By Jameson Quinn: As discussed in previous threads such as this one, I and others will be making an EPH+ proposal to the Business Meeting; and so I was running a fundraiser so that I could be there to help explain it.
The good news is that fundraiser has reached its goal. Yay! I’ll see you all there! Thank you to everyone who’s supported it so far. But the fundraiser is not over.
I have been working on these issues, unpaid, off and on since early last year. I’m doing that partly because I have always been a fan, though not prior to this a congoing fan. But my main motivation is just that I’ve devoted a nontrivial part of my life to thinking about better voting systems, and I see this as an opportunity to use that knowledge while helping educate people about the advantages such systems offer.
So, like my own involvement in this issue, my fundraiser is not merely for myself. I’m raising funds for the Center for Election Science (electology.org), and all donations are tax-deductible in the US. As an organization, we do education, research, consulting, and advocacy around issues of voting systems; that is, exactly the same kinds of work I’ve been doing with EPH and the Hugos. With the support this community has given so far, I’ll be able to be there at MAC II; but if you can give us more support, we can do more.
It doesn’t take more than a glance at the newspaper these days to see the fallout of poor election systems. I’ll discuss a few examples here, to help show what good systems have to offer. Let me begin by saying that the CES is a nonpartisan organization. I’m going to speak not as a voter with my own personal point of view on these matters, but as a voting system designer, in the faith that societies and organizations should be free to make their decisions democratically and that such democratic decision-making is the most sustainable, if not always the fastest, way to come to the correct decisions.
- In the UK, a momentary bare majority managed to take a decision whose impact will last decades. Of course, every decision has impacts, and from a long term perspective every majority is temporary; but from my point of view as an election theorist, asymmetrical decisions like Brexit should require a supermajority. There were at least two asymmetries in this case. First, you can tear up a treaty any time, but once you’ve shredded it, it’s much harder to tape it back together. And second, the consequences of a “remain” vote were relatively clear, but the very meaning of a “leave” vote was quite vague, allowing a situation where there were groups of “leave” voters with entirely contradictory visions of what the post-Brexit relationship with Europe should be.In light of those asymmetries, the “Brexit” referendum should not have been symmetrical between yes and no. A “yes” result should have taken more than a “no” result. That could have taken the form of a supermajority requirement, but the problem with that is, any such requirement is essentially arbitrary. A better way to do it would be to have required two consecutive results in order to leave, with some time for deliberation in between.
- In the US Democratic party, there was a tough battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Clinton won, and a key factor in that victory was her strong support from African-American voters, a cornerstone constituency of the party. Yet because of an antiquated primary election schedule, most of the early campaign for both Sanders and Clinton had focused on two of the Whitest states in the country: Iowa and New Hampshire. I believe both of the candidates would have been better served by a schedule where the initial states looked more like the country as a whole, especially in terms of the demographics of the Democrats.
- Meanwhile, on the Republican side, Donald Trump won the nomination despite getting a minority of votes in the primary contests. Because the primaries used vote-for-one plurality, his numerous opponents split the vote, allowing his minority support to put him into the a clear lead from the start. If the primary elections and polls had been run using a better system such as approval voting, the anti-Trump voters would have had a much easier time showing their strength. We can’t know for certain who would have won under such a system; some might argue it still would have been Trump. But if it were, he would have had to win by uniting Republicans behind him, not just by dividing his opposition.
- Elsewhere in the news, we see repeated terrorist attacks in various countries; and many of the attackers are affiliated with or claimed by ISIS/Daesh. ISIS arose in Iraq, in the power vacuum left after George Bush toppled Saddam Hussein. And George Bush would almost certainly never have become president in 2001 if it hadn’t been for the broken election system in Florida, where he got a minority of votes but still took the state’s electoral support. In this case, it’s pretty clear that under approval voting, things would have gone differently; if third-party voters had been able to support both their favorite candidate and a backup compromise, all evidence suggests that the minority Bush got would not have been enough to win the state.
- (Bear with me for one last “river city” transition.) We recently saw a failed coup in Turkey, in which elements of a more-secular military tried to take the country from a democratically-elected Islamist president. This echoes the successful coup in 2013 in Egypt, in which Islamist president Morsi was overthrown by military strongman el-Sisi. Morsi was the only democratically elected president in Egypt’s history. But tragically, Morsi, like Bush, had won despite the fact that most of the country voted against him; and this “unpopular mandate” is arguably a large part of what led to the coup. His initial win was a two-round election. In the first round, there were several candidates: two Islamists (Morsi and Fotouh), a representative of the military and old guard (Shafik), and two more-secular reformers (Sabahi and Moussa). Morsi and Shafik were the top two in that round, and so, despite the fact that their combined total was under 50%, they faced each other in the runoff, with no reformist option on that second ballot. Though opinion polls in this situation were unreliable, all the two-way polls we have that matched either Morsi or Shafik against a reformer show that a reformer could have won if they’d made it to a runoff! And the reformist candidates’ combined total in the first round easily surpassed either of the individual totals of the two who did progress. Thus, it seems very plausible that a better voting system (such as approval with runoff, or majority judgment) could have avoided the situation that led to the Egyptian coup in the first place.
I don’t want to spark a thread of political debate — there are other blogs for that. But I hope I’ve made my point that election system reform is not just for the Hugos. In many countries, and especially here in the US, polls show satisfaction with available the political options at an all-time low, but across most of the English-speaking world we use plurality voting, a horrible system which is structured so as to blunt the incentives for the existing parties, or the ability of new parties, to viably offer new ideas. If you care about breaking this stalemate, you care about election systems, and electology.org deserves your support through my fundraiser. Or, sign up for our newsletter to learn more about how we’re working on this problem.
My original budget for going to the con was $1400, including membership, train fare (I prefer trains over airplanes to save on CO?), lodging, expenses, and youcaring’s small crowdfunding fees. I lowered that to $1300 in order to help get the fundraiser over the top. But really, I’d like to see this pass $2000, so please, if you can, support us. Frankly, the CES needs the money, as we testify before legislatures, attend other conventions and run straw polls, engage with media and produce educational materials, carry out research, work on software tools, consult with awards organizations such as the Hugos and Webbys, and other activities. Our Executive Director is committed to the cause and draws low wages, but I know for a fact there’s at least one other charity that wants to steal him from us at higher wages, so we really need to begin paying him a larger fraction of what he’s worth.