to necessarily elect a
> fixed number. I.e., if candidates holding the dregs cannot find
> compromises, they and those they represent lose representation, until
> and unless they do compromise. If Assembly rules require, at least
> for some purposes, an absolute majority of the theoretical maximum,
> there is no gain in power by refusing to compromise, there is,
> instead, a small loss.
> Under these conditions an absolute majority of the Assembly would,
> with absolute free choice in representation, represent a majority of
> the electorate. I know of no other proposed system of proportional
> representation (other than variations such as the early 20th century
> variable voting scheme described above) that can accomplish this.
> Because the electors are public voters, who have assigned their votes
> in a public process, it also becomes possible to separate
> deliberation and aggregation. I do not know how much difference this
> would actually make, given how freely seats would be elected, but if
> electors are allowed to vote directly on any issue before the
> assembly (other than Questions of Privilege, another matter), the
> seats can be seen, then, as representatives in deliberation and only,
> in aggregation, as "default voters." The process would work fine if
> no electors vote directly, but it means that the dregs, the votes not
> used to elect a seat, would not be wasted, they could still be
> exercised, if the electors took the trouble. It means that an elector
> might more readily make a compromise based on general usefulness in
> deliberation, even if the elector fears that he or she will disagree
> with the choice on some issue. An elector holding a lot of votes
> might have some significant impact, if the vote was close in the Assembly.
> Asset Voting could create a penumbra of electors who serve as
> intermediaries between anonymous voters and elected seats. Electors
> are directly chosen, presumably with little or no restriction. I
> could choose someone with whom I can actually sit down and talk. My
> elector will generally be known as someone with influence over the
> seat, because the votes are explicitly known. Asset Voting would
> connect me with the Assembly. To get something to the floor of the
> Assembly, I'd only need to convince my elector that it's worthwhile,
> and then the elector must convince the holder of the seat. Yet
> general noise, bad ideas, etc., would tend to be filtered out, but
> not with simple rejection and igorance, as happens at present. My Bad
> Idea would be rejected, hopefully, by a specific person, either my
> elector, or, at the next step, my elected seat. Who can explain it,
> through the elector. Someone I trust, in general. If it actually goes
> before the Assembly, then I know that it has a shot at being
> considered by a wider group. If for some reason, my elector and seat
> aren't willing to consider it, I can find anyone else with a
> different elector, and the idea has a shot.
> For very popular electors, the scale would be too large, and I'd
> expect the system to adjust toward smaller and smaller vote counts
> for electors, with, possibly, intermediate aggregations, more or less
> along the lines of delegable proxy. But delegable proxy could be
> totally informal, advisory, which is pretty much how I've proposed it
> everywhere. It's just a way of communicating in large-scale
> organizations, that can also help with very small-scale organizations.
> So I'm not terribly interested in methods of aggregating
> representation through theoretical optimization from a single ballot.
> They seems like utterly impoverished approaches to me, that would not
> result in true, clear representation. The social intelligence of a
> single ballot is very, very limited, given that alternatives not only
> exist, they are routine in small-scale direct democracy and in
> certain large-scale applications. Proxy voting is considered
> inappropriate in membership organizations, by Robert's Rules of
> Order, for reasons that I won't go into here, but RRONR was
> contemplating only direct democracy, as practiced and implemented for
> centuries, and, I'd suggest, the arguments against proxy voting were
> shallow, mostly based on the idea that property rights are not
> represented; they are quite in favor of proxy voting with respect to
> property rights.
> But ... what if the members of an organization are encouraged to
> think of the organization as "theirs" in some way? What if the
> property right analogy is more applicable than was thought, what if
> this would encourage a deeper sense of participation and "ownership"?
> If I invest a thousand hours of volunteer time in an organization,
> how is this different from investing thousands of dollars in some
> piece of property. The difference I see is that in the organization,
> generally a nonprofit, I don't gain "personal ownership." But there
> are other kinds of ownership, including collective pride and a sense
> of responsibility.
> However, Asset Voting only represents narrow representation by what
> resembles proxy voting, in the process of electing an assembly. I
> raise the ownership issue because, indeed, I believe that our
> societies will function better if citizens feel "ownership." I've
> seen it in small New England Town Meeting towns. Citizens have the
> sense that it is "their town" and "their town government." They take
> responsibility for the town and for each other. What if we could
> foster this on a large scale? Wouldn't that be interesting?
> The biggest opposition to Asset Voting, once the power of it is
> realized, would be from political parties and those who benefit from
> the divisions that political parties represent. Parties must
> amalgamate issues to be efficient, so minority representation gets
> lost; if you are, as an example, a Pro-Life Progressive (they
> exist!), you are out of luck. Even though, in theory, if you are
> truly pro-life you would also be against war and the corporate rape
> of the planet (from this point of view). Asset makes political
> parties much less important, I'd expect, because it's people being
> elected, not parties or issues, even though these people may have
> their own political affiliations and issues they consider important.
> They would not need to affiliate with a party to gain voting power as
> electors, and because the electors are a reduced set of voters, they
> might be readily elected based on personal communication within the
> elector body with no need at all for public campaigning, which
> requires major expense.
> Address campaign finance reform by making it unnecessary! Tell me,
> what would you think of someone who tried to persuade you to vote for
> them instead of a person you already trust, by spending a lot of
> money? Would you be inclinded to trust this person? I wouldn't! The
> very fact of campaign spending, in an Asset environment, would mean
> that the person has some axe to grind, some cause to advocate, a
> cause that can collect money, and the most obvious candidates would
> also be major sources of corruption, who, instead of relying upon
> cogent argument and relationships of personal trust, want to
> influence large numbers through media manipulation.
> I don't think this is a difficult argument to fathom! The fact is
> that most voters do *not* trust politicians, it's a profession that
> is down somewhere below "user car salesman." They don't trust them
> because they know that the system requires politicians to lie in
> order to gain enough votes to win election, and that politicians must
> also gain campaign funding, which is most easily gathered through
> large donations from special interests of various kinds. Voters
> nevertheless vote for these politicians, whom they do not trust,
> because they don't have any other better choice that wouldn't waste
> their vote. And many don't vote at all, because they have no
> confidence that their vote would make any difference at all.
> Asset Voting causes every vote to count, to make a difference. In the
> systems I'd propose, if you don't trust *anyone* (a bad condition to
> be in!), you can register as a candidate for a nominal fee and vote
> for yourself, and then participate directly in subsequent process.
> But most people would not bother with that, too much work for too
> little benefit, if one only gets one vote. (It might be necessary to
> get two or three or more, and registered candidates might be required
> to cast a separate identified preferential ballot when they register;
> the "two or three" might be necessary for security reasons. Details.
> If they get less than the minimum number, then, in the actual secret
> ballot process their vote would be reassigned to a candidate from
> their preferential ballot and the official results would only show
> that the candidate got less than the minumum, it would otherwise be
> anonymized. Under this scheme, candidates would not vote in the
> general election directly, they would vote by identified ballot.)


Kathy Dopp
Town of Colonie, NY 12304
"One of the best ways to keep any conversation civil is to support the
discussion with true facts."

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