Elections are the crucial mechanism by which citizens hope to maintain control over their governments. Lots of countries hold elections, but the degree to which citizens actually do control their government varies widely. In Russia, as in quite a few other countries, people have elections, but no control. Not only is it important to hold regular elections, but it really matters how elections are done.
Most people lightheartedly think we do a good job of elections here in the US, “the cradle of democracy.” Unfortunately, there are serious, potentially fatal, problems. One of the most obvious symptoms is the increasingly divisive polarization of both politicians and voters, which has reached unhealthy levels. In the 2016 presidential election, more than half of voters voted for a candidate they didn’t like because they liked the other major candidate even less. It was “vote for the lesser evil” on steroids.
Most experts agree that the Plurality voting method we use (the candidate receiving the most votes is the winner) is a significant cause of our increasing polarization. More than 250 years ago, it was understood that Plurality is fundamentally awful. It allows voters to indicate only their first choice of all the options, which is not nearly enough information to enable choosing the correct winner in many elections. Thus, the single most important election fix needed is to switch to a much better voting method.
Hundreds of assorted voting methods have been proposed and debated for the past 250 years, but no solid consensus has emerged. IRV (Instant Runoff Voting), one of about fifty ranked-choice methods, has been tried in some locales, but provides only a very small improvement over Plurality. A large improvement is needed.
Recently, a comprehensive election simulation project was completed. Many voting methods were evaluated in millions of election scenarios of all possible kinds. Each method was measured on the basis of it being able to consistently choose the correct winner while also avoiding any of the terrible blunders that Plurality and IRV can make. The results strongly indicated that a voting method, called BAWV (Best/Alternate/Worst Voting) can make the large improvement that we have been searching for. BAWV is easy for voters to understand, so it’s hard to think of any good reason to delay changing to it. An even simpler method called AADV (Approve/Approve/Disapprove Voting) would also be acceptable. Here are two short non-technical articles on BAWV:
The following two “Instructions Sheets” provide detailed instructions for voters (both for BAWV and AADV) and instructions for election officials defining exactly how to tally the ballots.
For those hardy souls who want all the details, the below link is to the paper which explains and reports on the entire election simulation project.
And the original simulation referred to in the above paper can be found at the link below.
Another well-known problem is the practice of gerrymandering — defining electoral districts in a way which makes it easy for an incumbent to win re-election, or which favors the election of candidates from a certain political party. Most proposals for reform revolve around attempting to form an “unbiased” commission, which then figures out how to draw the boundaries. However, there is a much better, simpler, faster and lower cost solution which is laid out in the following short article.
A third serious problem with elections is “ballot access.” Like gerrymandering, this is a way that career politicians have engineered to help keep themselves in office. They have erected unnecessarily high barriers to keep competing candidates off the ballot. These barriers are less visible to the general public, but any would-be candidate not a member of the two old declining parties quickly discovers that it is very hard to get on the general election ballot. Frequently, there is the need for an inordinate number of nominating petition signatures, but other procedural hurdles usually also exist. There are too many races where only one name appears on the ballot. That’s no choice at all!
In addition to the “big three” issues above, there are other improvements needed. The overview below attempts to highlight some of these considerations.
Also, see the page on Election Manager software.
The older papers below are posted for reference purposes: