[EM] A design flaw in the electoral system

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Fri Oct 7 02:19:24 PDT 2011

Dear Juho and Fred,

> > Your vote never made a difference.  Most people feel uncomfortable
> > or perplexed in this knowledge, and I think the feeling indicates
> > that something's wrong.

Juho Laatu wrote:
> I'm not sure that most people feel uncomfortable with this. Many
> have learned to live as part of the surrounding society, and they
> don't expect their vote to be the one that should decide between two
> alternatives.

I certainly never expected my own vote to be decisive in an election.
But knowing it has *no* effect on the outcome?  This is unexpected and
makes me uneasy.  (more below)

Fred Gohlke wrote:
> re: "I say that electors are physically separated from their
>       ballots ..."
> This is the point I don't understand.  What do you mean by
> "physically separated from their ballots"?

I mean the ballot goes in the ballot box and the elector walks away
without it.
> When there are candidates for an office and a voter expresses a
> preference by voting for one of them, how could the voter not be
> physically separated from the ballot - and why is it important?

The importance lies in being able to trace the structural fault and
other societal failures back to this physical separation.  Here's an
updated graph: http://zelea.com/project/autonomy/a/fau/fau.xht#REL

      Rounding procedure
   (a)       |
             |        Objectively
             +---->   meaningless vote     ----+
             |                                 |
   (e)       |                                 V       (b)
             |                    (ab)
      Disconnect between elect-            Structural fault between
      -or and ballot in flawed   ------>   person and vote in
      electoral procedure                  society
             |                                 |
   (f)       V                                 V       (c)

      Flawed model of social               Power vacuum
      world in count engine                    |
             |                                 V       (d)
   (g)       V
                                           Collapse of electoral
      Invalid decision                     system onto party system

      =========================            =========================
      Formal failure of          ------>   Actual failures in
      technical design                     society

   [REL] Causal relations.  The direct causal relations among flaws,
   fault and failures (a-g, ab) appear to establish an indirect
   relation (h) between a formal failure of technical design and
   actual failures in society.

Leaving aside the obvious physical relation (ab), consider how the
separation is causing (e) the meaningless vote.

   ... since the meaninglessness of an individual vote arises from the
   objective certainty that the vote is *not* a source of decision,
   the flaw can only (e) be contributing to that meaninglessness; in
   fact, by separating the elector from the ballot and the voter from
   the voter, it closes off all possible avenues for the voter *as
   such* to overcome (a) the rounding procedure at election's end.
   This seals the vote's formal fate as a numerical nullity. [RP]

How could a voter not be separated from the ballot?  Consider how an
informal process of decision plays out in a small group.  The means of
assent here is a semi-formal signal - an "aye" or nod of the head -
that is equivalent to the ballot, but inseparable from the person.
Consider the role played by such signals and the persons who *as
signallers* remain in control of them.  Imagine one person is nodding
in agreement to a proposal, while another is shaking her head.
Observe how the other participants respond to these signals, and the
level of energy they put into trying to understand each other, and to
helping the group as a whole reach a decision.  These observations
would go some way to answering your question, because the participant
in such an informal decision group (or even a formal triad) is
effectively an elector in possession and control of his/her ballot.
Call him a voter.  We could ask, "What effect did this voter *as such*
have on the decision that was reached, or anything that followed from
it?"  In most cases, the answer would be incalculable, tied up in a
web of cause and effect that plays out endlessly.  We might say it was
"boundless", or that it hovered somewhere between zero and infinity.

In further reply to Juho, I would offer this indeterminacy as an
alternative to the apparent dilemma of no effect vs. decisive effect.

 [RP] Once separated from the voter, the effect of the individual vote
      is nullified by the rounding procedure that translates a
      fine-grained sum into a coarse-grained outcome (who gets into
      office).  In that rounding, the effect of the fine grain is lost
      (originally discussed with TE, Skype 2011.10.1-3).

Michael Allan

Toronto, +1 416-699-9528

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