How To Vote

by @edent | # # | 2 comments

I recently had an interesting voting experience which I’d like to share with you. Perhaps you can give me some advice?

I’m a member of a board and we recently held an election for new board members. We had 8 spaces and 19 candidates. Candidates wrote a short application and we each ranked them in preference order. My most favoured candidate was ranked 1, the worst candidate was ranked 19.

With multi-member elections, there are seemingly endless ways to tally votes. So we tallied them half-a-dozen ways, to see what effect that would have.

It was… interesting. Here’s a lightly redacted screenshot.

A complex chart of votes.

The green colour in the top half represents a “top 8” vote. The pink colour in the bottom half represents someone who would have been elected using one of the various proportional representation voting systems.

This is my imperfect recollection of the process – again, lightly redacted – that we went through to pick the winners.

Firstly, anyone who received a complete vertical pink streak was in. Candidates 8, 12, and 19 were duly appointed. Congratulations!

Secondly, anyone who didn’t score in the top 8 under any system was out. 1, 3, 4, 7, 9, 14, and 17 were thanked for their application and asked to apply again next year.

That left 9 candidates for five seats. What should we do? Pick one counting method and stick to it? Count up the winners of various different systems and weight them accordingly? Run another election which just those candidates? Expand or contract the seats available?

What would you choose?

Remember, this isn’t a straight democracy, it is a board deciding who to work with. So we discussed it, like rational adults.

Candidate 10 didn’t have a particularly strong showing, but they brought a lot of experience that wasn’t found in any of the winners. So they got in.

Number 13 looked great on paper, but we were over-represented by people from their industry. So they went on the reserve list.

Candidate 6 was polarising. Two voters argued passionately for them, but the division was insurmountable and they weren’t chosen. So, as a compromise, we took Candidate 18 out of the running as well.

And so on and so forth. With a bit of good natured arguing, and a little horse trading, we came up with a good set of new board members.

Did we make the right call? I’m not sure. This was a slightly strange election – with more candidates than voters – and there was no clean sweep. Every candidate with a pink mark next to their name was good – and I’d happily have worked with any of them. But, sometimes your favoured candidate just isn’t compelling to others. And no amount of reasoning will shift their mind.

Democracy is inherently messy. But we muddle through as best we can and hope that both electors and electees are acting in good faith.

2 thoughts on “How To Vote

  1. The disparity is surprising – candidate 19 scored highly for most of you – two at #1 – but one board member had them at #19. Candidate 2 had four #1s and a #19.

    Have you discussed why this might be? Maybe negative (or positive) bias towards a type of candidate? Lack of clarity or agreement about what you needed? Something else?

    Have you measured whether one (or more) board member was significantly out-of-step with the end result?

    1. @edent says:

      I’m pleased you spotted that! One of the votes thought they were assigning points. So gave 19 to their most favoured candidate…

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