[EM] Democracy Chronicles, answers to interview questions

robert bristow-johnson rbj at audioimagination.com
Fri Apr 6 12:45:14 PDT 2012

On 4/5/12 2:36 AM, Richard Fobes wrote:
> Great news:  The online newspaper named "Democracy Chronicles" wants 
> to write an article about our "Declaration of Election-Method Reform 
> Advocates"!
> The article also will cover what goes on in this election-method forum.
> Below are the questions that editor Adrian Tawfik is inviting us to 
> answer.  Clarifications follow the questions.
> Question 1.  Your name and the city and country you work in.

    Robert Bristow-Johnson
    Burlington, Vermont, USA

> Question 2.  What is your Company or Organization?

self employed.  when i get work, it's usually about signal processing of 
audio and music signals.

> Question 3.  Any contact info you wish to give to be published with 
> article for readers (for example your email or website.)

   rbj at audioimagination.com

> Question 4. If you have signed the Declaration, is there any 
> additional information, beyond what's in your signature, that you feel 
> is important to mention?
> Question 5. If you have not signed the Declaration, why?

i had a couple of problems.  two that i remember is that it cited the 
2009 Mayoral election in my town, Burlington Vermont, as an example of 
the failure of Instant Runoff Voting, and, indeed IRV *did* fail that 
year (and has been repealed the following year, by a small margin).  but 
the reason given for the dissatisfaction of Burlingtonians mentioned in 
the declaration is not accurate.  the Burlington voters are not as 
sophisticated as folks on the election-methods list or otherwise engaged 
in election reform.  the reason given is more of a reflection of what 
persons who study these different methods have for rejecting IRV, but 
voters that voted to repeal IRV in Burlington believed (incorrectly, 
IMO) that IRV robbed the Plurality winner of his legitimate election.  
most of us on this list understand that the root to the failure of IRV 
that year was that the Condorcet winner (a.k.a. the "pairwise champion") 
was not elected.

the *main* problem that i had not signed was that the message of the 
solution is diluted among many alternatives, most IMO, have an 
ice-cube's chance in hell in ever being adopted in a governmental 
election.  i am convinced that only the Approval ballot or the Ranked 
ballot (which is the same ballot used in IRV) has any chance of 
adoption.  except for contests (like the Olympics), i am convinced that 
the Score ballot (used also in Majority Judgment) has utterly no chance 
of ever being adopted.  this is mainly that complicated ballot structure 
and instructions will be rejected immediately by voters and legislatures.

my objection to the Approval ballot is that it leads *immediately* to 
burdening voters with a tactical decision (which is the main reason we 
adopted IRV over Plurality in the first place).  the voter has to decide 
whether or not to approve of his/her 2nd choice (and possibly his/her 
3rd choice) and, even if the voter is savvy, making the best decision 
(to best promote this voter's political interests) requires accurate 
polling data so that voter knows which candidates are truly contending 
for the elected office.

that leaves the Ranked ballot (the same as IRV and it has also been used 
historically in Bucklin voting), but a Condorcet-compliant method of 
tabulating these ranked ballots is far better than IRV.  i think Bucklin 
is just too goofy to be used for anything, and had been surprised to 
learn that it had actually been used in governmental elections in the 
U.S. in the past.

> Question 6. Briefly explain what characteristics you think are most 
> important for a voting method to have?

fairness.  this mostly means equal influence by each voter with 
franchise ("One person, one vote).  any method should resolve the 
election precisely as the "simple majority" method would between two 
candidates.  this means simply, that if a simple majority of voters 
express on their ballots that Candidate A is a better choice than 
Candidate B, then Candidate B should not be elected.

simplicity.  both in ballot form and instructions.  voters should not be 
faced with some complicated ballot when all they want to do is vote for 
the candidate(s) they like.  and the method of tabulating the ballots 
and picking the winner should be *conceptually* simple, even if it might 
take a computer to do it.

avoiding the burden of tactical voting.  this is related to "simplicity" 
but it is an issue only if there are more than two candidates.  we do 
not want to place a burden upon voters to have to decide whether to vote 
for the candidate they really like vs. compromising and voting for the 
candidate they think *can* get elected and isn't one they hate.  it's 
about avoiding the typical "spoiler problem".  this is also necessary so 
that Independents and Third Parties have an even playing field in the 
election.  with Plurality, many voters who might prefer an Independent 
or Third-party candidate will think that only the major parties really 
can get elected and they will not want to waste their vote.  so they 
vote for the major-party candidate that they dislike the least and two 
major parties are entrenched in our politics.  then we all are stuck 
with a choice between Dumb and Dumber in some elections when there 
exists a Smart alternative.

decisiveness.  delayed runoffs are a bummer.  when an election goes to 
runoff, then *all* sorts of money gets poured into the race as the 
legitimate loser tries to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat.  about 
half as many voters turn out for the runoff as do for the original 
election.  elections decided by fewer voters are less "democratic" 
(representative of the will of the electorate) than those where the 
turnout is large.  elections should be fully decided the evening of 
Election day, unless the vote margins are sooo small that a recount is 
in order.

transparency.  IRV has a problem that neither Plurality nor Condorcet 
nor Approval nor Score voting has.  IRV is not "precinct summable" 
because, for the entire jurisdictions ballots are transferred from one 
pile (belonging to a candidate who is being eliminated) to other piles 
(the voters' alternate choices) and this must be done at a central 
location.  so the Precinct or Ward Clerks cannot simply count votes on 
location and provide these sub-totals to interested parties (like the 
media and the campaigns) for them to total up separately to check on the 
official election results.  a physical instrument representing each 
ballot (usually a thumb drive) must be transported securely from the 
precincts to the central location where all the ballots are dealt with.  
some people might wonder if something fishy happens in that transport or 
even in the software that does the counting at the central location.  
this can sometimes reflect negatively on the legitimacy of the election.

> Question 7. What do you think is the most important election reform 
> needed where you live (either locally or nationally)?  Why is this 
> reform important?
we must reduce the influence of big money.  the most important reform of 
our time in the U.S. is reversing the Citizens United ruling and 
previous Supreme Court Rulings that equate free speech with money.  
doing so will reduce the election season (which is continuous with the 
U.S. presidential election, Romney has been running continuously since 
2006 or 2007) and save literally billions of dollars.

i think that, in a utopian context, the Ranked ballot decided by a 
Condorcet method, should be routinely used in all elections.  i would 
like to see the virtual stranglehold of influence of the two major 
parties reduced.

> Question 8. What is your opinion on other aspects of election reform 
> such as reforming money's role in politics or redistricting 
> (particularly in the US but very interested as well concerning 
> election reforms internationally)?

well i consider the money problem to be even worse than the Plurality 

i do not have a solution to redistricting (here in Vermont, it is *not* 
a very contentious issue, they are finishing it now and it has 
tri-partisan support), but i think it should be left to *commissions*, 
not the legislatures who are exactly the people affected by the decisions.

also, i am not sure that the method of Congressional apportionment (the 
"Huntington-Hill method") between the states is the method that makes 
the most sense from a mathematical and simplicity POV.

> Clarifications:
> * This article is about our Declaration, and about the election-method 
> reform concepts you think are the most important.  If you want to 
> propose an article about a different topic, I'm sure that Adrian would 
> be happy to consider it.

i can send Adrian a pdf of a paper i wrote in 2009 right after i 
discovered that the IRV election failed to elect the pairwise champion 
(a.k.a. Condorcet winner) entitled something like "The Failure of 
Instant Runoff Voting to accomplish the very goals for which it was 
adopted.  A case study in Burlington Vermont."  it basically dissects 
what happened in the infamous Burlington 2009 mayoral election and how 
Condorcet would have corrected the problem.


r b-j                  rbj at audioimagination.com

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."

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