Re: Best Possible Voting System

From: Douglas W. Jones <jones_at_cs_dot_uiowa_dot_edu>
Date: Thu Aug 05 2004 - 14:42:07 CDT

On Aug 5, 2004, at 1:18 PM, Alan Dechert wrote:

> The Best Possible Voting System is the one where voter
> disenfranchisement is
> the most minimal. What do you think?

This is wrong.

The best possible voting system is one where the final official
vote totals most accurately reflect the intent of the electorate.
If we limit the discussion to the issues raised by your first hack
at the problem, we find two conflicting requirements:

1) The legitimate votes of the electorate must not be overly
    diluted by illegitimate votes -- votes cast by those who are
    not legal electors.

2) Every legitimate elector must be permitted to cast a vote
    so that exclusion of legitimate electors does not bias the
    result.

If all we do is optimize for minimal disenfranchisement - ignoring
requirement 1 - we can simply throw the polls open to everyone who
wants to vote, with no regard to preventing someone from voting
again and again. This will lead to results that are far from
optimal.

If all we do is optimize for minimal fraud - ignoring requirement
number 2 - we must impose security on the polling places that is
so extreme that it will drive away legitimate voters. Require
every voter to submit a DNA sample, fingerprints, retinal images
and other redundant proofs of identity, for example. Clearly, if
we do this invasively enough, nobody's going to want to vote.

When I testified before the House Science Committee 3 years ago,
the divide was quite startling. The Democrats all seemed
interested in item 2, access, while being reluctant to talk about
item 1, fraud, while the Republicans were all the reverse.

I ended up, in my oral testimony, scolding them, pointing out that
optimizing in terms of either one of these goals would give an
undesirable result, while what we needed was polling places that
were both moderately open and moderately secure, so that the
security measures did not deter legitimate votes while reducing
fraud to the point of insignificance.

This is a difficult balancing act.

                Doug Jones
                jones@cs.uiowa.edu
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Received on Tue Aug 31 23:17:04 2004

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