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Who Should Winnow the Primary Contenders?

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     (# of views)   12 comments, In Series: Voting Systems
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The 2000 Presidential election is coming! The Republicans have the most unlikeable incumbent since Richard Nixon. Many Democrats smell victory, and so the slate of candidates was full.

Very full.

Even when the debates were split into two different nights, the number of candidates was unwieldy. And so the moderators furiously tried to winnow the field. Front runners got more air time. The more interesting candidates got to stand awkwardly with their microphones turned off.

The impulse of the moderators was understandable: the field was big, and a hotly contested primary threatens to use up primary funds for the primaries instead of saving them for the general election.

But should the moderators wield such power? Should media companies decide whom we get to vote for President of the U.S?

How about other corporations? How about the oil companies? The car companies? Fast-food franchises? Shouldn't they have an equal vote?

Or how about The People?? How about some mechanism that allows The People to decide who should contend in the general election? We could call the process "Voting."

Why Not 20 Candidates?

Twenty candidates is too many for a decent candidate forum or debate. But so what! We have this thing called "The Internet" that allows anyone to look up videos of candidates in action at any time. They can even search for a candidate's positions by looking up their "Web Page."

And for the early primaries and caucuses the interested voter can actually get to meet candidates as they campaign in the smaller states.

So is 20 candidates really too many?

Alas it is. In fact, three candidates are too many unless you change the voting system.

Plurality Voting is Democracy Done Wrong

With Plurality Voting you get to pick your favorite candidate and that's it. You do not get to express any opinion whatsoever about the relative merits of the remaining candidates on the ballot. This is fine for two candidates. But with three or more this deficiency can produce bad outcomes.

Consider the 2000 general election. Lefty votes got split between Al Gore and Ralph Nader, causing Bush to win the election.

In general Plurality Voting usually leads to Lesser-of-Two-Evils voting, and thus our dysfunctional Two-Party System. We have more choice of breakfast cereals than we have for politicians. Yet rumor has it that government is more important than toasted cereals.

We do often have more than two options during a contested primary. But does the system really reflect the will of the voters? Methinks not. It can't as long as Plurality Voting is used.

An Experiment in Alternatives

There are better alternative to Plurality Voting: Approval Voting, Range Voting, Instant Runoff, and more. But which of these are the best? Which are the most politically feasible? Which give results that best measure the will of the voters?

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Carl Milsted Jr. Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Carl Milsted is a physicist by day and dabbles in economics and political activism in his spare time. For a quarter century he was a member of the Libertarian Party, but has since realized that narrowing the wealth gap and preserving the (more...)
 

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Series: "Voting Systems"

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Who Should Winnow the Primary Contenders?

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6 people are discussing this page, with 12 comments  Post Comment


Carl Milsted Jr.

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(Member since Aug 21, 2011), 7 articles, 1 quicklinks, 42 comments
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I can say from hard experience as a third party activist that voting systems matter. They matter in general elections, and they matter for internal parliamentary wrangling.

Submitted on Friday, Sep 13, 2019 at 2:06:54 AM

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Jean Hay Bright

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Interesting experiment -- except that Approval Ranking did not work, despite several attempts. Did not record any choices. Looks like the electronic voting mechanism did not work (fancy that). Not a good way to prove a point. How that malfunction skewed the results depends on how many of us were denied that vote.

Submitted on Saturday, Sep 14, 2019 at 11:42:49 PM

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nelswight

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Reply to Jean Hay Bright:   New Content


Hi, Lady, glad to see you and hubby logging in occasionally. Don't let the broccoli and potatoes suffer before the frost. Lowest so far in Belfast near 44 deg.

Look like Bernie and Tulsi showing well? You're not going to kick the gal from the County out.

nels wight

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 15, 2019 at 12:37:16 AM

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nelswight

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I'm still of a mind for Ralph, Dennis or even one of the Pauls.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 15, 2019 at 12:40:51 AM

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Carl Milsted Jr.

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Reply to Jean Hay Bright:   New Content

Thanks for the heads up! Just fixed the bug.

(This bug was recently introduced when I made the page more accessible by allowing one to click on the label vs. just the box. The JQuery function I was using to extract the results wasn't searching below the label tag to get to the radio buttons.)

I'm not a big fan of electronic voting either. Approval Voting can work with paper ballots, as I will point out in the next article in the series. So can Range Voting. Ranked Choice is more problematic -- at least for a large slate.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 15, 2019 at 3:36:44 AM

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June Genis

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Reply to Carl Milsted Jr.:   New Content

A hand count of Ranked Choice Voting has been done for several large organizations in California. It can be done but is probably best done by computer for a large number of ballots. If the ballot images are made publicly available, as they are in San Francisco, anyone can run their own tally to verify the results. Of course there should always be paper ballots as a final backup if a hand count is deemed necessary to resolve discrepancies.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 15, 2019 at 4:13:49 PM

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Steve Chessin

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It would help if the author actually understood how the Democratic Presidential nomination process really works. It's a proportional system, not a winner-take-all system. (For a brief description, see the answer to the question beginning "Can you explain the Democratic Party's proportional primaries" at electoral-vote.com.) In addition, some of the caucus states are using bottom-up ranked choice voting (eliminating candidates from the bottom and transferring their votes until all remaining candidates are above the 15% cutoff) to mitigate the vote-splitting effect when there is such a large field. (See this article at fairvote.com.)

I do think it is a good idea to let people try different voting systems, and I applaud the author for that. But it would have helped if he had done his homework first.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 15, 2019 at 5:26:07 PM

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Reply to Steve Chessin:   New Content

You are technically correct, but your correction does not eliminate the problems with Plurality voting. With the 15% threshold, you are still looking at throwing away a lot of ballots if you have a pick-one ballot.



Submitted on Sunday, Sep 15, 2019 at 8:17:28 PM

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Dottery

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That's easy to fix. Just get rid of the very undemocratic 15% threshold. Good ole, simple plurality voting would work just fine for the Democrats then.

Submitted on Monday, Sep 16, 2019 at 1:50:03 AM

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Reply to Dottery:   New Content

Lowering the threshold would definitely help -- a lot. Still might be a problem for states with low delegate counts or states which allocate delegates by Congressional district.

I must confess I haven't thought throught proportional representation sufficiently. I am using this year's primaries as a lead in to get interest in voting system alternatives vs. attempting a full fidelity model of said primaries.

I originally wanted to do this experiment with the 2016 election, where the limits of plurality voting produced a Republican nominee who made much of the party very unhappy. (Trump cashed in on vote splitting bigly!) I was going to call it a 2016 do-over. But I didn't get time to write the code until recently, so that pitch has become rather stale.

(But the do-over is there for those who select Republican primary in the 2020 poll! I added 2016's contenders to make it interesting...)


Submitted on Monday, Sep 16, 2019 at 1:13:33 PM

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I appreciate your efforts to raise awareness about better election methods. However, as the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail. While one has to start somewhere, limiting consideration to just single-winner elections really misses fundamental opportunities to improve our political system. Among other things, multi-winner election methods that ensure at least proportional representation give smaller and newer parties a fair chance to be fully recognized and to grow.

Submitted on Monday, Sep 16, 2019 at 5:32:47 PM

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I noticed a few bugs in the poll's use of the IRV ballot. Those bugs likely made it more difficult and more confusing for voters to use that style of ballot. I'm not sure how many of these were intended features:

1. The instructions didn't make clear whether to arrange candidates in increasing or decreasing order of preference and whether smaller numbers or larger numbers indicated greater preference. This issue becomes more important when different methods are used on the same ballot, especially when the numbers have opposite uses in different contests, and when engaging voters who have not had other orientation to using a ranked ballot.

2. Voters were required to rank all candidates. That is not a requirement in the US and as far as I know, IRV proponents in the US generally do not advocate that it should be a requirement.

3. The scrolling view of the candidates sometimes automatically and unexpectedly jumped around, tending to confuse and disorient voters.

Submitted on Monday, Sep 16, 2019 at 5:41:08 PM

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