Numinations ó December, 2000

Election 2000

© 2000, by Gary D. Campbell

†† No one will ever truly be certain if the first American president of the third millenium was elected according to the laws of the land and the will of the people.† The flaws in the process were evident.

†† Election ballots can present a voter with three very different situations.† The simplest is when a candidate runs unopposed.† You can vote for the candidate, or abstain (possibly allowing a write-in candidate to win if sufficient write-in votes are cast).† The next simplest is the binary choice.† You can vote for or against; you can vote to retain or not to retain; you can vote for A or B.† However, when you have three or more choices, things arenít so simple.† A two-party system strives for that simple binary choice, but this requires all candidates to work within the mainstream parties, and this may not be acceptable in every case.† Letís numinate about fixing whatís wrong with our system as it pertains to electing a president.

†† If we have candidates A, B, and C, shouldnít it at least be the case that our election process could put the candidates into an uncontested first, second, and third place ranking?† Letís say that when A runs against B, A is the winner, and when B runs against C, B is the winner, then in a race between A and C, shouldnít A always be the winner?† It turns out this is not necessarily true.† Consider the case of three voters and three candidates.† Voter 1 could prefer A, but choose B if A were not running.† Voter 2 could prefer B, but choose C if B were not running.† And, voter 3 could prefer C, but choose A if C were not running.† Thus, with A versus B, voters 1 and 3 would elect A.† With B versus C, voters 1 and 2 would elect B.† And, with A versus C, voters 1 and 3 would elect C.† Each of these elections is won by a clear 2/3rds majority!† A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A.† Itís the old rock, paper, scissors game all over again.† Itís a problem, and Kenneth Arrow won the Nobel Prize proving all voting systems have them.

†† Election 2000 pointed out two weaknesses in our system that we could fix, however.† First, there is the problem that the popular vote is not reflected by the Electoral College winner take all approach.† Second, there is the effect of third party candidates unevenly pulling votes away from one of the major party candidates causing a different result than if there were no third choice on the ballot.

†† There are two ways to fix the first problem.† The most radical is to tally the votes nationally for the presidential election and declare a winner based on the popular vote without regard for state or district.† The second would preserve the intent of the constitution that we have a representative democracy, and that the election of a president should reflect a voterís representation within congress.† Each state has two senators, and a number of representatives determined by its population.† Each of these gives it a vote in the Electoral College.† There is no solid link between a voter and his electoral representative, however.† In all states, a majority of the state vote is supposed to determine two of its Electoral votes.† But for the remaining votes, only two states (Maine and Nebraska) do the logical thing and vote their congressional districts one by oneóin all other states itís winner take all.

†† My choice would be to retain the intent of our constitution, but update the process using the Maine-Nebraska approach.† Each congressional district should cast its vote for president.† A majority of the district votes should determine the stateís two additional votes (with a tie being possible).† Our founding fathers might have done it this way in the first place were it not for their lack of modern technology.

†† As for the second problem, how should we handle elections with three or more candidates?† This is a very hard problem.† So far, no scheme has ever been proposed that doesnít have a flaw, given criteria that most would accept as reasonable, coupled with special, but possible, voting patterns.† The current scheme suffers from two flaws, in my opinion.† First, it allows a candidate who would not be elected in any two-way race, to take votes away from another candidate who, with those votes, would be elected in all two-way races.† Second, it can discourage voters from voting their first-choice out of fear that a candidate they donít want might win.† In any race of three or more candidates, you have to ask yourself:† Who would I most like to win?† Who would be my second choice?† And, who would I least like to win?

†† Consider election 2000.† Isnít it possible that three two-way races could have had the following results?† Gore might have beaten Bush.† Bush might have beaten Nader.† Nader might have beaten Gore.† Even so, in a three-way race, most Nader supporters might have voted for Gore because they may have been even more worried that Bush would win.† Likewise, they might have voted for Nader only if they thought Bush was going to win anyway.† So, in such a three-way race, do either Gore or Nader get their fair share of votes?† I think notóbut how do we define ďfairĒ under these conditions?

†† Letís assume we can devise a better method for selecting among three or more alternatives.† What might that method be?† There are at least two approaches:† The tournament approach, where a number of binary votes are taken between various pairs of alternatives, and the ranking approach, where each voter assigns a value to all the alternatives.† There are any number of ways that either of these approaches might be implemented.† For example, the three most popular ways of running tournaments are round robin, single elimination, and double elimination.† As for ranking, weights can represent a simple ordering, or a more flexible assignment of some total value per voter.† The problem with making a change is that we donít want the voting process to become horrendously complex.

†† My approach to changing any working system is to make the smallest effective change and deviate as little as possible from the current intentions or conditions.† The simplest way I can see to address the three issues for each voter (first choice, second choice, and please not that one) is to list the candidates twice:† In the FOR category, you could vote for up to two candidates; in the AGAINST category, you could vote for one.† This means that you could cast up to two positive votes (for different candidates), and up to one negative vote for (presumably) a third candidate.

†† If I preferred Nader in election 2000, I could have voted FOR him and Gore, and cast a vote AGAINST Bush.† As it was, most Nader voters were likely to vote for Gore if they thought the race in their district or state was too close to call.† So, how many voters preferred Nader?† With our current system, thereís no way to tell.† With my proposal, a vote for both Nader and for Gore doesnít hurt either one of them.† On the other side of the ticket, voters might have cast positive votes for Bush and Buchanan, and negative votes for Gore.† Who knows?† Buchanan and Nader might even have qualified for federal matching campaign funds.

†† Numinate on the effects of these changes.† Voting starts within a precinct.† For purposes of voting for a president, each precinct is within a congressional district.† If there is any corruption or problem with the voting in a district, in the current system the effects could go beyond that district.† In the proposed system they could not.† In a representative democracy, oneís vote is supposed to have its effect at the local level.† A single vote can only influence a local result.† Each district is supposed to represent the same number of people, no matter where it is located in the United States.† It is the purpose of our census to update this every ten years.† If fifty voters decide the election in one district, and every voter turns out for an election in another district, obviously the voters in the first district have more individual voting power than those in the second.† The way that a single vote can influence the final outcome is different for different voting schemes.† In a representative democracy, a single vote typically carries more weight in some districts than it does in others.

†† In the unlikely event of a tie (as they say in the contest advertisements), I think that the incumbent senator or representative for the state or district in question should get to decide the issue.† If the tie occurs at the national level it should be treated as a tie vote in the senate, namely the vice president should get to break the tie.† The Electoral College would cease to be.

†† The effects of two positive and one negative votes per voter are even more interesting.† Our current two-party system overwhelmingly stacks the deck in favor of the mainstream parties.† The proposed system would greatly improve the situation for a third-party candidate.† Imagine an election between two mainstream candidates with a third-party candidate in the middle.† Suppose about half of the voters were for and against each of the mainstream candidates, but nearly all of them cast their second votes for the third-party candidate.† Itís possible that the two mainstream candidates might totally cancel each other outówith the net vote going almost entirely to the third-party candidate.† Scenarios where the winning candidateís net support would be less than a majority of the votes cast would become even more likely than they are in the current system.

†† Nevertheless, I claim that the collective will of the people would be better served with these changes than it is in our current system.† Can you think of a way to represent the collective will even better than this?† Can you think of a simpler way that adequately represents it?† If you can, please send me email.† If thereís a better way, letís work for change.† In any case, letís keep numinating!

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