[EM] GOLD voting: the most practical PR proposal?

Jameson Quinn jameson.quinn at gmail.com
Mon Jul 3 10:14:28 PDT 2017

I sent essentially the same message as below, with a different subject,
earlier today, to the same two lists. I'm re-sending it now because on
second thought it should be in its own separate thread. The only changes
between the below and the earlier message, besides the subject line, are:

   - I've fixed the copy of the webpage at the end to reflect the latest
   - I mention precinct-summability as an advantage of GOLD.


I designed GOLD voting
specifically for situations like BC, and I put the finishing touches on the
system in response to my simulation results based on the BC outcome. So I
think that GOLD is basically the ideal proposal for BC, as well as being
uniquely well-suited as a reform in the US context.

(Note: at the end of this email, I'll paste the current version of the
electorama page)

What's good about GOLD? I think the starting point for asking that question
is first to establish what voters (and, insofar as they're not in conflict
with voters, politicians) are looking for from a voting system.

And that brings us to the mydemocracy.ca poll. That poll had some serious
flaws: it tended to pose its questions in the form of "A or B" false
dilemmas, rather than just asking "How important is A? How important is B?"
In fact, the entire poll can be seen as a strategy by the Liberals to
deep-six election reform. Nevertheless, the poll is, as far as I know,
unequalled for its sample size in probing the electoral values of an
English-speaking population accustomed to FPTP.

So, what did it find? What do Canadians think their electoral system should
be like?

   - It should lead to a greater diversity of views in Parliament (65%
   agree, 13% disagree; and 70% want power to be spread over more than just
   one party).
   - However, it should not lead to too many small parties (59% agree, 41%
   - Ballots should remain relatively simple (59% agree, 41% disagree).
   - MPs should be more accountable to their constituents than to their
   party (77% agree, 23% disagree).
   - The poll did not ask whether voters believe that the “constituents”
   mentioned above must be defined by geographic area (riding). However, when
   asked to pick the important values from a list of various possibilities,
   “governments with strong representation from every region” was picked by
   49%, and “MPs who focus primarily on the interests of their local
   community” by 42%.

These results were spun by Trudeau and the Liberals as “mixed”, and he
reneged on his promise to support and implement PR. But there is nothing
“mixed” about it. There’s a clear mandate for reforming the voting system,
and it’s possible to design a voting system that fulfills all of the above

GOLD is one possible outcome of such a design process. Furthermore, having
gone through this process, I think that many of the decisions involved in
GOLD's design are clearly the right ones. I'm certainly not saying that
every detail of GOLD as it's currently written up on electorama is beyond
debate, but I do think that the basic skeleton of the idea — in particular,
optional delegation and localized ballots — are pretty well-justified.

I'm posting this message to both electionscience at googlegroups.com and
election-methods at lists.electorama.com. On these lists, we like to talk
about theoretical aspects of voting methods. Give us a good debate about
Phragmen vs Ebert or about Sainte-Laguë vs D'Hondt, and we're happy. But I
actually think that, when it comes to proportional methods, these debates
are secondary. Between FPTP and PR, there's a yawning chasm; between
Sainte-Laguë and D'Hondt, or between the honest outcomes of proportional
range voting and of Bucklin transferable voting (to give arbitrary
examples) the difference is in almost all cases a small handful of seats or

So the important questions aren't the details of the proportionality
formula, but rather practical matters like ballot design.

As far as I can tell, the PR options generally considered for a case like
BC are dual-vote MMP; multimember-district STV; or open list. All of these
are decent systems. But none of them comes close to matching GOLD at
fulfilling the values above.

   - Delegation and localized ballots allow GOLD to give much simpler
   ballots than STV.
   - The fact that voters have the option to vote out-of-district and/or
   not to delegate means that voters have much greater power and politicians
   have much more accountability than MMP or open list.
   - Pre-eliminating all but the "top two" (occasionally one or three) in
   each district provides an incentive against party fragmentation. This is
   better than STV, and transfers let it naturally avoid the wasted votes of
   similar mechanisms that can be added to MMP or open list.
   - One important advantage of GOLD is that it only changes the FPTP
   outcome insofar as it has to to achieve proportionality. This makes it
   much, much less of a threat to incumbent politicians, especially insofar as
   those politicians won "fair and square" under FPTP. (That is, without
   relying on natural or artificial gerrymandering, negative campaigning, or
   other pathologies of FPTP.)
   - In the US context, compatibility with current federal law is an
   additional advantage of GOLD.
   - GOLD is also precinct-summable, unlike STV or many other "advanced"


So I think GOLD is the gold standard. But is that just because I'm the one
who designed it? The burden of proof is on me to show that it's not. In
order to meet that burden, I'm interested in having as broad a dialogue as
possible about practical PR reform proposals. Does anybody here think that
MMP, STV, or open list is a better proposal (that is, given similar
investments in activism, more likely to catch on and spread) than GOLD? Are
there other new proposals that offer as many advantages as GOLD does?


ps. Here's the current GOLD webpage from Electorama:

Geographic Open List/Delegated voting (GOLD voting) is a proportional
voting method for electing legislators to a multi-seat body. Its main
advantages are: simple ballots, minimal wasted votes, and "do no harm"
(that is, it doesn't change FPTP outcomes unless they're non-proportional).

It assumes the voters have been divided up into one equal-population riding
(aka district or constituency) per seat being elected and that each
candidate has publicly declared their preference order for the other
candidates ("if I don't win, then I want the votes I hold to go to her,
then him, then him, etc."). Precisely one representative per area
(district, riding, or constituency) will win.

Here are the rules. Items in italics are mere explanations or
justifications; the rules themselves are only the non-italic portions.

Voters make two different choices in each race:

   1. *Choose a candidate*.
      - The ballot lists the candidates running locally, with their parties
      and their first three transfer preferences (explained below).
      - Voters may write in candidates from further away.
   2. *Choose a transfer method* for when your first choice is no longer in
   the running. There are 2 basic options:
      - *Open list*: Trust the *voters* of your chosen candidate’s party.
   - If your first choice is no longer in the running, your vote is
      transferred to the remaining candidates from your chosen party, in
      proportion to the number of direct votes they got.
      - This is the default if you vote for a local, non-independent
      - *If every voter chose this option, this would be like an “open
      list” voting method; that is, seats would be divided proportionally by
      party, and go to the highest vote-getters within the party.*
      - *If you choose this option, your vote will never be transferred out
      of the party. Since independent candidates are considered to each be in a
      party by themselves, voters for those candidates should only choose this
      option if they do not want their vote to be transferred.*
   - *Delegated*: Trust the *candidate* (that is, the pre-declared
      preferences of your chosen candidate.)
   - Each candidate must publicly pre-declare ordered preferences between
      the other candidates. If the candidate is no longer in the running, these
      votes will go to the highest remaining candidate on their pre-declared
      preference list.
      - *This is the default if you vote for a non-local and/or independent
      - *If a voter mistakenly marks both transfer methods, the default
      applies (as if they had chosen neither).*

The basic vote-counting process has 5 steps (based on Single Transferrable

   1. Tally votes
      - Each ballot counts as 1 point for the chosen candidate.
   2. Eliminate candidates without enough support in their riding
      - The top candidate in each riding, counting local votes only, is
      never eliminated.
      - The second candidate in each riding, counting local votes only, is
      eliminated only if their local votes are fewer than half those of the top.
      - Others are eliminated by default, surviving only if their local
      votes are more than half those of the top AND their total direct votes
      (including non-local write-ins) are more than those of the top local
      candidate. (For this rule, "top" is counted by local votes only,
but "those
      of" includes non-local votes.)
      - *This makes sure that no riding is badly mis-represented just
      because a given party "deserves" more winners.*
      - *It also helps discourage voters from splintering into small
      single-issue parties. If a party can’t pass this threshold in even one
      riding, it won’t get seats. But those votes can still be transferred, so
      those voters can still be represented by a relatively
sympathetic candidate
      from a slightly larger party.*
   3. Find winners and transfer leftovers.
      - If V is the total number of valid (non-exhausted) votes, and S is
      the number of unfilled seats, then a “quota” is defined as
Q=V/(S+1). This
      ensures that each full “quota” of voters will get a seat, with less than
      one “quota” of vote left unrepresented even though they still
have a valid
      - Any candidate with a full quota of votes at any time is elected. If
      their winning vote total is W>Q, then the leftover fraction
(W-Q)/W of all
      of their votes is transferred.
      - Whenever a candidate wins, all other candidates from their riding
      are eliminated.
   4. Eliminate the candidate who's furthest behind in their riding and
   transfer votes
      - *If a candidate's current full tally is 1000 votes (including local
      votes, direct write-ins, and transferred votes), and the top
full tally of
      any remaining candidate in their riding is 2000, then they are
1000 behind
      in their riding.*
      - *This rule means that the last remaining candidate in a riding is
      not eligible for elimination.*
      - See above for the transfer methods a voter can choose.
   5. If there are still seats to fill, repeat from step 3.

Once all winners are chosen, each winning party is responsible for
assigning each district they did not win to be "additional territory" of
one of their winning representatives. Representatives are responsible to
all citizens from their own district, and also to hear petitions from their
"additional territory". That means that if you are in the minority in your
district, you will still have a sympathetic representative to petition.
Proportional or semiproportional?[edit

GOLD voting is proportional in a two-party context. If there are more than
two parties, though, it is only semiproportional; smaller parties without a
clear regional character may get less than their proportional share. But if
that happens, their votes will not be ignored; they will have a say on
which of the larger parties gets more seats, and even on which candidates
from that allied larger party win. Thus, a smaller party will be able to
promote their issues by favoring those candidates who prioritize those
issues. Also, if there are two competing party coalitions, with all voters
choosing one of the alliances and all candidates preferring same-coalition
candidates over opposite-coalition ones, then GOLD will be fully
proportional between the two coalitions.

Note that other proportional voting methods sometimes are used with extra
rules designed to stop fringe parties from winning seats. For instance, in
the German mixed-member "proportional" method, a party that gets less than
5% or 2 direct seats does not get a proportional allotment of seats. Thus,
technically speaking, even the German system is really only
semiproportional, not truly proportional.

The advantages of this method are as follows. First, the advantages common
to all proportional representation methods:

   - Equality: partisan gerrymandering is impossible, and each party gets
   its fair share of seats.
   - Representation: Almost all voters are truly represented; even if you
   are a minority in your district, your vote helps elect a candidate of a
   party you sympathize with.

This method also keeps all the strong points of the current voting system.
(The current system is horrible in general, but it still has its strong

   - Simplicity: you just choose one candidate, and the ballot is short.
   - Accountability: voters, not parties, choose who is elected.
   - Unity: discourages splinter parties, because candidates without a
   strong local base of support are eliminated up-front.
   - Geography: Everyone has a representative who lives relatively close to

Similar methods[edit

OL/D voting
basically the same, but without the constraint of one candidate per riding,
and with a slightly weaker elimination rule.

Proportional 3RD voting
<http://wiki.electorama.com/wiki/Proportional_3RD_voting>: a similar
system, for a nonpartisan context without ridings.
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