I Go, Hugo, We All Go, to the MACII Business Meeting

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.

Jameson Quinn

Jameson Quinn

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.

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36 thoughts on “I Go, Hugo, We All Go, to the MACII Business Meeting

  1. Heh. I see you used the same photo that the VD club were comparing to some kind of greek letter small mammal earlier (which I guess was supposed to be an insult).

  2. Jameson: excellent points. I will see what I can donate for both purposes.

  3. Jameson Quinn: Really, you should send me some photos of yourself that you like. I’d be happy to change this one. And I’m sure this won’t be the last time there’ll be an opportunity to use one.

  4. So in terms of things that actually remain to be discussed in this thread:

    – Greg Hullender suggested in the other thread that instead of making an amendment to EPH to allow it to be revoked in any of the next 5 years, we should make a proposal that would allow any changes to the Hugo selection system with only 1 year lead time for that period. I think that’s a good idea, as long as there are some kind of checks and balances to prevent a stacked BM from mandating something impractical for the admins. Such checks and balances could include: ratification by online vote or ratification by some kind of admin/SMOF body.

    (to be continued)

  5. (continuing)

    -Is there any way for me to get on the programming at this late date? Is there anybody here who could help me with that?

  6. The photo is fine. I like greek letters and small mammals.

    (Actually IIRC they compared me to a literal rabid puppy. But since they didn’t use either of those words, I think they weren’t even being ironic, just showing their one-track minds.)

  7. My reaction to that picture was “Hey, Jameson’s pretty cute.”

    But then I only have ovaries — what do I know, right? 😉

  8. /me blushes.

    (That pic is about 4 years old, but somehow I find I have significantly more grey hairs these days.)

    ETA: FYWP, “CO2”.

  9. As it happens, I think how things are playing out right now is a good reason why we require two years for most constitutional changes. While I’m willing to accept (and propose) amendments to allow faster change for specific cases, I know I’d vote against any blanket attempts to suspend the two-year rule for (say) all of Article 3 (the Hugo Awards). And the only WSFS “SMOF body” is the WSFS Mark Protection Committee, and we have a long history of stripping that body of most of its authority. I rather doubt the Business Meeting would vote to give the MPC the authority to override the Business Meeting’s decisions.

    On a tangentially related subject, I’ve heard people saying that proxies should be allowed at the Business Meeting, or that the meeting should be streamed in real time with anyone tuned in online able to participate and vote. I suggest that if we ever get that far, the 70-plus-year experiment in direct democracy by WSFS should be declared over, and I would advocate for the creation of a Council of WSFS elected by the membership as a whole by ballot, with that body being responsible for the actual decision making. It’s really difficult enough to manage an in-person meeting of 300 people. Trying to manage a live-streamed meeting with every remote member having the same rights as those attending in person would be unworkable in my opinion.

  10. I have to say that you are a complete whackjob. No offense. You understand my POV. You seem to have welded yourself to the idea that voters who don’t follow your POV need to be corralled and restrained and perhaps, as in Turkey or Egypt, locked up or put down.

    WRT to the British saying no to the EU in polls as did the Dutch and several other polities, you seem to think that a supermajority vote is required to overturn the decision of some politicians a generation ago because, why exactly? The opt out is in lieu of bloody revolution. My generation understood that from studying 2000 years of western culture but your take is somewhat more aligned with Trotsky and son, ‘electioneering’ isn’t going to quell the inevitable revolution.

    As to the Democratic Party electioneering you seem to champion, the DNC actually put their finger very heavily on the scale to exclude any chance of Bernie winning. Where the DNC led, the media followed and Bernie was going to be tarred as a radical bomb thrower by the Party because they were for Hillary in exactly NOT THE SAME WAY that the GOP was for Trump. The GOP HATED Trump yet he won. You have no idea how reviled the GOP is with the vast majority of people who, like the British, are fed up with an elite that refuses to answer to the electorate time after time after time and just feathers their own nests just as the Clintons have. The GOP was ripe for Trump just as the DNC was ripe for Bernie. You should keep in mind that in a huuuuugggggge field of candidates, Trump got 13 million more votes than any other GOP nominee ever. Think about it.

    WRT some sort of power vacuum left by Bush, you’re an absolute idiot. Even Obama and the Democrats thought that war was won when Obama unilaterally, all of a sudden, abandoned Iraq to its own self after 12 years of NO POWER VACUUM and Obama pulled the rug out from under and created the power vacuum by withdrawing unilaterally from the country without any negotiations of meaning. He was hellbent to do the same and did do the same to Afghanistan (the war that matters) and look what that got us. You’re blind.

    You’re like Erdogan and countless other intellectual fools that believe you know better than a simple majority. You have to come up with some ‘trick’ to offset the simple will of the people. You may have achieved some goal by coming up with a way to keep the Hugo tottering along as a zombie poll of cattle but I don’t see where you get the idea that it is your mission or our mission to overturn the simple will of the majority simply because you find yourself, suddenly, unexpectedly, in the minority.

    You keep changing the rules until your side wins and we’ll all just sit back and admire the finesse with which you recapitulate Castro, Stalin, Honneker, Ceausescu, Maduro, Baby Doc, the PRI, and the Party that has ruled and destroyed the most violent and sectarian cities in the United States for the last 50 years.

    You should find anybody on the other side of your equation to quaff a beer or two with every week and discuss your moral philosophy because you have a serious problem with democracy and you really don’t know it.

  11. Well, sorry about that, Mike. I said I didn’t want to provoke political debate; I guess I failed. I’m not going to respond except to say that Curtis has utterly misconstrued what I said in order to make an inflammatory response, and we all know the name for people who do that on the internet, and the maxim about what nourishment they should get.

  12. As I’ve gotten older I say this more & more: “real life & what’s said online* would never be accepted in fiction – it wouldn’t be believable

    *online was added on later as Internet didn’t exist when I was a teen 😉

  13. Y’know, starting a comment with “No offense” is a lot like starting with “I’m not a . . .” . You know what’s going to follow is going to be offensive.

  14. No no. Don’t apologize to Mike. Expand. Defend your thesis. You wrote it, not me.

    “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”

    What you wrote above is profound idiocy and to dodge behind Mike now to the glad cries of your champions is simply abject acknowledgement that yes, you were writing about politics. You actually used the word “political”.

    I’m interested to know what is inflammatory about quoting you? I did no more than read you, respond and quote your initial argument that you were going to simply eschew politics because….

    Democracy IS PLURALITY VOTING. What could be simpler than that?

    I understand that folks like you with a lack of understanding for democracy have no idea how a Republic works.

  15. “polls show satisfaction with available the political options at an all-time low”

    I’m dissatisfied with the candidates that are bubbling to the top of the ballots. I’ve got no particular beef with the process.

    If you are saying that a different process would yield better candidates, I’d be willing to entertain the argument. But it’s not obvious that (for example) the British Parliamentary process is doing any better for them than ours (U.S.) is doing for us.

  16. PJ Evans, as best as I can decipher, Curtis seems to be upset that the Democratic candidate who lost the popular vote by some 3.5 million voters is not being designated the official candidate of the Democratic party. <shrug> But the rhetoric is a little difficult to untangle, and I freely admit that I might be mistaken.

  17. I have a hard time parsing @Curtis comments. But I have to say that you are a complete whackjob as a first sentence wasn’t much of an incentive to parse the rhetoric. I find being clear and concise without insults gets better results although I’m not always up to my own standards.

  18. Democracies are countries in which political power is grounded in the will of the people, who are regularly consulted in using impartial voting systems. Plurality meets that definition, but it’s still just about the worst possible voting system. Other voting systems which are better for political elections include: approval voting, mixed member PR, Majority Judgment, Condorcet voting, Score voting, SODA voting, and even in many cases sortition.

    @Bill: yes, a different process would elect better candidates (and push them to act better once it had elected them). No, it would not be perfect, but it would be better. Note that the UK uses the same voting system (plurality voting in single member districts, aka first past the post); Westminister parliamentarianism is a governmental system not a voting system.

  19. I might be motivated to defend my thesis if you could critique it clearly and civilly. That means no ad hominem against me, and though you’re free to use examples of real-world politicians, no ad hominem against them either. I have my opinions about which politicians are good or bad people, but my post is not about that at all, but rather about how different voting systems might affect the results and/or incentives of politics.

  20. @Jamieson “Westminister parliamentarianism is a governmental system not a voting system.”

    So it is; I stand corrected.

    But to go from the (wrong) specific to the general — can you give some examples of where the other voting systems you named produce better candidates than the “first past the post” that most U.S. elections use? That’s a reasonably bold assertion, and it is difficult for me to imagine a robust demonstration of its truth.

    First past the post has yielded good candidates, and bad candidates, in elections. How do you show that the bad candidates are a product of the election system, and that they wouldn’t arise in one of the other voting systems you’ve named?

    (and I’d be satisfied with a link to a paper at the electology website, if one exists. I am truly curious, and am a complete newbie wrt to other voting systems.)

  21. @Bill: Consider what it would take to empirically prove a causal link from better voting systems to “good candidates”. You’d need:
    – A clear quantitative metric for candidate “goodness”
    – A large sample of election results including various kinds of voting systems
    – An assignment mechanism which was used for deciding which voting system to use that had sufficient randomness uncorrelated with confounding influences on candidate “goodness”
    – Enough data on those confounding covariates to distill out that randomness
    – Probably some distributional assumptions and the like.

    Of the above 5 necessary factors, we’d have a hard time getting 2.

    So does that mean I have no evidence for what I say? No, just that it’s unreasonable to ask for purely empirical evidence. Consider what you’d need in order to have a purely theoretical argument that better systems lead to better candidates:
    – A generative model capable of creating imaginary scenarios including candidates, voters, and utilities. (The utilities implicitly determine candidate “goodness”.)
    – A media model for what the the voters in that scenario would know about each other.
    – A strategic model for how they would vote, given the election system, their information about the rest of the electorate, and their own utilities.

    Basically, those are the requirements for calculating VSE, voter satisfaction efficiency. Using models I consider realistic, plurality has a VSE around 70%, while the other systems I mentioned are around 85%-90%.

    Another bit of theoretical evidence for better candidates lies in the historical examples of spoiled elections like the ones I mentioned in my post. Obviously it’s a matter of opinion whether Gore was better than Bush, or Sabahi was better than Morsi, in a moral sense; but in a democratic sense, the better candidate is by definition the one that would win in a two-way race, and by that definition all available evidence suggests that Gore and Sabahi were indeed the better candidates.

    A final argument for “better” involves not outcomes but incentives. Plurality leads to races with only two viable candidates (that’s called Duverger’s law). Such a race is a zero-sum game, and negative advertising makes sense in that context; even if voters sour somewhat on the candidate who does it, if the ad is well done they sour more on the target. But with better voting systems, more than two candidates can be viable, which changes the game theory. A negative ad which hurts you a little bit and the target more will end up favoring any opponent you didn’t target.

  22. it’s unreasonable to ask for purely empirical evidence.

    It sounds like you are saying that it is near impossible to show that a different election system would give better candidates (or, perhaps, has ever done so in the past).

    I presume you’d like to convince me (and others) to change our election systems. To get anything other than disinterested academic attention from me, though, I’ll want some reason to think better candidates will come out as a result. You sum up the theoretical arguments with estimates of VSE. I don’t doubt that VSE is a good thing, but it’s not the same as better candidates.

    A different election system might have benefited Gore over Bush, and the population might have been more satisfied in some broad way with Gore than it has been with Bush (that remains to be seen), but you’re still arguing over the same two candidates, neither of which I though represented the best that this country has to offer. Both of them enjoyed political success because of their fathers, which is one of the worst possible reasons to be successful (didn’t we fight a revolution to get out from under inherited political power?)

    but in a democratic sense, the better candidate is by definition the one that would win in a two-way race,

    This isn’t what I was getting at by “better”. My ideal is something closer to Cincinnatus, someone who doesn’t really want the job, but when drafted, does his best as he understands it for the body politic. George Washington did his eight years and then said “I’m done — it would be best if someone else took the job now”. Can you imagine any modern president (or presidential candidate) turning down a third term?

    You speak of incentives within the context of the election. I’m worried about the incentives that move people to want to run in elections. The requirements of political success seem to be tied to fund-raising abilities nowadays. Freshmen congressmen often express their surprise at how they have to spend half of every working day on the phone begging for money, even in “safe” districts. So we get candidates who are good at getting money. This often means promising the donors to use the power of government in ways that will benefit the donors. I don’t want office-holders selling access, or otherwise rent-seeking.

    Example: Municipal candidates want the support of police unions. They promise and award contracts that insulate officers from transparency and accountability (see Policeman’s Bill of Rights contracts). And we end up with broad segments of the population distrusting of and mad at the police. Which is not a good thing — citizens and the police should be on the same side.

    Example: I, like many others, am amazed that someone as outrageous as Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. But 4 years ago, Romney (who was a non-outrageous, “normal” sort of guy) ran and was accused of personally causing a woman to die of cancer. What sort of person wants to deal with that? Who wants to put their family through what a national candidate goes through? Good people are looking at politics and saying, “hell no!”

    I’m more interested in what can be done about incentives that bring people into (and out of) politics. To change the pool of candidates. I had no regard for Teddy Kennedy’s political views (or his morals, wrt to Chappaquiddick), but I do think he entered politics with the idea of service, as did his older brothers. I don’t perceive that from most federal-level candidates nowadays.

    It’s been decades since I voted for a president or congressman because I would really have liked to see them win. I usually end up voting for the lesser of evils. That’s what I’m talking about when I look for better candidates.

    The only thing I see about some of the other proposed voting systems that you mention that look like they might help would be ones that would give greater access and exposure to third party candidates. And I’m not sure about that — I think a Green Party candidate can lust for power just as much as a Republican or Democrat, and be just as subject to perverse incentives.

  23. I see what you’re asking. It’s hard to answer without using real-world examples; but as soon as I do, I’m going to fall into the trap of saying that X is or would have been better than Y, when there are surely people who’d disagree with any such particular judgement of mine.

    So OK, fine, I’ll do it. With apologies to Mike for actually taking a partisan position. At least I’ll try to come up with examples from across the spectrum. I’ll stick to the US, because otherwise this would get too long.

    My argument is: approval voting is likely to lead to more candidates like Michael Bloomberg instead of Ross Perot; like Bernie Sanders instead of Ralph Nader; and like Marco Rubio instead of Donald Trump. In all three of these pairs, I think that the former is closer to acting in the interests of the nation as a whole, while the latter tends to be more divisive and self-promoting. In all cases, the latter succumbed to the urge to put themselves forward as the representative of their most extreme supporters, even though this (I’d claim, or in the case of Trump, hope) likely diminished the voice of those supporters in actually deciding the presidential election; while the former in some way showed some humility and resisted this temptation. In approval voting, it would be less necessary for the humble to actively take a step back; they could continue to aggressively push their own vision without ultimately helping the candidate most opposed to that vision.

    Is this speculation? Of course it is. The only modern country to use approval voting for routine elections was Greece, and they stopped around 1920, so there aren’t a lot of clear examples of what candidates it would actually lead to. But I think that there are candidates with promising visions who do not run for fear of being a spoiler, while their less-judicious fellow-travellers do put themselves forward; and that that dynamic is part of why we end up with such dissatisfying options in the end.

  24. I do think the big problem there isn’t the system to choose a president. The problem is voting to choose a president at all. I really prefer a system voting for parties instead of strong leaders.

  25. Hampus: That’s another kettle of fish. My point is that whether we are choosing parties or presidents, we should be using some system for choosing which avoids the numerous severe pathologies of plurality voting. Those pathologies include bad effects on who becomes a candidate, bad incentives for the candidates, and bad outcomes for which candidate wins.

  26. Jameson — thanks for taking a shot at the answer. I’m not sure I agree with what you are saying, but I appreciate the response. (and I just realized I misspelled your name a few posts back — my apologies)

    @Hampus I really prefer a system voting for parties instead of strong leaders.

    I think this just shifts accountability for who picks the strong leaders. The DNC emails from wikileaks appear to show that the Democrat Party establishment settled on Hillary Clinton some time ago, and put a thumb on the scales to bend things her way.

  27. “I think this just shifts accountability for who picks the strong leaders.”

    Ah, no. The point is that you shouldn’t have a strong leader at all. But to get there, first mission must be to remove the two party system.

  28. It’s tough to argue what’s politically better without taking any ideological positions (or while taking all possible positions). So I feel as if I’m making the case with one hand tied behind my back. But the bottom line is: though we can’t know for sure, there are reasons to suspect that there are good candidates who today stay out of the race for fear of being spoilers, but who under approval voting would be running. And conversely, it seems likely that candidates who don’t mind being spoilers would not do as well, because they would not be the only ones willing to run from outside of the mainstream. There are no reasons to expect that candidates would be worse under approval.

    This effect on the quality of the candidates is not the first argument for fixing plurality. Avoiding spoilers, reducing negative campaigning, and fostering healthier alliances between political blocs would be more important.

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