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Mathematicians: Elections Flawed 752

Nader-licious writes "Science News Online reports: 'With recent reports of malfunctioning voter machines and uncounted votes during primaries in Florida, Maryland, and elsewhere, reformers are once again clamoring for extensive changes. But while attention is focused on these familiar irregularities, a much more serious problem is being neglected: the fundamental flaws of the voting procedure itself. Mathematics are shedding light on questions about how well different voting procedures capture the will of the voters.' The verdict: the U.S. system might be the worst of the lot."
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Mathematicians: Elections Flawed

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  • by WhiteChocolate42 ( 618371 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:19AM (#4587744)
    US the worst? You don't need math to figure that out, you just need to look at the results.
    • The best way? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:30AM (#4587780)
      The candidates we get to choose from are already chosen, and the ones elected by the people get rubbed out, so voting is mostly just entertainment.

      Having said that, and assuming one day democracy decides to rear it's head again, technology will not hold the key for the voting / tallying process. Small election halls with big chief tablets and number 2 pencils, and rotating citizen audits of the results, relative transparency - posting of *results* in hard copy and electronically. There is no other way. The current system is not trustworthy, adding technology to the mix just gives more excuses and less transparency for regular non ninja bit nerds. Follow the yellow brick road boys and girls, and mind your heads.

      • by rseuhs ( 322520 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:42AM (#4587827)
        Currently, power is shared between Republicans and Democrats.

        Neither would be happy if the system would allow more than 2 parties to exist, so neither will ever agree to a substantial reform.

        • This is true, as far as I can tell. They keep changing and raising the bar to getting candidates on the ballot, and re-organize districts to favor the major parties.
        • Unfortunately that may be the case. If you actually look at the vote Nader get & you translated that into seats on a proportional basis, you would see a different issue altogether. 2 Dominant parties, with a "balance of power" held by smaller parties, which in a mathemajikal way theoretically works far more democratically than the absolute powers afforded to parties at the moment. With the dominant party having to either get the aproval of (A) The other dominant party or (B) one or more of the minors, the government is forced to make decisions that theoretically must represent 50%+ of the mandate of the public.
          First past the post & Presidential systems just don't really cut it.
          Lost the presidency position and get a primeminister!!!!
          • by Thomas Miconi ( 85282 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:27AM (#4588048)
            The huge glaring flow in the US system is the fact that it is done in one single turn.

            When it comes to naming individuals (e.g. presidents), most countries use a 2-turns system.
            Usually, you can have as many runners as you want for the first round (16 at the last French election), then only the 2 highest scores are selected for the second round.

            This means that all ideas can be represented at the election, and influence the big parties, without hindering their chances.In a 2-turn election, Ralph Nader would have been ejected at the first round, and the world's future would not depend on a man that watches Korea through closed binoculars !

            Yet Nader's score would have prompted Al Gore to make small changes in his program in order to reap some of Nader's voters. Everyone would be happy: the most popular candidate wins, but the minority candidates can still express their views and actually influence government.

            This system has one big default, however: it is so efficient that people tend to rely too much on it. E.g. in the French election, 99% of voters were absolutely certain that the 2nd round would bring the good old traditional Center-Left vs Center-Right showdown (Jospin-Chirac in that case), so many people didn't even care to vote. This is even more true for center-left voters, because their candidate (Lionel Jospin) was leading in the polls for the 2nd round.

            And then they (we) saw Jean-Marie Le Pen's face on TV that night ...

            Ever heard about those people who buy highly sophisticated cars with all security options and then start driving like devils out of their boxes, thinking that with such a safe car you don't need to be careful anymore ? One day or another, they end up bumping into a tree or a wall. The 2-turns direct voting system is a very safe car. But the French are notorious for being awful drivers.

            Thomas Miconi
            • What wasn't mentioned at all in the article is that the US Presidential election is a two turn election. First we have primaries, narrowing each parties multiple candidates down to one party representative, who then goes on to campaign for and run in the presidential election.

              The most interesting aspect of election reform in my eyes would be the elimination of primaries. Why not have a presidential election with multiple candidates from each party, if we could vote for more than one? Certainly there are some republican candidates I would vote for above some democratic candidates, though this isn't usually the case. This kind of voting system would help me vote by valuesparties.

              Most importantly, with several candidates from each party, none would get a windfall of PAC contributions funding media blitzes. As a result the free press, word of mouth, and (dare I say it) the internet, would have a much greater relative impact on voter education and commentary.

              This would be a very good thing, far outweighing the additional benefit of a more accurate election day.
            • by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @03:07PM (#4589360) Homepage Journal
              99% of voters were absolutely certain that the 2nd round would bring the good old traditional Center-Left vs Center-Right showdown (Jospin-Chirac in that case), so many people didn't even care to vote.

              Yet, france had a 70% voter turn out, Far higher then any US elections :P
        • by the bluebrain ( 443451 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:12AM (#4587955)
          • Currently, power is shared between Republicans and Democrats.
            Neither would be happy if the system would allow more than 2 parties to exist, so neither will ever agree to a substantial reform.
          Yup. That is what I was missing in the article, too. Obvious, really: voting theorists deal with the theory of voting, not with the mechanics of change, and the question of what is politically doable.
          Point being, not only the incumbents, but also the lower echelons grew up with the current system, and they know how to play it - play being exactly the right word. I expect few professional politicians would want to change the system, because the change would cause uncertainty - they would rather be big underdogs in the current system, than risk even the very small danger of becoming bit players in a new one.

          A thought on this issue: as you say, neither the Dems nor the Reps would like to see the rise of smaller parties, because this would erode their influence (power base), and they would even (gasp) co-operate to keep the system just the way it is. However, if a party smaller party does grow big enough to be an "annoyance" to the established ones, the one more hurt by the smaller party will bring the issues in this article up - hence this discussion.

          For instance: the Dems would be prepared to give the greens say 10 seats in the senate, if the Dems in turn get the presidency - quite a likely situation if the voting procedures are changed as described.

          The point to which I have been coming all the while is this: in a one-dimensional political spectrum, the "right" is stereotypically more disciplined than the "left", i.e., they have a stronger belief in law & order, hierarchical systems etc. This means that if there is a small rightist party (e.g. a bunch of neo-nazis by anything but name) in a situation similar to the one in Florida during the last presidential election, their adherents will be more likely to follow the "orders" of the party leadership to vote for Bush rather than their own candidate (because Bush is better than Gore, and their own candidate doesn't have a real chance to win) than their "leftist" counterparts.

          This means in turn that the results of the plurality vote in the US is not only the two-party system that we observe, but also a slight shift to the right.

          In closing I must say that in my opinion, replacing the plurality vote would be the single biggest step the US could undertake to enhance its political image, pretty much everywhere else in the world.
          • by theduck ( 101668 )

            Significant change occurs in only one of two ways:

            • So slowly that no-one notices it's happening (i.e. the "how to boil a frog" analogy), or
            • So quickly that no-one saw it coming (i.e. revolution, but not necessarily violent revolution)

            The people in power typically have control over the slow method and those not in power over the fast method.

            So, no, we're not going to see either the Republican or Democratic parties do anything truly dramatic (though their spin doctors will make it seem so). They'll fight over the political center, which is where their path to power lies, and continue to slowly turn up the heat on the rest of us frogs.

            However, occasionally there will be opportunities for real change without revolution. They will typically be when something so shocking has occurred that a general (though usually directionless) unease occurs in the voting population. Jimmy Carter was the result of one of these opportunities...caused by national outrage at the abuse of power by Richard Nixon. Ross Perot capitalized on another. Whether either of these were (or had the potential to be) successful and lasting acts of change I'll leave to another discussion.

          • Indeed. Here in UK the Labour Party while in opposition (pre-1997) worked out an alliance with the Liberal Democrats, the third party in domestic politics, a central feature of said alliance is the introduction of some sort of proportional representation [].

            This measure, which would benefit the Lib-Dems (consistently polling at around 20% but obtaining only 8% of the seats under the first-past-the-post system) was scuppered after Labour unexpectedly won a huge landslide in 1997 and kept a large part of its majority in the subsequent election in 2001. The carrot is still being dangled though..
    • by salimma ( 115327 )
      Well, if you don't just count the acknowledged democracies, there are weirder election results to behold - for example:

      - the Yemeni presidential election [], won by president Saleh against a candidate from his own party who endorsed the incumbent with over 96% of the vote,

      - the Iraqi referendum [], extending Saddam's rule for another 7 years, won with 100% of the vote, with the result announced only a few hours after voting ends.

      Be grateful that at least in the US the vote count was mostly conducted in a fair way - it could be much worse :)
      • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @12:52PM (#4588488) Homepage
        If a system is shown to have a problem, you can't disprove that by showing that other systems have worse problems. If it shown that the problem is severe, you can't disprove that by showing that other systems have more severe problems. Therefore the decision of whether or not to fix the problem must be based solely on the existence and severity of the problem in the system of interest, not on problems in other systems.

        The only way it would be relevant to discuss Iraq would be if we were considering using the Iraqi system as opposed to the current one. Is that what you were thinking? Doubt it.

        "It could be worse" is what you say when you have decided that you can't change or that you don't want to change the situation.

        Which is why I expect to hear a lot of "it could be worse" from Capitol Hill if the issue comes up. :)
      • Saddam's... won with 100% of the vote

        Early returns were reporting Saddam with only 28% in favor, but then voting irregularities were discovered. It turns out that the results were tainted with a great number of votes from persons who were actually deceased. Once these votes were removed the final tally was 100% in favor.

    • by hype7 ( 239530 ) <{ua.ude.una} {ta} {0115923u}> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:58AM (#4587884) Journal
      philosophers have discovered that life isn't fair.

      -- james
  • Do not forget that the foudner sof this country never intedned the common man or women to choose our president..

    Thats why we have delegates to pick president instead of popular vote..

    The founders felt that the common man or wome was to stupid to effectively pick a president of a country..

    and the funny part is that they are right..when was the last time the common man and women of this country rejected what media and lobbyists tell us and vote with our minds and hearts? Not in the past 50 yearsd has this happened..
    • Absolutely wrong. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rjh ( 40933 ) <> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:38AM (#4587811)
      If the Founders felt the common man or woman was too stupid to pick the President, they wouldn't have permitted a popular vote at all. The Founders did think the electorate was ill-equipped to select Senators, and made special provisions in the Constitution for Senators to be elected by State legislatures as opposed to the people.

      If what you're saying was right, we'd see the President selected the same way. No, the Electoral College exists because of a concern they had in those long-ago days, a concern which is still very valid today: a concern that with pure direct election of the President, metropolitan areas would overwhelm rural interests and we'd wind up with a government "by the cities, of the cities" instead of one which represented the whole nation. If we had direct popular election of the Presidency, do you think the President would ever care about what concerns citizens in Montana had?

      Take a look at the county-by-county election returns from the 2000 campaign. It's an absolute sea of red, except for a few small blotches of blue up and down the coastlines and other small blotches in the Midwest.

      County-by-county, it was a Bush blowout. Not even close. We hadn't seen a county-by-county blowout like that since Reagan sent Mondale packing in '84.

      It was only in terms of pure popular vote that Gore nudged ahead. But, as it turns out, pure popular vote doesn't matter in Presidential elections. It's pure electoral vote that matters.
      • The question is:

        Should democracy be the choice of the majority of people or the majority of land.

        But of course a overrepresentation of minorities is important you can't let 5 wolves and 2 sheep vote about what to eat for dinner.

      • Re:Absolutely wrong. (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Theatetus ( 521747 )

        The Constitution does not prohibit the statewide plebiscites for the President, but it does not guarantee them either (ie, I can't think of a Constitutional challenge if a state decided to appoint its electors in some manner besides a statewide vote).

        Still, the electoral college seems like exactly the sort of thing the article was talking about: a tool to avoid some of the problems of a plurality vote.

      • Actually, the idea behind the staet legislatures electing their states' senators is that, in a federal system such as ours, the states needed representation at the federal level. The house represents the people and is elected directly by them. The Senate represents the states and is elected directly by them. Repeal the 17th Amendment!

        It was only in terms of pure popular vote that Gore nudged ahead. But, as it turns out, pure popular vote doesn't matter in Presidential elections. It's pure electoral vote that matters.

        Bush didn't win a majority of the popular vote, and neither did Clinton. In his first presidential election, Clinton actually had less of the popular vote than Bush did in 2000.
      • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:03AM (#4587908)
        If we had direct popular election of the Presidency, do you think the President would ever care about what concerns citizens in Montana had?

        Instead, we have a system in which the concerns of a few people in Montana have excessive influence over the whole country. If more people live in the cities, why shouldn't their concerns get proportional weight? What gives a person who is surrounded by big fields more importance than anyone else?

        We don't go around quoting: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and all acres are created equal, and a man equals 1000 acres." We shouldn't run the country that way, either.

        • Re:Absolutely wrong. (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Kierthos ( 225954 )
          Montana? Excessive influence? Sonny boy, with that statement, you've shown you know two things about the way the electoral college works: Jack and shit.

          Montana has three electors. Three. That's the least you can possibly have. There are 538 total electoral votes. You need 270 to "win" the Presidency.

          Unless it's a god-awful close election, Montana and other small states get ignored, because it's much more effective, politically, to focus on states like California (54 electoral votes), New York (33 electoral votes), Texas (32 electoral votes), and Florida (25 electoral votes).

          With those 4 states, you have 144 electoral votes. Just over half of the total you need. Throw in Ohio (21), Illinois (22), and Pennsylvania (23), and you're at 210 electoral votes. 60 shy of what you need, with 7 states.

          Get a few other states sewn up, and you're set.

          Montana and other rural states get screwed.

          The electoral college system should not be used as the end-all, be-all system. We need something that actually works.

          • While I agree with the general point you're making, the way you're making it is completely wrong.

            Obviously, Montana and other rural states do not get screwed, as they selected the current president. If you subtrack all the bonus electors given to states independent of population, Gore would have won in a landslide.

            Bush and Gore both used different quirks of the electoral system to attempt to win. Gore tried: Win by a Hair, and Lose by a Landslide. In the states he won, he did it by thin margins. In the states he lost, he did it by large ones (mostly :). Bush used another quirk: Small States Vote Twice. Since so many of the rural states share issues, it's *not* hard to campaign to them.

            If you took away only one of the quirks, so that small states don't get their bonus, Gore would have won by like (I forget) 36 or 44 electoral votes. But the actual popular vote still would have been incredibly narrow. There's no reason we should give Gore his manipulation, and not Bush.

            That's not the reason that we need the electoral college, though. As other posters have suggested, it's up to the Federalist papers to convince you of that :)
        • Re:Absolutely wrong. (Score:3, Informative)

          by call -151 ( 230520 )
          To illustrate the difference between the proportional weight of rural voters and urban voters, it may help to look at this map showing net return on the Federal dollar [] per state. (similar data in tabular form is here []. A state that gets as much Federal spending as it sends to the Federal government has a ratio of 1.0; the states that get more than they contribute include New Mexico ($2.07 in Federal spending for every Federal tax dollar) and Montana (1.62 ratio) and states that get less than they spend include California and New York ($.87 spending per dollar) and Connecticut has the lowest ratio at .63

          There is similar textual data at this link [], which compares the 1990 data to the 2000 data.
      • Re:Absolutely wrong. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:04AM (#4587912) Homepage Journal
        If what you're saying was right, we'd see the President selected the same way. No, the Electoral College exists because of a concern they had in those long-ago days, a concern which is still very valid today: a concern that with pure direct election of the President, metropolitan areas would overwhelm rural interests and we'd wind up with a government "by the cities, of the cities" instead of one which represented the whole nation. If we had direct popular election of the Presidency, do you think the President would ever care about what concerns citizens in Montana had?
        You hear this argument a lot from people arguing in favor of the Electoral College system. I don't think it accurately reflects the Founders' intentions -- they weren't so much worried about urban vs. rural (remember that the population of the US was overwhelmingly rural then) as about large states vs. small states, which isn't exactly the same thing. But it doesn't matter in any case, because the truth of the matter is, it doesn't work. Presidential campaigns overwhelmingly focus on "swing states" that are not only close in electoral terms, but also have large populations. In the current system, Republican Montana matters not a whit; neither does Democratic Delaware or evenly split New Mexico (which you may remember had just as close a vote recount as Florida in 2000.) Florida was where the action was in 2000 for a reason: there are a lot of people there. Big coastal states like Florida, New York, Texas, and California will always get more attention for this reason; if those states aren't seriously in play (e.g., as Texas an NY weren't in 2000) then attention shifts to big Midwestern states like Ohio, Illinois, and to some degree Missouri. Everyone else might as well not exist as far as national political strategists are concerned.
      • Maybe an alternative would be to lose the concept of President all together and replace that whole whitehouse cabinet vibe with a lower house or something with ministerial portfolios and a primeminister. Doing it that way, and with properly proportioned non-gerimandered seats you take the glamor-politic crap out of the system and replace it with a situation where the two (or more of you do it with proportional voting!!!) parties actually have to campaign on policy rather than the whole "Gosh, Gore sure is smart, but Bush just has nicer teeth" kinda garbage.
      • The Founders did not provide for a popular vote for the office of President. The President was to be elected by electors, who are chosen as follows:
        Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.
        By no means was this to be a popular election or anything close to it. This is a lot closer to the original method of selecting members of the Senate than it is to the method of selecting members of the House. In fact, it seems to say that the Founders felt that not only the common people but also state legislatures were unqualified to choose a president. The members of the Electoral College were originally not supposed to cast their votes according to the popular vote or even the vote of state legislatures; they were to select the president based on their own best judgement.
      • by Gregg M ( 2076 )
        Take a look at the county-by-county election returns from the 2000 campaign. It's an absolute sea of red, except for a few small blotches of blue up and down the coastlines and other small blotches in the Midwest.

        County-by-county, it was a Bush blowout. Not even close.

        Except when you take into account for population. Isn't that how someone should be elected? ... by number of votes? or should Montana win out because they have big splotches of no one living there?

      • It's silly to put forth the 'red and blue' myth as a criticism of winner take all national elections, as the red and blue map is just an artifact of the winner take all county map, which has no political standing in the race for presidency at all!

        This myth is thouroughly debunked here: Reddish Purple vs. Bluish Purple [] Fact is, if you look at the actual per-person vote, the country is not a "sea of red with islands of blue", it is instead varying shades of purple when each blue and red vote is counted.

        Further, with the archaic electoral system, persons in small states votes count many times more than individuals in large state's. If the USSC was really looking for a violation of the 14th A, they could easily find in an electoral system that makes some folks votes count far more than others based on their location!

        PS, It fully borders on sad to see the "red v. blue" myth still being faithfully repeated by the right wing, esp. in a /. article on the MATHEMATICS of ELECTIONS, fergawdsake!

      • Re:Absolutely wrong. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Guppy06 ( 410832 )
        "metropolitan areas would overwhelm rural interests and we'd wind up with a government "by the cities, of the cities" instead of one which represented the whole nation"

        That hasn't a damn thing to do with the Electoral College. The Electoral College's size is based on the size of Congress, so each state gets (population / X) + 2 electoral votes.

        Currently, the size of the House is capped at 435 by their own decision. This is relatively small enough that the two "bonus" electors states get from having two Senators makes a bit of a difference.

        But that 435 cap is artificial at best. Article I says that you simply can't have more than 1 member of the House per 30,000 people. Since our nation's population is pushing 300,000,000, the House could wake up tomorrow and decide that they will have around 10,000 members instead of 435. And when the Electoral College is that large, those two "bonus" votes each state gets would mean squat.

        But this is all moot. If the federal constitution wanted simply to protect the less-populous states, then the states would just have a certain number of "votes," which don't require actual electors. Instead, we vote for individual electors on election day.

        No, the point of the Electoral College was not only to create a body that decides on the presidency that is independent of Congress but also to keep the presidential constituency a reasonable size. When you only have a few hundred (or even a few thousand) people deciding an election, those voters can do silly little things forgotten about today like "ask questions," "argue with candidates each other" and generally "make an informed decision."

        We sure as Hell don't have that today. Today, we have televised debates (television only works one way, remember) where the networks, the parties and the candidates themselves decide what questions will be asked and answered. The main difference between what we "have" today and how the Electoral College was envisioned is the fact that, unlike network employees and party members, the people at the very least get to decide on who decides what to ask.

        Oh, and the fact that there are hundreds (potentially thousands) of presidential electors means that us normal voters will find those electors much more accessable than presidential candidates. And with that access, we could have done silly things like "ask questions," et al.

        Unfortunately, we currently have electors decided upon by straight party lines, with some states punishing "faithless" electors who don't vote for their party. Because we all know it's far easier for the parties to manipulate a constituency through radio and television than to have to deal with anybody face-to-face.

        As for the US Senate, the states decided upon their senators for one big reason: While political issues, political candidates, and even political parties come and go, the state is a constitutional republic, a collection of people choosing to live in a republic under a constitution they approved of themselves. The state governments are designed in such a way that the people feel that their state governments represent them as a whole, not just 50.1% of them. State governments were in charge of deciding upon their US Senators for the same reasons our national government is in charge of deciding on our ambassador to the UN.

        But, instead, we have the Seventeenth Amendment which gives much more power to the political parties themselves (how do you get to be "majority leader" without being a member of a political party?) and relegating our 50 constitutional republics to the status of mere lobbyists (literally! []).

        (Gee, why do I remember writing some of this stuff recently? [])

        In our country only 40% of the voters vote on straight part tickets. If that's not a damning indictment of party politics I don't know what is. So why is it that our "representatives" are so eagar to vote along party lines instead of listening to the real message the voters are trying to tell them?

    • by tdemark ( 512406 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:43AM (#4587830) Homepage
      Thats why we have delegates to pick president instead of popular vote..

      Why do people have such a problem understanding the Electoral College? It's a very simple process that, when it appears in other aspects of life, no body raises an eyebrow.

      For example, the World Series. Voting is equivalent to scoring runs. Each game is equivalent to winning a single state. To win the election you have to beat your opponent in four out of seven states. The total number of runs scored does not determine who wins - there have been times, in fact, where the winning team has scored less total runs than the losing team (1960 Series).

      Same analogy can be applied to the Stanley Cup Championship and the NBA Championship.

      Yet, no one is claiming that the team that scores the most overall should win, are they?

      Yes, this analogy assumes all the states are the same size and that it is only a two-party system; it's not perfect ... but, it hopefully shows that the system isn't as wacked out as it appears to be at first glance.
      • It's about Federalism -- the limited federal government providing some common services to the states which formed it (of course, the federal government has exceeded its mandate, and this is no longer really true). Under Federalism, the states elect the Senate (at least until the 17th Amendment was passed -- repeal! repeal!) and the President. The citizens elect the House.

        There's nothing to stop individual states from allocating their electors according to their own popular vote. If all the states did this, the citizens would elect the president by proxy, still, but it would not be a winner-takes-all situation like it is now, and would man that the winner of the popular vote would be the winner overall. The right place to lobby for that is in your state legislature, not the U.S. Congress. The Constitution puts the power in the hands of the states -- so, go to the states to change how electoral votes are awarded. The winner-takes-all system favors major political parties too much.

      • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:17AM (#4587986) Homepage Journal
        I think everyone understands the analogy between the Electoral College and series games. What you need to understand (although if you're a serious sports fan, you might not ;) is that who wins an election is much, much, much more important than who wins the World Series or the Stanley Cup. Really. "We wuz robbed" takes on a whole new meaning when the guys who robbed you don't just have a shiny trophy, but have the power to wreck your country.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...reads: (a)Jeb Bush (b) the incumbent and (c) the President's brother as your three choices on the ballot!
  • by oliverthered ( 187439 ) <(oliverthered) (at) (> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:27AM (#4587768) Journal
    Two candidates.

    • Nader, Gore, Bush, and the Independent and Libertarian candidates whose names I forget. Yup. Two.
    • by Dog and Pony ( 521538 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:06AM (#4587927)

      Jokes aside, I once got the American election system explained to me by an American. He said "You take two extremely right wing politicians (from the viewpoint of the rest of the world), one is against the death penalty, and the other is for. Now go vote."

      When I've told this back to others, they say that it is pretty much so - it doesn't matter who wins, it is basically the same anyways. Now that is what I'd call a big flaw. Personally, i wouldn't know if it is really that bad, since I'm not from the US.

      Also, I'd say the system where money wins (in the sense that only rich or company sponsored ones can afford the campaigns) seems very, very strange and fishy to an outsider. What view or standpoint would any rich or bribed politician share with me?
  • Also a good source (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:28AM (#4587774)
    A proof, I believe, is located here []. Interesting reading, considering that it says that a fair election is mathematically impossible.
  • by lpontiac ( 173839 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:30AM (#4587782)

    I'm an Australian, and we use the "instant runoff" system described in the article. My view on it is that rather than putting the most popular candidate into office, it keeps the least popular candidates out of office.

    There is a problem that the article neglected to mention - "how to vote" cards. Each candidate will generally recommend how they think people should vote - themselves first, naturally. The same sheep mentality that leads to 70% of the population voting for the same party every election leads to many religiously following these how to vote cards.

    The end result is a heap of wheeling and dealing between candidates for these "directed preferences." It even becomes a stick in between elections that the minor parties can use to beat a major party with; in a marginal seat, having a minor party favour you over your primary opposition can be the difference between winning and losing.

    • by Scarblac ( 122480 ) <> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:44AM (#4587833) Homepage

      The end result is a heap of wheeling and dealing between candidates for these "directed preferences." It even becomes a stick in between elections that the minor parties can use to beat a major party with;

      That sounds like a Good Thing. The winner of the election gets the seat and thus direct power, but smaller parties still get some power even though they're not elected.

      In a simple system where the highest number of votes wins automatically, it doesn't matter much what minorities want, once you have enough votes to win. Even in cases where the race is close so they do matter, this instant runoff system formalizes it (there is a clear minority party which makes it explicit who their voters should vote for next), making it a more direct process; candidates have a good view of the issues that matter to the minorities.

      So sure, it's a lot of wheeling and dealing, politics etc, but it sure seems to me it should work better at representing everybody's interests, at first sight.

  • Other voting systems abound. One alternative is the instant runoff...
    And it's very popular []. I was just reading about it because of some person's sig on slashdot in support of it. Hopefully the person will post to this story....

    Also, from the faq []:
    "Who uses IRV? Many places. Ireland to elects its president, Australia to elect its House of Representatives, and the American Political Science Association to elect its president. Cambridge MA uses a variant of IRV to elect its city council, and literally hundreds of jurisdictions, organizations and corporations use IRV around the world."
  • by The Original Yama ( 454111 ) <{lists.sridhar} {at} {}> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:36AM (#4587804) Homepage
    I'm quite partial to the Australian system (although I may be biased since I'm Australian). It is a variation on the simplistic British 'first-past-the-post' system. Basically, you number each candidate in the order you prefer, with #1 being your favourite candidate. When the votes are counted, they first tally all the #1 votes. If after that nobody has a clear majority (50% of the vote plus one), they count the #2 votes and add them to the #1 tallies. They keep doing that until someone gets a majority.

    What I like about this system is that you are not tying yourself to one candidate. Your vote won't be wasted if you vote #1 for a minority candidate, since if they don't win your next preferences may count. This also means that you're not necessarily guaranteed a win if you're in one of the larger parties.

    In the end (generally), you don't get an electorate that's split between people who did and didn't vote for the winner. Since everybody's preferences are taken into account, you get a decent compromise.
    • Not quite. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by himi ( 29186 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @12:50PM (#4588475) Homepage
      Well, not in federal elections.

      What happens is that the ballots which nominated the candidate with the least number of first preference votes are redistributed, with this repeating until one candidate has a clear majority.

      And our system was mentioned as one of the alternatives to the US one in the article - they called it a 'runoff' system. I rather like it, myself, though I reckon proportional representation might be better . . .

      Though proportional representation might have seen Hanson and friends in federal parliament . . . . A scary thought.

    • I'm quite partial to the Australian system (although I may be biased since I'm Australian)....

      I'm quite biased against the US system (although I may be biased since I'm a UStian).

      If you can see how the system works, and still be in favor of it, then that's a really good statement of confidence.
      The best thing I've ever heard said about the US system was "It's not as bad as all the others". But clearly the person who said that was forming his idea of the other from newspaper accounts.

  • Not the point (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ZoneGray ( 168419 )
    The point of having elections is not so that we can measure the will of the voters. Rather, we have them simply because they're a fairly orderly system for choosing people for public office. Remember the phrase, "democracy is the worst possible system, except for all the others." There's much truth in it. Ours is a very a stable system, survived the Florida fiasco with barely a hiccup. Trying to make it more "just" would probably make it less stable... for examply, should we make it so Democrats think it's more just, or so that Republicans think it's more just. Either would be a disaster. What we do have though, is something that's fairly good at guaging public opinion, and which is respected and obeyed, if not loved, by all the participants. Democracy isn't an end unto itself, it's just the best method of preserving liberty.
  • Who makes the voting machines, the ballots, and who dos voter registrations? Private companies, in a lot of cases.

    See the article here []

    Because current vote-counting systems are not sufficiently protected from manipulation, and are getting less and less auditable, it is now very important to know who has access to the machines. There is no place for secrecy in our voting-counting system. Secret voting, yes. Secret vote-COUNTING, no -- in fact, it's unconstitutional.

    For some inexplicable reason, the U.S. is rushing to eliminate the only physical record of the mark made by each voter, going to straight touch-screens with no paper trail. Canada doesn't allow this. Neither does Japan. Why are we so casually throwing away the only real audit trail that protects our vote?

    With touch-tone screens, we simply have no paper trail for millions of votes, with private, secret, and (according to computer security experts), insecure programming for vote-counting machines that invites tampering. It takes only ONE true believer with access to manipulate the counting code.

    Therefore, disclosure of ownership, flagging conflicts of interest, has become critical.
  • by NSParadox ( 135116 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:46AM (#4587840)
    Political scientist have known for years that the US election system does not capture the "will" of the voter as well as a proportional representation system. This math is certainly not new. However, there are a number of drawbacks to other forms of election that should be expounded on.

    1: In proportional representation, there are more likely to be minority parties with elected officials who have extreme/radical viewpoints that are dissimilar to the viewpoints of the "average" voter. Because of the US' election system, no candidate can choose to isolate a significant portion of the population with his views and yet still be elected, to a large "smoothing out" extremist policy. While many feel that this is a bad thing, almost all extremist policy is not realistic to implement, and partial or full implementation of this policy can cause a good bit of damage.

    2: In proportional representation, the government is generally unitary in nature, meaning that the entire government is controlled by one party. Although there are more parties beyond the controlling party and another party represented, they still have a HUGE capability to control government policy. If the party in charge changes (and they often change), the entire government policy may change as well. Imagine if a country implemented social security, and then cancelled it 12 years later because the Socialists were replaced by Libertarians!

    3: Most other countries do not implement a form of federal government. While this may work for countries where there country is roughly the size of a US region, it makes interests associated with a geographical locale very difficult to achieve. While every vote should be equal (or as equal as possible), the reality is that interests are largely decided by the environment of the voter, and partitioning the environment, and tiering government, means more interests of more voters are going to be met without completely missing the interests of other voters.

    4: Most unitary governments do not have a strong set of checks and balances; i.e., judges and execute officials are appointed via the parliament/prime minister, and the prime minister is elected by the parliament. The effect of this election policy is similar again to point 2: a shift in political power can cause a dramatic shift in policy in a short period of time because there are fewer roadblocks between the will of the current parliament and the implementation of that will.

    Out of all of the election policies I've studied, IGNORING THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE (because it's a system with several undescribed states, if we were to somehow reach one of those states by having an election of an official "tied" in enough ways we wouldn't know what the next step would be), I prefer the US government system. It's not designed to reflect the will of the people right now. It's designed to reflect the long-term interests of the people after filtering out extreme views. Its perponderance of gridlock has prevented so many stupid things from happening it's totally uncountable. That being said, I like the way Australian government is structured, except I REALLY do not like the idea of being able to put multiple candidates on a list. Political scientist mathemeticians have shown that by being able to list multiple candidates on a piece of paper, it increases the voting power of a citizen to > 1, and they can use these voting lists to perform elaborate tricks to achieve an end result which might not effect the will of the voting populace at all.

    Tired of rambling, so I think I'll stop here.

    • Political scientist mathemeticians have shown that by being able to list multiple candidates on a piece of paper, it increases the voting power of a citizen to > 1
      In instant runoff/alternative preference election, how does a citizen's voting power increase? Is it simply that one vote can choose which candidate is excluded, and thus if/how other people's votes are transferred? Or is it something else, that doesn't require knowledge of how other people have voted in order to abuse?
    • by theduck ( 101668 ) <theduck@newsgu y . c om> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:09AM (#4587938)

      Most other countries do not implement a form of federal government.

      We (USA) don't have a federal government, at least not in the pure sense of the word. We have a national government.

      What's the difference? Whether power resides primarily on the state or national level. A federal government represents and is controlled by a federation of smaller political entities (states, in the USA) where the true power resides. A national government represents and is controlled by a single national political entity that might or might not be comprised of smaller political entities.

      The single best way to determine whether you have a federal or national government is where the primary power of taxation resides since a government can do nothing without revenue. The political struggle between the federalists and anti-federalists in the USA centered mainly around this point. Oddly enough, there was the same confusion between the terms "federal" and "national" back then. Apparently, the Federalist marketers got their mits onto that confusion first, because the Federalists were actually for a national government and the Anti-Federalists for a federal government.

  • Instant Runoff Voting [] should be adpoted for elections. Heck, we use a version of it to decide what soft drinks to stock in the kitchen at work. Our variant gives everyone four votes, which they can spread among the choices as they see fit.

    From the site:

    The IRV works basically as follows: Instead of just casting one vote for one candidate, voters rank the candidates: 1,2,3, etc. (hence, the motto, "it's as easy as 1-2-3."). If no candidate receives a majority of the #1 votes, the candidate with the least total of #1 votes is eliminated. The second choice votes from these ballots are then transferred to the other candidates. The ballots are recounted, and candidates are eliminated in this fashion until 1 winner emerges with a majority of the vote.

  • This is *old* news (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Chacham ( 981 )
    Since democracies have started people have pointed out the flaws in the voting system. One specific critique was done by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carrol) which talked about the British system. Unfortunately, it was ignored.

    The University of Virginia, has been working with the Lewis Carrol Society of North America to print his many works (up to 3 of 9 last I checked). The third book, which is mathematical approach to politics, is availible here [] and here [].
  • biggest problem (Score:5, Informative)

    by SquierStrat ( 42516 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:55AM (#4587872) Homepage
    In my not humble at all opinion, the biggest problem is that our elections are from 7amto 7pm on TUESDAYS! They need to move the elections to Sundays and open the polls for 24 hours. As it is, alot of people are simply unable to vote because of work and commutes.
    • Re:biggest problem (Score:5, Informative)

      by call -151 ( 230520 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:19AM (#4587995) Homepage
      Absentee voting, for all the publicity it generated in certain recent elections, is appropriate for a wide range of situations. Every state I've voted in (seven, not all in the same year!) has had absentee provisions that would apply to awful commutes, for example. I do believe that there are some regions where in order to qualify for absentee status, you need to swear that you will be out of the district for the entire day, but I believe those are rare. Furthermore, in many districts, you can get "permanent absentee voter" status and just always vote conveniently by mail. It may have been meant for 80-year-olds, but that's no reason why everyone else can't have the convenience of voting easily and at a leisurely pace.
  • by CashCarSTAR ( 548853 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:56AM (#4587876)
    What do you expect from a flawed society? Seriously.

    Let's take the Presidential campaign of 2000. What choices did the people have. Let's take the two mainstream candidates first for example. Here's the story that was created by the media. You have the straight-talking cowboy with a heart of gold vs. the lying politician who can't even make up his mind on himself. And oh by the way, they will do exactly the same thing once they get in office. The people didn't stand a chance.

    Nader:Not a viable option. Not to the fact that he's a third party, but the fact that Nader was more concerned with burying the Democrats than actually convincing people of things. (I'm a strong supporter of the Green platform, so cut that one off at the pass)

    Buchanan:A viable option in my mind. People knew what he stood for. They just didn't like what he stood for.:)

    Libertarian:The Libs. have the same problem as the Greens, in getting out an actual platform. With the Libertarians it's a bit more ingrained because the platform sometimes falls into hypocritical thought. (Drug Laws Bad, Property Laws Good!..BZZZT)

    The problem in the US is not the voting systems. Well, the voting systems are a problem, but not quite in the way listed. The problem with US voting systems is that different areas use different voting systems with different margin of errors, which creates some differential in the actual vote count.

    The problem in the US is the entertainment base of the media. They try to create a horse-race out of EVERYTHING. They equivicate the Democrats and the Republicans on everything, and pretty much ignore anything that would pretty much end one of the parties. For example, a massive coverage of the Pitt/Webster scandal right now would in essence make the election next Tuesday unwatchable. Why? The result would not be in question. It doesn't make for good TV.

    News as entertainment. Sorry, I get enough of that from Jon Stewart. I want the rest of my news to be damn serious.
  • Anyone who has even a minimum grasp of basic voting theory knows that Kenneth Arrow proved in 1952 that there is no consistent method of making a fair choice among three or more candidates. Thus all voting systems are, in some respect, flawed.

    Short intro here []. Couldn't find a link to the proof itself, unfortunately.
  • by Wellspring ( 111524 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:59AM (#4587889)
    This is yet another in a long line of 'physical science rules misapplied to the social sciences.' A mathematical analysis designed to produce the guy who is everyone's best friend is all fine and good, but that's at best tangential to the real business of elections. Most people seem to have this vision that an election is a beauty pageant where a bunch of leaders are picked who then get to make all the decisions based on sweet reason. The real business of elections is to form mandate, consensus and acceptance.

    Mandate: The winner points to a large number of votes as a justification for his / her agenda.

    Consensus: The process of elections is designed to determine what kind of compromises among winners (remember that there are hundreds of elections at once) must be made to govern. Dozens of factions have to work together, and this is how the horse-trading happens that lets the hippies work with the union workers work with the trial lawyers.

    Acceptance: OK, you disagree with the results of the elections, and you can't find other factions that you are willing to work with. You want to be ideologically pure and go your own way, and you don't have the popularity to make it on your own. You at very least have to accept the process that got you there. Acceptance is what keeps us from breaking into violence after the election.

    OK, so how does our system fare?

    Well, that article addresses the question, "what is the best way to measure my Mandate" to the exclusion of all else. In other words, it measures elections as if they were opinion polls. I'll come back to it.

    In terms of Consensus, we have the best system in the world, which is why our government has only broken down into fighting once. In a parliamentary system, you get elected and then (as is happening in Israel) you form a coalition government by compromising with other parties to form a majority. So the people's will is measured, then a compromise is formed in a back room by elites.

    In our system, the 'spoiler' factor that the article describes as a bad thing actually helps. In the end, you pretty much have to be in one of the two major parties, or your vote is useless. That means you have to compromise with the religiously orthodox, small businessmen, and engineers on one side (broadly) and lawyers, teachers, union officials, and students on the other (again, very broadly). You have to do the compromising, so you decide exactly what kind of deal to cut in the primaries. The two parties meanwhile have to be as inclusive of compatible points of view as possible. So our system rocks at building consensus. People who hate compromising, of course, love parliamentary systems, which are more entertaining in academia or on TV, but are notoriously unstable.

    Finally, acceptance. Well, I think that our system has that, too, though it was strained in 2000 with the election fiasco, and events in NJ more recently.

    Anyway, that's what the point of our election system is. Remember, even in physics, examining a system is reflexive: it changes what you're looking at. Our system isn't a measurement, it is a way to arrive at solutions that get the most popular viewpoints across, a good compromise if your faction didn't win the primary but won the general, and at least confidence in the process if you didn't even win the general. I'd say our system is the best I've seen, compared to either paper plans or real life.
  • In the long run, math does not lie. The one with the most votes win. Period.

    Here in Venezuela we just count all the votes from every part of the country, and add them up. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  • In Article 2 - Section 1 [] of the US Constitution [], the framers had a good idea that has since been changed through amendment ... perhaps we should consider going back to that original method? Here it is:

    "The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President ... after the choice of the President, the person having the greatest number of votes of the electors shall be the Vice President."

    Basically, the candidate with the most votes becomes President. You take his votes out of the pool, and the candidate with the most votes after that becomes Vice-President. Seems kind of simplistic, but this was written in a time when they wanted to keep the election process simple so that we didn't have the mess we had in 2000. I suspect the campaigning would be much more civil if the person you were knocking down could end up after the election as your boss ... or your second-in-command!

    Doesn't sound too bad to me.


    • Yes, I've often thought going back to that would be a good idea. Not only might it, as you say, inject a degree of civility into the campaign; more importantly, it would mean that the opposition party's candidate would be the President of the Senate, and thus able to cast tie-breaking votes. It would be a nice addition to the list of checks and balances. (Of course that wouldn't mean much if the Senate were dominated by either major party, but it would certainly be interesting in situations like the current one.)
  • In student union elections at university they used a single transferrable vote system (list preferences in order, eliminate weaker candidates until one candidate has more than half the votes, as mentioned in the article) but as well as the list of candidates for each position there was an extra choice 'new election'. Meaning 'none of the above'. If 'new election' is elected then new candidates are invited to come forward (old ones can stand a second time) and another election is held.
  • I somehow like the French system where they have voting in two rounds. In the first round they select the two strongest candidates and then in the second one has only the option of choosing one of the two. Theoretically its a very sound system but it too has its flaws like we saw this year. Apparently people stop taking the first round seriously. As a result either they dont vote, or they use it as a protest vote. But sometimes that may lead to a not so popular candidate coming second, like it happened this year. But still, overall I think its a good system, much better than the US system. But obviously, two rounds cost double the money.

  • A legislative chamber makes laws, according to the needs/wants of each constituency.

    The problem with partisan elections is that the political parties have all the power, and constituencies are not properly represented, as constituency representatives are forced to act along the party line - in effect, the party chief has *ALL* the power.

    Worse still, in a britshit-type parliamentary system, who holds the power has often nothing to do with the totality of votes expressed: our current assembly has one party with twice as much members than the opposition, yet the ruling party had less than two percent votes more than the opposition.

    Here is my proposal to eliminate this:

    1. The assembly has twice as many seats than there are constituencies.
    2. Each constituency therefore has two seats:
      1. One for the power side,
      2. One for the opposition side.
    3. Representatives are elected in two rounds:
      1. The first round selects the two most wanted/appreciated candidates,
      2. The second round (runoff) selects who will be on the power side, and who will be on the opposition side.
    4. Each constituency has *ONE* vote in the chamber.
      1. The vote of each constituency is split amongst the power and the opposition according to the percentage of the vote they get.
      2. Since the representatives represent the constituency, they sit together, side by side, at the same 2 seat desk.
    5. Therefore, the influence of the political party is largely diminished in the chamber, since the actual power yielded by the candidates is tempered by the actual vote they get, and, most importantly, who holds the power is not determined by the number of representatives they have elected.
  • by mcarbone ( 78119 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:14AM (#4587964) Homepage
    Man, this issue has been at the forefront of my mind for over a year now, after reading Saari's 2002 book "Chaotic Elections" [] and doing some other research on the issue. The most difficult part of this issue is convincing non-scientists that there are major problems with plurality vote, such as:

    • It encourages strategic voting. This is a very bad thing. It means that voters are willing not to vote for their favorite choice because they are strategically trying to manipulate the elections. Example: all those radical liberals out there who voted for Gore because they would be throwing their vote away with Nader (and similarly with Brown/Bush). IRV is still mathematically strategically manipulable, but much less so.
    • It often does not elect the candidate representing the will of the people (when there are 3 or more candidates). E.g. Jesse Ventura was liked the best by a minority of the Minnesota population and the least by a majority. However, that minority outweighed the minorities of the other two candidates and he won (the amount of uproar should have indicated a problem).
    • A clearer example with this problem: you have three students and their report cards from school.
      • Student A: A, A, A, D, F.
      • Student B: A, A, B, B, B.
      • Student C: A, A, C, B, B.
      Which student do you think should be ranked first in his class of 3? Well, plurality vote picks student A - is this fair?
    • The same goes for Florida. Polls have shown that a large percentage of Nader voters would've picked Gore second and Bush last. Hence, with IRV Gore would have easily picked up the vote and Nader voters wouldn't considered spoil voters.
    • Plurality encourages, nay, enforces the status quo and the two party system . You are told that voting for a third, perhaps more radical, party is throwing your vote away. So most people vote Dem. or Rep. and the problems some have with this country will never change.
  • by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:16AM (#4587979)

    The verdict: the U.S. system might be the worst of the lot.

    Shocking! And here I clicked on a Slashdot story thinking I would find that the US was the best of the lot! This is so unexpected!!


  • by call -151 ( 230520 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:34AM (#4588089) Homepage
    One of the fundamental problems with working towards election reform is that those in power were placed there by the old system, and thus presumably have a vested interest in NOT changing it. The electoral college was designed so long ago to address a number of logistical concerns that are no longer an issue (I'm sure the founding fathers could not possibly have envisioned that elections could be decided within hours of (or even before...) polls closing) that there should have been discussion about changing it long before the recent electoral fiasco.

    The current electoral system has a number of flaws, as any electoral system will have (per the article.) But the particular flaws that whatever the current system has are exactly the ones are that most likely to favor those who are currently in office- why should they change it?

  • Am I the only one (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NorthDude ( 560769 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:36AM (#4588111)
    Who do not have enough time to read each candidate proposal,
    only watch the 30 min. TV debate 1 month before the elections,
    who do not understand 75% of every single phrase politician tell and
    who honestly think that whoever is elected, it will be about the same?

    I used to be idealistic, but I now think that government is just another business which happens to control my life.
    "Democracy" sounds great... That's about it.
    • by mincus ( 7154 )
      This is the first election that I will be voting in, and when I first started looking at all of the candidates I felt very overwhelmed. This got me to thinking about what the average voter must feel and how they decide to vote. 10 years ago, they must have relied soley on who the newspapers and who their party said to vote on, but now there are so many good resources on the net that with minimal research a voter can be very informed.

      I spent about two hours looking over sites like the offical election [] site for my state and Young Voters [] which has a profile for each candidate, where they stand on their positions, and what other services they have been involved in.

      Now the only thing holding people back from being an informed voter is lazyness, or blind devotion to party lines.
    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @01:00PM (#4588529) Homepage Journal
      What frustrates me is when plausible-sounding but in fact deleterious measures get passed by popular vote, simply because the average person doesn't grok the implications. (Bond issues, glah! Yeah, that's free money all right -- so long as you don't own any real estate, since they typically get paid back thru increased property taxes. This roughly DOUBLES the total property tax in California, but it was SO painless at the voting booth.)

      "Democracy: that ultimate triumph of quantity over quality." -- Peter H. Peel

  • false assumption (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zzyzx ( 15139 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:49AM (#4588166) Homepage
    A lot of these comments assume that the US system is flawed because that their views have no chance of being properly represented. The system isn't flawed because people aren't getting the people they want in office; the system works because the canidates that people fear are kept out of office.

    Libertarians and Greens constantly complain that their views aren't reflected by either of the mainstream parties. For that matter, on many issues my own beliefs are closer to the Libertarians or the Greens and I personally haven't voted for a mainstream Presidential canidate since 92 [1]. However, the same complaints come from Lyndon LaRouche and the KKK. If only a small minority likes your views (and in the case of the libs and the greens that IS true [2]) and the vast majority of the country would be terrified by some of the changes you would enact, then you should not be elected under any system.

    Think back on the 2000 election. Imagine now that instead of being a heavily contested race between two extremely similar middle of the road boring canidates, it was between David Duke and Ralph Nader. When the chads were being counted, there very well might have been violence instead of the, "I really hope the person I voted for wins, but if don't I'll be willing to grudingly accept it," attitude that we got. The vast majority of the population wasn't scared by either Gore or Bush[3]. This is proof that the system works for at least one definition of working.

    What if you are one of the people who has the 2-5% views? In my opinion running canidates for office is a valid action, but the focus shouldn't be on somehow winning the race or even on getting matching funds. Instead focus on the attempt to get your views out. Slow dramatic change on the beliefs of the electoriate is much more frustrating than hoping your third party canidate can win somehow, but it's a fairer approach to the people who would disagree. One look at the drug legalization debate and the people willing to speak out about it now is proof that it can work. Our system[4] isn't fast about accepting change but remember. The same reasons why we have stupid copyright laws and pot continues to be illegal make it so no one could deport all Arabs on 9/12/01. It's not about getting our wishes; it's about not getting our fears. What's wrong with that?

    [1] I used to live in Maryland. Now I live in Washington State. If the Democratic canidate doesn't carry both of those states easily, he or she is going to lose the election. In either case, I don't worry much about my own vote.

    [2] That's disguised some by what I like to call the Fallacy of a Large Population. In a country of 260,000,000 people, 2% of that population is over 5 million people. It's easy to exist almost solely in a population that big. When all of your friends agree with you, you're much more likely to overrepresent the degree to which your views are believed in the population at large. The internet (which lets people converse based on beliefs or interests instead of geographical proximity) is making this much worse.

    [3] If you're going to respond to this with a rant about how Bush is a facist and we should all fear him in the wake of 9/11, take the time to study real facists. I don't like aspects of the Patriot Bill either, but imagine what he could have railroaded through in the weeks following and be glad that boring middle of the road people win.

    [4] Yes I'm being UScentric in this post. The article itself is about the US style of elections. Deal with it.
    • What assumption? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by roystgnr ( 4015 ) <> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @05:23PM (#4590190) Homepage
      There are lots of other reasons to want a more accurate voting method:

      Third parties in the US don't just fail to represent their constituents' opinions in Washington, they can actually cause a reduction in representation of those opinions as well. Even counting the number of Nader voters who would have voted for Bush or not at all in a 2-party system, it seems clear from exit polls that Gore would have won if the last election had been a one on one race. Plurality voting requires you to "throw your vote away", i.e. forgo your ability to express a preference between the two leading candidates, if you want to vote for a minority candidate. The most popular minority candidate is almost guaranteed to take away votes that would otherwise have gone to the major candidate that most closely reflects the minority's views.

      Third candidates don't have to be third party candidates. More moderate or more widely appealing candidates from the major parties would be benefitted as well. The winner of the last election might have been John McCain, for instance, if the Republicans could have fielded more than one candidate in the final election without splitting their own voters.

      Polls on elections reflect the system of elections, and so the feedback which the major parties get is automatically subject to the constraint that issues which both parties have similar viewpoints on don't affect the poll. Unless an issue becomes a point of contention between the Democratic and Republican candidate, it can't affect the final vote, so it doesn't get discussed. Some of the public apathy towards intellectual property issues and the public domain may be a result of this, for example.
  • by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:58AM (#4588195) Homepage
    If it weren't for the plurality system, Abraham Lincoln might never have become president, Tabarrok says. In the four-candidate 1860 election, Lincoln was a polarizing figure, popular with many Northerners but abhorred by many Southerners. Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's closest competitor, was more broadly popular, and although he didn't get as many first-place rankings as Lincoln did, he was nearly everyone's second choice, historians hold. In 1999, Tabarrok and Lee Spector, an economist at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., calculated that if almost any other voting system had been used, history books would refer to President Douglas, not President Lincoln.

    History books might also refer to the various subsequent presidents of both the United States of America as well as the Confederate States of America. That is, up until around the 1950's, where the names change to National Socialist States of America, with the primary political party being the National Socialist Workers Party of America, a branch of Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, after a political (but probably not too violent) conquest by an unchecked (because of a lack of power from North America) Nazi Germany that would have risen to control all of Europe by the mid 1940's, Russia and the Middle East by 1950, and set its sites on North America thereafter.

    Or perhaps the history books might refer to a brilliant statesman that averted a possible civil war (something that Abraham Lincoln failed to do), only to see that possibility break out repeatedly every 20 or so years until the mid 1900's when slavery would finally be outlawed.

    We really don't know for sure just how history would have played out.

  • Who should win? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by roystgnr ( 4015 ) <> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @12:20PM (#4588290) Homepage
    Here's a fun example from John Allen Paulos' excellent book A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper:

    55 voters are voting in a primary between 5 candidates.

    18 of them prefer Tsongas to Kerrey to Clinton to Harkin to Brown
    12 of them prefer Clinton to Harkin to Kerrey to Brown to Tsongas
    10 of them prefer Brown to Clinton to Harkin to Kerrey to Tsongas
    9 of them prefer Kerrey to Brown to Harkin to Clinton to Tsongas
    4 of them prefer Harkin to Clinton to Kerrey to Brown to Tsongas
    2 of them prefer Harkin to Brown to Kerrey to Clinton to Tsongas

    Who should win?

    Under our current plurality, "winner-take-all" system, Tsongas would win because he had the most first place votes.

    If a single runoff election was held between the top two candidates, Clinton would win the runoff by a landslide.

    If instant runoff was used, dropping the candidates from the running one at a time depending on who had the fewest first place votes, then Brown would end up winning.

    If a Borda count was used, giving each candidate 5 points for a 1st place vote, 4 points for 2nd place, etc., then Kerrey would win.

    Finally, if Condorcet voting was used, Harkin would win, since he would win a one-on-one election against any of the other candidates.

    Who do you think should win, and why?

    This, by the way, fails to illustrate why I think we need Condorcet voting: not because it's criteria necessarily produces the best candidate, since in an election like the above it isn't clear by any means who is the "best". The appeal of Condorcet voting is that in all but the most degenerate cases (e.g. where most people prefer A to B, most people prefer B to C, and most people prefer C to A) Condorcet removes any incentive to make the election even worse by not "throwing your vote away"; in every other method mentioned, there are voters who can improve the outcome of the election (according to their own preferences) by voting something other than their own honest rankings. There's a nice discussion of Condorcet voting and the criteria like this that it meets on [].
  • Canada! Canada! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by davedave ( 612800 ) <`davedave' `at' `'> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @12:27PM (#4588340)
    Ah, you Americans would love the Canadian system. I've lost count of the number of political parties we have. Each constituency is pretty much guaranteed a Liberal, a Progressive Conservative, and an NDP candidate. And then, depending on if you're east or west of Ottawa, you'll have either a BQ candidate or a Reform party candidate. And then there are the various minor parties (The Green Party, the Natural Law party - Yogic Flying, it's all the rage! - the Pot Party, etc), and the independent candidates. So we're talking 6 + candidates per constituency, and it's a plurality vote. So, we end up with a party that had maybe 40% of the popular vote controlling 60 to 70% of the Seats in the House of Commons. Which is why we get a leader like Jean Chretien threatening to cram Kyoto down our throats without even consulting his First Ministers, and those damn grits are gonna NEP us Albertans all over again. And don't even get me started about the Senate!
  • by BlueGecko ( 109058 ) <> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @01:31PM (#4588772) Homepage
    Guys, take a look at a quote like this:
    Saari has calculated that in three-candidate elections, depending on the voting system, more than two-thirds of all possible configurations of voters' preferences will yield different outcomes.
    Now, think about this for a second. There are three candidates, and therefore three possible outcomes, and Saari has calculated (are you braced properly for this?) that not only are all three wins possible, but no matter who you pick, there is a better chance that either of the other two will win. Damn is that a lose-lose situation.

    Is it just me, or do other people get a bit jittery when they read quotes like this in an article in mathematics? That quote is in the first half painfully obvious and in the second half just wrong, and it's the simplest math in the article, so how should I know that the more advanced math isn't equally as screwy?
    • Is it just me, ...

      It may be just you. Look again at the quote, noting my change in the emphasis:

      Saari has calculated that in three-candidate elections, depending on the voting system, more than two-thirds of all possible configurations of voters' preferences will yield different outcomes.
      Thus, he's saying that the choice of voting system will decide the outcome of the election in more than 2/3 of the cases. Here, a ``case'' is a set of voter preferences. His point is that how we choose to ask the question (i.e., choice of voting system) is vitally important.

      One big problem we see in general is that most folks who attack this issue begin by saying that they want a ``good'' or ``optimal'' system, but they never define optimal, or even good. Arrow's work is a notable exception, but unfortunately, his definition is one that a reasonable person might take exception to.

      One reasonable definition of good would be ``it induces people to accurately state their preferences.'' I'm sure that our current system does NOT meet this criterion. The result is that we vote for the least evil candidate who is perceived to have a chance to win, rather than for the candidate we really prefer.

      An example of something which is NOT a reasonable definition is ``it is fair'', unless it is preceded by an implementable definition of fair.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @05:41PM (#4590288) Journal
    Proposition: the US elective system is the worst possible alternative.

    It can't be because we've managed to maintain a stable democratic system with only 1 civil war in 225 years.

    It cannot be because there is no credible threat that there will be a military junta, or an overthrow of civilian government.

    It certainly can't be that the US Constitution is one of the most admired documents of governmental philosophy the world over.

    It can't be that the United States is not only the world's remaining superpower, but has the highest standard of living* of any country on the face of the earth.
    * (not measured by some theoretical rating of quality of life, but measured by the number of people in the world who are risking their lives every day just to come here- I don't see shiploads of Chinese immigrants paying $30,000 each to get to Sweden or Denmark.)

    Obviously France's system is CLEARLY better - wait, how many governments have they had?

    Naturally, Italy's system is clearly better - wait, how many governments have they had?

    Wait, Germany's must be better, right? Yeah, their political experiments have gone just spiffy.

    You can philosophize all you want in your Ivory Tower, for me, I'll be hard pressed to support changing something THAT OBVIOUSLY WORKS BETTER THAN ANY ALTERNATIVES EXTANT.

    Let Djibouti try some goofy election system. When they become a world class power, then we should think of switching. Until then, your theories are like the Amway version of politics: you preach good results, but I haven't seen anything aside from YOUR word proving that it's actually so great.

    The longer I live, the more I respect the Founding Fathers' wisdom in what they did, why they did it, and why they protected it from change. There's always some goofball selling something, somewhere.
    • by Kwil ( 53679 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @08:44PM (#4591284)
      It can't be because we've managed to maintain a stable democratic system with only 1 civil war in 225 years.

      Hardly a feat. Look at most of Western Europe and you'll see the same thing or better. Look north of you and you'll see a country that hasn't had a civil war since it originated. Look down under and you'll find another country that's been remarkably light on the civil wars. Heck, some would say that a single civil war in the last 225 years puts you in the lower half of the pack.

      It cannot be because there is no credible threat that there will be a military junta, or an overthrow of civilian government.

      This depends what you consider to be an overthrow of civilian government. Some would suggest your civilian government has already been overthrown by a corporate government. Beyond this, again, look at most of Western Europe, Australia, or Canada and you'll see the same thing, all with election systems different from yours.

      It certainly can't be that the US Constitution is one of the most admired documents of governmental philosophy the world over.

      Trust me, it isn't. Besides which, the parts of the US Constitution that are admired have little to do with the election process. Not to mention that the voting process in it has already been changed since its creation.

      It can't be that the United States is not only the world's remaining superpower, but has the highest standard of living* of any country on the face of the earth.
      * (not measured by some theoretical rating of quality of life, but measured by the number of people in the world who are risking their lives every day just to come here- I don't see shiploads of Chinese immigrants paying $30,000 each to get to Sweden or Denmark.)

      I'll grant you the superpower status, but that has less to do with your electoral system than the military-industrial complex that was allowed to mature fully and wasn't wiped out by the 1st and 2nd world wars. It also has to do with the U.S's idea that they be ready at a moments notice to impose their will on any country in the world.

      As to the quality of life = # of immigrants, might I suggest that this has as much to do with geography as anything else, and that you actually check your facts, such as immigration numbers to Australia, Canada, and Western Europe.

      The longer I live, the more I respect the Founding Fathers' wisdom in what they did, why they did it, and why they protected it from change. There's always some goofball selling something, somewhere.

      You should look into the Founding Fathers' a bit more. Part of their wisdom was that they were in favor of a complete constitutional review taking place at least every generation. Unlike you, they seemed to realize that times change, better ways can be found, and permanently tying yourself to something just because it's worked so far isn't the best strategy.

  • by tdelaney ( 458893 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @06:38PM (#4590589)
    ... is that in both the instant runoff (as we have in Australia - we call it two-party preferred) and Borda systems, the final result *tends* to be either the first or second choice of the majority of voters. Of course, as the number of candidates increases, this obviously becomes less the case as votes are further split. But in any case, the final result will be from the upper half of the majority of voters preferences.

    As the concocted example shows, this is much less likely to occur in a plurality system. In fact, the plurality system actively works against this being the case where there are more than two candidates.
  • Electoral College (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Arandir ( 19206 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @07:29PM (#4590902) Homepage Journal
    The article says that the US system does not represent the will of the voters best because of the Electoral College. Duh! It's not supposed to!

    The Electoral College was set up to prevent the raw unfiltered will of the populace from ruling. It's purpose is to process and filter the will of the populace. This is a Good Thing(tm). The Electoral College is there for exactly the same reason that a President is being elected to begin with: the US political system is a representative republic, not a direct democracy.

    The whims of the poplulace changes daily. A look at pre-election polls over a period of a few weeks demonstrates this. The Electoral College helps filter these mood swings out.

    I realize that I am the last living person in the US who still likes the Electoral College, but that does not necessarily make me wrong.
  • by robla ( 4860 ) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @08:00PM (#4591073) Homepage Journal
    ...doesn't venture out much further than an article in Discover Magazine [] a couple years ago. It pits Brams against Saari, and says "you decide". This one, as opposed to the Discover article, talks about Instant Runoff more, though.

    The field is more complicated than that. Saari has made a career out of pushing the Borda count. There are useful applications for it, but I pretty firmly believe public elections are not

    It's a pity that Condorcet [] is ignored here, because he was da man. Condorcet's method kicks butt when compared to Borda and Approval (Approval is simpler to implement, though).

    There's a whole bunch of links to articles like this one in the Voting System category [] in Netscape Open Directory.


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