Re: What OVC does not address

From: Jeff Almeida <spud_at_spudzeppelin_dot_com>
Date: Fri Apr 16 2004 - 13:50:16 CDT

Also Sprach David Mertz:

>>"While our system can certainly determine the plurality winner of an
>>election, we would strongly encourage jurisdictions to review the
>>technical literature surrounding the failings of single-vote
>>plurality results in multicandidate races, and adopt a system less
>>prone to mathematical paradox."

>I would STRONGLY oppose inclusion of any such language in any OVC
>materials. It is ABSOLUTELY not appropriate for OVC to engage in such
>advocacy of particular tallying styles (or rather, against one
>particular one--the "failings" of single-vote plurality).

It's not advocacy, it's a disclaimer. We need to get to what people
(non-technical people, mostly) are looking for from ALL of this: "better"
elections, for some definition of better. NONE of what we do from the
perspective of ballot-marking, auditability, and improved vote counting
means anything if the process in which it is used is an accident waiting
to happen, or worse. Put another way, there'd also be nothing precluding
the use of our touch-screen package, tabulator, etc. in an old-Soviet-style
single-candidate-per-race election, it'd just be rather uninteresting.

All that said, the problems with single-vote plurality are not political
questions. If you ask people if they want a tabulation system wherein the
Condorcet last-place-finisher (once you explain what that means) can be
declared the winner of the election with astounding frequency (and several
well-known examples), you'd have unanimity or a reasonable approximation
thereof. Telling people that we can compute the plurality winner, but
that that result may not mean anything significant is just another
obligation we have as the "experts" when counselling them on how to have
"better" elections.

Even here in the 'burbs, these problems could arise fairly routinely (like
I said, Texas solved it already): the Republican primary for Denton County
Sheriff last month (and with no Democrat running, it basically decides the
position) was a five-way race where the "winner" polled 38%, and second
and third place were separated by all of about 19 votes. Had this been a
plurality, he'd be our new Sheriff-elect come November. However, all
three other candidates endorced the second-place finisher in the
subsequent runoff (which was held Tuesday) and said "second-place
finisher" won handily -- it turns out the plurality winner was the
last-place choice of over half the electorate -- a Condorcet "loser" by

The bottom line is, people want systems to WORK. Instinctively, they know
"works" from "doesn't work" without drilling into the technical details to
the level that we do; I'm sure that if you polled the Minnesota
legislature, 95%+ of them would tell you William Riker was the first
officer on Star Trek -- mathematical methods in Political Science is an
INCREDIBLY obscure discipline; yet if you describe the paradoxes in a way
they would understand, they would run from plurality like the system was
carrying ebola.

jeff :)

Jeff D. "Spud (Zeppelin)" Almeida
Corinth, TX
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Received on Fri Apr 30 23:17:08 2004

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