Monday, December 31, 2007

Obama: the Runoff Candidate?

Today Barack Obama pleaded to voters, "Make me your second choice, although you are wiser making me your first." He brought up an interesting subject. Caucuses run by slightly different rules, but it's a good thing to think about. Many people become frustrated with having to throw all their support behind one candidate who may not win.

This is why I like Obama as a politician. He's good at appealing to people who otherwise feel disillusioned with the political system. Instant runoff voting makes a lot of sense for America's democratic system, since we've become so limited with a two-party system. With instant runoff voting, people can feel good about the candidate they really like without feeling like they threw their vote away. Ultimately, this might help third party candidates break into state legislatures or even Congress (Bernie Sanders is quite the exception to make it to the Senate in an overwhelmingly two-party system).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While it's clear that our traditional "vote for one" (plurality) voting system is inexcusable, Instant Runoff Voting is not much better - and there are many better and simpler solutions. There is also a great deal of public misunderstanding and misinformation surrounding IRV, largely the result of the IRV propaganda organization, FairVote.

One common myth is that IRV elects "majority winners". But IRV can lead to the election of candidate X, even when candidate Y is preferred to X by a huge majority. It does not solve the vote-splitting problem. See:

And a deeper result of this is that, contrary to the myth and talking points, IRV does not let voters "vote your hopes, not your fears".

And despite the common misconception that IRV helps third parties, it has produced two-party domination in every country where it has seen long-term widespread use, including Australia and Ireland. (Although most of the 27 countries with a genuine, not "instant", runoff have escaped duopoly.)

Election integrity experts and activists, like computer science Ph.D. Rebecca Mercuri disapprove of IRV because it is conducive to the adoption of fraud-susceptible electronic voting machines. IRV is also more susceptible to fraud because it is not countable in precincts. That is, candidate A could win every individual precinct, but bizarrely lose when the ballots are all summed together - which enforces centralized tabulation, which is more susceptible to central fraud conspiracy. And IRV typically causes spoiled ballots to go up by a factor of about 7.

A much simpler and far better system is Approval Voting, described in this recent Newsweek article.

Approval Voting is just like the current system, except that there is no limit on the number of candidates one may vote for. While it may seem initially less intuitive than ranking choices, deep scrutiny shows that Approval Voting produces a far more representative outcome, and is less harmed by problems like strategic voting. This is shown through an objective economic measure called Bayesian regret, which shows how well a particular voting method tends to satisfy the preferences of the voters. The improvement gotten by Approval Voting relative to IRV is especially large if the voters are strategic, as was described above (although FairVote promoters will often falsely claim that the best strategy with Approval Voting is to "bullet vote"). See:

If we don't mind a somewhat more cluttered ballot, we can upgrade to Range Voting, which uses a ratings scale, like Olympics scoring. Here's a recent Newsweek articles on Range Voting, which is the the subject of the forthcoming William Poundstone book Gaming the Vote :

Be wary of specious claims and clever marketing from IRV advocacy groups like FairVote. Look at what Ivy League mathematicians and political science experts such as Steve Brams, who write entire books on this stuff, say. Beneath the political big talk, there's science to be learned.

Clay Shentrup
San Francisco, CA

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