Sunday, May 3, 2015

Alternative voting schemes...

Alternative voting schemes...  The “one person, one vote” (1p1v) canonical standard for voting in democracies worldwide sounds “fair” to most people.  So much so that very few countries or localities even attempt any other scheme.  About the only variation I'm currently aware of is that in certain countries voters are required to vote.

So what, you say?  The 1p1v system has some very bad flaws:
  • Tyranny of the majority.  As long as more than half of voters support some position, the rest of the voters lose.  Nothing else matters.  It doesn't matter if the voters on the majority side are ignorant or misled.  It doesn't matter if the voters on the minority side are materially damaged.  It doesn't matter how important the issue is to voters on either side.  The majority wins.
  • Vulnerability to fraud.  Buying votes in 1p1v systems is a time-honored practice.  
  • Disenfranchisement of the minority.  Any voter taking a minority position has cast a useless vote.  They might as well have stayed home.
  • Plague of low-information voters.  A voter who knows next to nothing about an issue has exactly the same influence on the outcome as an expert.  Study after study shows that significant numbers of voters – often a majority of voters – decide their vote for reasons as trivial as the physical appearance of a candidate or the wording of a headline.  They are often profoundly uninformed about the alternatives being voted on.  Nevertheless, their vote counts precisely as much as the well-informed voters.
All of the above issues are rampant in the current U.S. polity, and easy to spot.

Since the majority of voters in 1p1v systems are generally relatively uninformed, it shouldn't be surprising to discover that majorities support the 1p1v system – after all, it empowers them in a way that virtually any other voting system would not.

There are many proposed alternatives to the 1p1v system, and some of them have even been tried before (with varying levels of success).  This article discusses a couple of the alternatives that I find intriguing, though it's easy to see that they have some challenges as well.  The most interesting point to me is just how difficult it is to come up with an alternative to 1p1v that solves 1p1v's problems without creating worse ones of its own...

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