Mr. Poundstone’s book asks one overriding question: “Is it possible to devise a fair way of voting, one immune to vote splitting?” The answer requires some historical context: a brief history of elections gone terribly awry.
Mr. Poundstone’s chronicle of spoilers concentrates on presidential elections that delivered the opposite outcome from the one most voters seemed to prefer. This goes from explaining how abolitionist vote-splitting in 1844 put the slave-owner James Polk in the White House to showing how a consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, helped to elect “the favored candidate of corporate America,” George W. Bush, in 2000.
Since at least 5 out of 45 presidential elections have gone to the second-most-popular candidate because of spoilers, Mr. Poundstone calculates a failure rate of more than 11 percent for our voting system. “Were the plurality vote a car or an airliner,” he writes about this traditional method, “it would be recognized for what it is — a defective consumer product, unsafe at any speed.”
Any book that earns a favorable blurb from Ken Arrow is probably worth a read.