Voting Systems and Simplicity

by @edent | # | 2 comments

it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…
Winston Churchill

I read this wonderful post from ThreeBallot voting.

I’ve read it through twice, and I only think I understand how it works.

For all its flaws, First Past The Post is really easy to describe. You can explain how it works in a sentence. “The person with the largest number of votes for them is the winner.” I reckon you can do it in two words: “Biggest wins.”

Every other form of voting is complicated.

The attacks against paper-based FPTP are simple to understand – and simple to defend against. Here’s a 7 page paper from Princeton, and a follow-up 10 pager, discussing some of the subtle and complex attacks against ThreeBallot.

Even if you think ThreeBallot solves some problems, it is undeniable that it is complicated to teach and tricky to defend.

Recently, I was a voter in a ranked-voting election. All of us marked our favourite candidate as “1”, the next best as “2”, etc. Except for one voter, who thought we were assigning points! They gave a “5” to their favourite candidate and a “1” to the candidate they disliked.

In most democracies, people only engage with a ballot a few times per decade. Any complex skill atrophies unless regularly practised.

Is there a voting system which is simple to understand and robustly democratic?

2 thoughts on “Voting Systems and Simplicity

  1. I think approval voting is nice: check boxes for the candidates you like, don’t check boxes for the candidates you don’t like. Degenerates into FPTP if everybody ticks exactly one box. This, called “bullet voting”, is a form of tactical voting, and is a good idea if you have strong preferences about which candidate should win (as opposed to not really caring which of A, B, C win as long as it’s one of them). If not, it gives parties who aren’t the two most popular a chance by letting people vote for more than one party (at the same rank).

    Range voting extends that by letting you give a numeric score, but figuring out how much more (or less) you like the Greens than Labour can be hard, so it’s easier just to give e.g. 10 to candidates you like and 0 to those you don’t, and then it’s approval voting again.

    One other nice thing about FPTP is that it satisfies the participation criteria: it’s always better to vote honestly than to not vote at all. Many Condorcet systems (and other popular replacements, like instant runoff) fail this.

    1. Marcus Downing says:

      “One other nice thing about FPTP is that it satisfies the participation criteria: it’s always better to vote honestly than to not vote at all.”

      Except I live in a region that’s dominated by one party. I always vote of course, on principle, but my vote has never mattered because they’ve returned the same MP for the last 15 years, always with a comfortable margin. That MP has no incentive to listen to local people, because it won’t affect their future electoral chances at all. It may be that if all the disenfranchised voters actually voted together they’d overturn that; but it’s unlikely. It can be hard to persuade people that voting matters when their vote isn’t represented at all.

      The pros and cons of voting systems aren’t in how mathematically correct they may or may not be, but in how it affects human behaviour. A more fair voting system would engage people in politics, and would encourage politicians to care about the people they represent.

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