Saturday, 22 March 2008

Condorcet and Borda go mainstream (kinda)

Via my Facebook friends feed, I discovered this New York Times book review by Janet Maslin of William Poundstone’s Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair. Money grafs from Maslin’s review:

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.

Monday, 19 November 2007

It's like the 1960s all over again in Mississippi

First it was Noxubee County, now it’s Wilkinson County’s turn to keep the civil rights division of the Justice Department in business:

Three Wilkinson County officials will take the Fifth Amendment if asked to testify in a bizarre election challenge that involves claims of voting irregularities, intimidation and racial overtones in the Democratic primary, an attorney said.

Sheriff Reginald Jackson, Circuit Clerk Mon Cree Allen and Supervisor Richard Hollins went to court to challenge their re-election losses in the Aug. 7 primary.

What makes the case unusual is that the three incumbents wanted a court to decide the matter, but it now appears they don’t want to participate in the hearings that began last week. ...

The incumbents were reportedly losing the Democratic primary when the polls closed. But they were declared winners after paper ballots were counted by a small group of people, including the sheriff’s sister, Easter Prater, the chair of the county’s Democratic Executive Committee.

That’s when accusations began to surface that someone stuffed the ballot boxes.

“We have made allegations of massive fraud regarding the paper ballots,” Piazza told The Associated Press on Saturday. “And now these folks have announced in open court that they are taking the Fifth Amendment.” ...

In a disturbing twist to the story, [Kirk] Smith, the only white candidate in the debacle, has been the victim of a series of tragedies since the primary, Piazza said. Smith’s wife, Donna, was arrested in a courtroom when she disputed the results. She was cleared of disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace charges and is suing the deputy, Piazza said. Also, vandals damaged Smith’s construction equipment and his home burned just days later.

“It was definitely an arson,” Smith told the AP.

Wilkinson County is in the extreme southwest corner of the state and has population of about 10,000 — about 70 percent black and 30 percent white.

This is not the first time whites in Mississippi have claimed racial intimidation during an election. A federal judge ruled in June that the Noxubee County Democratic Party in eastern Mississippi violated whites’ voting rights. That was the first time the 1965 Voting Rights Act was used on behalf of whites.

Maybe there’s something in the water in Mississippi’s black belts that causes everyone in power there, white or black, to play dirty tricks with elections.

þ: Rick Hasen.

Friday, 12 October 2007

MMP goes down in Ontario

Prof. Shugart reports on the failure of the Ontario ballot measure which would have changed to a mixed electoral system, previously discussed here. As it happens, I ended up weaving a bit of his analysis into my (8 a.m.!) lecture on demands for electoral reform in plurality jurisdictions—the topic of the bulk of Chapter 2 of David Farrell’s Electoral Systems textbook.

In seeming parallel with Prof. Shugart’s thoughts, I note that this month’s PS symposium on electoral reform in the states omits any article-length discussion of alternative electoral systems. Certainly the emphasis on this side of the 49th parallel is on (seemingly) nonpartisan administration and redistricting issues, rather than any perceived unfairness of plurality elections per se.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

MMP referendum in Ontario Wednesday

Matthew Shugart reminds readers of tomorrow’s referendum in Ontario on adopting a mixed-member proportional electoral system to replace its existing purely constituency-based plurality system. If nothing else, it’s auspicious since this term I’m indulging my semi-closeted comparativist in my Introduction to Politics course—with the main theme considering representation and voting systems. Now, if only we were on the right chapter of Electoral Systems, although the chapter on plurality systems—where we are now—does talk a bit about electoral reforms: most notably, Labour’s long-promised but never-delivered referendum on electoral reform in Britain, dating back to 1997.

Tuesday, 7 November 2006


I voted about an hour ago at the oddly-named Ethical Society building on Clayton Road in Ladue; I was in and out the door in about fifteen minutes. On the way in, someone gave me some literature for two candidates: one of them wasn’t on my ballot, but I voted against the other one, who had already mailbombed me with two flyers in the past week.

Voters were offered a choice between touchscreen (with paper trail) and paper ballots; I went touchscreen. There were eight pages of questions, and I got to vote for a bunch of people I’d never heard of, in addition to the all-important ballot initiatives.

Incidentally, nobody told me I was going to get to vote against retaining about two dozen judges, so that was a nice bonus bit of schadenfreude.

Thursday, 9 March 2006

My secret life as a Condorcet voter

As of this posting, I am one of 290 Debian developers who have thus far bothered to vote on the first General Resolution of 2006, which will state Debian’s position on the GNU Free Documentation License and decide whether (and under what conditions) GFDL-licensed documents will be allowed in Debian’s “main” distribution.

My sense is that the spirit of the Debian Free Software Guidelines is most consistent with the interpretation embodied in Amendment A—I seriously doubt the Free Software Foundation will go after people who distribute GFDL-licensed documents on DRMed media and the “transparent formats” issue is probably a non-issue in practice, judging from the distinct lack of interest by the FSF in going after people who violate the GPL’s “you must make source available for three years” rule, but the invariant sections rule is clearly non-free and cannot be ignored.

Unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on your perspective) this means Debian users will not have access to most of the documentation that uses invariant sections—primarily those documents distributed by the FSF themselves. On the upside, it will at least spare our users from having reams of Richard Stallman’s political rants foisted upon them and their hard drives in exchange for the privilege of having the Emacs manual available.

So, anyway, here’s how I voted, since it will be public at the close of the vote anyway: 2143—or, in other words, Amendment A [GFDL allowed if invariant sections not used] > Original Resolution [GFDL not allowed at all] > Further Discussion > Amendment B [anything GFDL'd goes].

Next up: the elections for Debian Project Leader, featuring a smorgasbord of seven candidates.