Sat Mar 27, 2004
Gerrymandering: How Politicians Steal Votes and You Can Return Them
Read the original, with links, here:
Third Parties: Why They Spoil and How to Stop It
In America (and many other countries) elections work in a simplistic manner: Each person picks one candidate. The candidate picked the most wins.
This makes the fatal assumption that you can only like one candidate. This seems like a bizarre assumption, but there is one common case where it makes sense: when you have two candidates.
Unfortunately, we’re sort of stuck with this voting system, so this mathematical fact (the voting system works only when there are two candidates) has turned into a political rule (we can only allow two candidates to run). But often, more than two candidates want to run, and voters don’t mind having more choices. So the voting system gets in the way.
One popular alternative is called Instant-runoff voting (IRV) which is used in Australia. It works like this: instead of voting for one candidate, you rank all the candidates (or your top N candidates) in order of preference. To count the votes, you look at each ballot and mark a vote for the top listed candidate. If no candidate wins a majority, you find the candidate who got the least votes. You cross off his name from every ballot and count again. (This time his name will be crossed off, so the top listed candidate on some ballots will actually be the voter’s second choice.) You repeat this until some candidate gets a majority. That candidate is the winner.
It sounds reasonable, but unfortunately, it turns out to be about the worst reasonable-sounding voting system, with all sorts of bizarre side-effects (more info). Fortunately, the problem is only in how you count the votes. The mathematicians have come up with a better way to count the votes, called Condorcet, which is essentially perfect. Here’s how it works: You have a computer use all the ballots to simulate every possible head-to-head election between two candidates. Whichever candidate wins the most elections against the strongest candidates wins.
Unfortunately, some people think this is too complicated. Fortunately, there is a simple voting system which is really very good, called Approval Voting. Here’s how it works: You pick all the candidates you like. Whichever candidate is picked the most wins. Put another way, instead of punching the hole next to one candidate, you punch the hole next to each candidate you approve of. Each hole punch is counted, and the most popular guy wins.
To give a contentious example, in the 2000 election, you could have checked the box next to both Nader and Gore. Some people (perhaps Nader himself) would check only Nader. Some people would check only Gore. But nobody’s vote is spoiled — a vote for Nader and Gore does not hurt Gore in his contest against Bush. And you end up with the candidate the most people approve of.
It turns out that in addition to being simpler, Approval Voting is also far more effective than IRV. And it doesn’t require any new equipment, just a simple change to the rules. And that’s why we cry:
Approval Voting Should Be Approved Now!
For more about various election methods, visit ElectionMethods.org. To support approval voting, join the Americans for Approval Voting or the Citizens for Approval Voting.
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