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. Symptoms are visible, if only we pay attention to them. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
It is a particularly good time to re-examine everything since the technology available in the second decade of the 21st century, when very carefully utilized, can enable us to do a better job than was previously possible.
A 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.
Another major problem is less well known and a bit harder to fix. It is that we use the worst possible voting method, called Plurality (the option receiving the largest number of votes is the winner). It has been widely acknowledged for more than two centuries that Plurality is truly awful. Whenever no candidate has received an absolute majority of the votes, Plurality is utterly incapable of rendering an intelligent decision! Also, whenever there are more than two options, Plurality engenders that irresistible pressure to vote insincerely for the lesser of evils. Many experts believe our use of Plurality is a strong contributing cause to the increasing nasty polarization we are experiencing.
In order to make better decisions under all circumstances, voters have to be able to provide more information than just their first choice. Ideally, it would be best if voters could indicate exactly how much they like (or dislike) each candidate. This is called “cardinal” data and it would enable substantially perfect decisions to be made with confidence. Unfortunately, there is as yet no way to gather such cardinal data that is meaningful and sincere (more on this below). The next best option is to have voters rank the options in the order in which they prefer them. This is called “ordinal” data or ranked-choice voting (RCV). Many RCV methods have been proposed over the years.
Instant Runoff Voting or IRV is just one of the RCV methods. It has gained some following and was adopted in 2016 by Maine. Unfortunately, IRV is one of the worst RCV methods. An RCV method named MRCV was proposed in 2007 and has been shown to be the best possible RCV method. The following article explains the situation in a clear and understandable way.
For those more academically inclined and wishing a deeper understanding of why MRCV is the best possible ordinal (RCV) method, the following paper is recommended.
In 2016, a cardinal method was proposed called True-Weight Voting or TWV. It promises to gather meaningful and sincere cardinal data from voters. TWV would be a radical change. It is untested and unproven. MRCV is ready to be implemented, but TWV is not. However, if TWV works well, it could prove to be the ultimate voting method. The following paper explains TWV.
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.