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Mathematicians: Elections Flawed

Hemos posted more than 11 years ago | from the looking-at-the-math dept.

News 752

Nader-licious writes "Science News Online reports: 'With recent reports of malfunctioning voter machines and uncounted votes during primaries in Florida, Maryland, and elsewhere, reformers are once again clamoring for extensive changes. But while attention is focused on these familiar irregularities, a much more serious problem is being neglected: the fundamental flaws of the voting procedure itself. Mathematics are shedding light on questions about how well different voting procedures capture the will of the voters.' The verdict: the U.S. system might be the worst of the lot."

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FP! that was easy (5, Funny)

WhiteChocolate42 (618371) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587744)

US the worst? You don't need math to figure that out, you just need to look at the results.

Re:FP! that was easy (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587763)

Fuck Canada!

Re:FP! that was easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587852)

Canada Rules! []

The best way? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587780)

The candidates we get to choose from are already chosen, and the ones elected by the people get rubbed out, so voting is mostly just entertainment.

Having said that, and assuming one day democracy decides to rear it's head again, technology will not hold the key for the voting / tallying process. Small election halls with big chief tablets and number 2 pencils, and rotating citizen audits of the results, relative transparency - posting of *results* in hard copy and electronically. There is no other way. The current system is not trustworthy, adding technology to the mix just gives more excuses and less transparency for regular non ninja bit nerds. Follow the yellow brick road boys and girls, and mind your heads.

The system won't change (5, Interesting)

rseuhs (322520) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587827)

Currently, power is shared between Republicans and Democrats.

Neither would be happy if the system would allow more than 2 parties to exist, so neither will ever agree to a substantial reform.

Re:The system won't change (2)

1010011010 (53039) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587860)

This is true, as far as I can tell. They keep changing and raising the bar to getting candidates on the ballot, and re-organize districts to favor the major parties.

Re:The system won't change (2)

Wellspring (111524) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587898)

Nice Heinlein quote in your .sig.

You should read what Heinlein had to say about third parties and the value of the two-party system during his political career in Los Angeles.

Re:The system won't change (1)

1010011010 (53039) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587917)

Link? I'd like to read about that.

Re:The system won't change (2)

sg_oneill (159032) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587897)

Unfortunately that may be the case. If you actually look at the vote Nader get & you translated that into seats on a proportional basis, you would see a different issue altogether. 2 Dominant parties, with a "balance of power" held by smaller parties, which in a mathemajikal way theoretically works far more democratically than the absolute powers afforded to parties at the moment. With the dominant party having to either get the aproval of (A) The other dominant party or (B) one or more of the minors, the government is forced to make decisions that theoretically must represent 50%+ of the mandate of the public.
First past the post & Presidential systems just don't really cut it.
Lost the presidency position and get a primeminister!!!!

Re:FP! that was easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587832)


Re:FP! that was easy (3, Insightful)

salimma (115327) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587859)

Well, if you don't just count the acknowledged democracies, there are weirder election results to behold - for example:

- the Yemeni presidential election [] , won by president Saleh against a candidate from his own party who endorsed the incumbent with over 96% of the vote,

- the Iraqi referendum [] , extending Saddam's rule for another 7 years, won with 100% of the vote, with the result announced only a few hours after voting ends.

Be grateful that at least in the US the vote count was mostly conducted in a fair way - it could be much worse :)

and in other news (5, Funny)

hype7 (239530) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587884)

philosophers have discovered that life isn't fair.

-- james

manpussy! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587745)

Vote for summa that!

Re:manpussy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587925)

stop promoting yourself

Ooh...big surprise... (1)

kcbrown (7426) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587748)

The verdict: the U.S. system might be the worst of the lot.

And it gets even worse when you combine it with the effects of a more or less centralized (in the case of the U.S., corporate-owned) mass media...

so WhatsNew (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587749)

Anyway the results are flawed due to the "Lobbying" of corrupt politicians.

Both Republicans and Democrats care only about power. There are no leaders and crusaders in this country.

Please no funny stuff.. (-1, Troll)

Sex_On_The_Beach (621587) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587755)

I'm sick of all this senseless humour, it contributes nothing to the topic!!.. More intelligent responses thank u.
./ just getting filled with humourous junk.

Re:Please no funny stuff.. (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587771)

So I shouldn't make a comment about a new distributed computing network for analysis of the design of the Slashdot voting systems?

Re:Please no funny stuff.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587778)

Most of the senseless humour I've seen contributes to the topic by making people think about the topic, possibly in a was that they wouldn't do.

A short one liner or a joke can be far better then a few pages of 'This is the truth, I am GOD' drivel.

Ask /. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587756)

Dear Slashdot,

How can I MD5 my girlfriend to make sure she hasn't been trojaned? Thanks,

-Jason Strumfeld
Alsich, Texas

Re:Ask /. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587783)

Go to Sub-Saharan Africa - sure, she may have AIDS, but I'll bet you she's never had a trojan condom in her.

Voting What the founders intended (2, Funny)

linuxislandsucks (461335) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587758)

Do not forget that the foudner sof this country never intedned the common man or women to choose our president..

Thats why we have delegates to pick president instead of popular vote..

The founders felt that the common man or wome was to stupid to effectively pick a president of a country..

and the funny part is that they are right..when was the last time the common man and women of this country rejected what media and lobbyists tell us and vote with our minds and hearts? Not in the past 50 yearsd has this happened..

Absolutely wrong. (5, Insightful)

rjh (40933) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587811)

If the Founders felt the common man or woman was too stupid to pick the President, they wouldn't have permitted a popular vote at all. The Founders did think the electorate was ill-equipped to select Senators, and made special provisions in the Constitution for Senators to be elected by State legislatures as opposed to the people.

If what you're saying was right, we'd see the President selected the same way. No, the Electoral College exists because of a concern they had in those long-ago days, a concern which is still very valid today: a concern that with pure direct election of the President, metropolitan areas would overwhelm rural interests and we'd wind up with a government "by the cities, of the cities" instead of one which represented the whole nation. If we had direct popular election of the Presidency, do you think the President would ever care about what concerns citizens in Montana had?

Take a look at the county-by-county election returns from the 2000 campaign. It's an absolute sea of red, except for a few small blotches of blue up and down the coastlines and other small blotches in the Midwest.

County-by-county, it was a Bush blowout. Not even close. We hadn't seen a county-by-county blowout like that since Reagan sent Mondale packing in '84.

It was only in terms of pure popular vote that Gore nudged ahead. But, as it turns out, pure popular vote doesn't matter in Presidential elections. It's pure electoral vote that matters.

Re:Absolutely wrong. (2, Interesting)

nutshell42 (557890) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587845)

The question is:

Should democracy be the choice of the majority of people or the majority of land.

But of course a overrepresentation of minorities is important you can't let 5 wolves and 2 sheep vote about what to eat for dinner.

Re:Absolutely wrong. (2, Interesting)

Theatetus (521747) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587867)

The Constitution does not prohibit the statewide plebiscites for the President, but it does not guarantee them either (ie, I can't think of a Constitutional challenge if a state decided to appoint its electors in some manner besides a statewide vote).

Still, the electoral college seems like exactly the sort of thing the article was talking about: a tool to avoid some of the problems of a plurality vote.

Re:Absolutely wrong. (2)

1010011010 (53039) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587875)

Actually, the idea behind the staet legislatures electing their states' senators is that, in a federal system such as ours, the states needed representation at the federal level. The house represents the people and is elected directly by them. The Senate represents the states and is elected directly by them. Repeal the 17th Amendment!

It was only in terms of pure popular vote that Gore nudged ahead. But, as it turns out, pure popular vote doesn't matter in Presidential elections. It's pure electoral vote that matters.

Bush didn't win a majority of the popular vote, and neither did Clinton. In his first presidential election, Clinton actually had less of the popular vote than Bush did in 2000.

Re:Absolutely wrong. (5, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587908)

If we had direct popular election of the Presidency, do you think the President would ever care about what concerns citizens in Montana had?

Instead, we have a system in which the concerns of a few people in Montana have excessive influence over the whole country. If more people live in the cities, why shouldn't their concerns get proportional weight? What gives a person who is surrounded by big fields more importance than anyone else?

We don't go around quoting: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and all acres are created equal, and a man equals 1000 acres." We shouldn't run the country that way, either.

Re:Absolutely wrong. (5, Informative)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587912)

If what you're saying was right, we'd see the President selected the same way. No, the Electoral College exists because of a concern they had in those long-ago days, a concern which is still very valid today: a concern that with pure direct election of the President, metropolitan areas would overwhelm rural interests and we'd wind up with a government "by the cities, of the cities" instead of one which represented the whole nation. If we had direct popular election of the Presidency, do you think the President would ever care about what concerns citizens in Montana had?
You hear this argument a lot from people arguing in favor of the Electoral College system. I don't think it accurately reflects the Founders' intentions -- they weren't so much worried about urban vs. rural (remember that the population of the US was overwhelmingly rural then) as about large states vs. small states, which isn't exactly the same thing. But it doesn't matter in any case, because the truth of the matter is, it doesn't work. Presidential campaigns overwhelmingly focus on "swing states" that are not only close in electoral terms, but also have large populations. In the current system, Republican Montana matters not a whit; neither does Democratic Delaware or evenly split New Mexico (which you may remember had just as close a vote recount as Florida in 2000.) Florida was where the action was in 2000 for a reason: there are a lot of people there. Big coastal states like Florida, New York, Texas, and California will always get more attention for this reason; if those states aren't seriously in play (e.g., as Texas an NY weren't in 2000) then attention shifts to big Midwestern states like Ohio, Illinois, and to some degree Missouri. Everyone else might as well not exist as far as national political strategists are concerned.

Re:Voting What the founders intended (1)

GreatOgre (75402) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587816)

Also, don't forget that originally you voted for President and Vice President was just the second place guy.

Re:Voting What the founders intended (5, Insightful)

tdemark (512406) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587830)

Thats why we have delegates to pick president instead of popular vote..

Why do people have such a problem understanding the Electoral College? It's a very simple process that, when it appears in other aspects of life, no body raises an eyebrow.

For example, the World Series. Voting is equivalent to scoring runs. Each game is equivalent to winning a single state. To win the election you have to beat your opponent in four out of seven states. The total number of runs scored does not determine who wins - there have been times, in fact, where the winning team has scored less total runs than the losing team (1960 Series).

Same analogy can be applied to the Stanley Cup Championship and the NBA Championship.

Yet, no one is claiming that the team that scores the most overall should win, are they?

Yes, this analogy assumes all the states are the same size and that it is only a two-party system; it's not perfect ... but, it hopefully shows that the system isn't as wacked out as it appears to be at first glance.

So is SF gonna sue to overturn the WS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587864)

After all, they did score 47 runs to Anaheim's 44.

That means the Giants won, right?

Re:Voting What the founders intended (2)

1010011010 (53039) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587905)

It's about Federalism -- the limited federal government providing some common services to the states which formed it (of course, the federal government has exceeded its mandate, and this is no longer really true). Under Federalism, the states elect the Senate (at least until the 17th Amendment was passed -- repeal! repeal!) and the President. The citizens elect the House.

There's nothing to stop individual states from allocating their electors according to their own popular vote. If all the states did this, the citizens would elect the president by proxy, still, but it would not be a winner-takes-all situation like it is now, and would man that the winner of the popular vote would be the winner overall. The right place to lobby for that is in your state legislature, not the U.S. Congress. The Constitution puts the power in the hands of the states -- so, go to the states to change how electoral votes are awarded. The winner-takes-all system favors major political parties too much.

Re:Voting What the founders intended (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587837)

"The founders felt that the common man or wome was to stupid to effectively pick a president of a country."

As long as we are speaking of US, they were correct.

We may not have a lot of people voting (0, Troll)

Klerck (213193) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587761)

We may not have a lot of people voting in the US, but what's really the big deal? The people that care about voting do it, and the ones that don't vote are likely just as mindlessa if not moreso than the ones that do. Just look at Australia where voting is compulsory. They have some of the most Big Brother-ish laws on the planet. I don't see how they can call themselves "free" when they can be punished for not voting. Our system may be flawed, but it's certainly not the worst.

Re:We may not have a lot of people voting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587788)

What's the big deal? Where the fuck are my wide pages?!

Re:We may not have a lot of people voting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587793)

Posting at +1 by default. Maybe the account's been hijacked.

people that care about voting (2, Insightful)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587792)

I care about voting, which is why I don't.

This may sound odd but I care so much about voting that I won't vote for the a crap candidate so I don't vote for anyone. I wish I could fill in a box for none-of-the-above and it would be counted.

Re:people that care about voting (2, Interesting)

archen (447353) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587895)

Glad I'm not the only one with this opinion. When I do vote it's usually for some third party candidate (not that I won't vote republican or democrat, it's just that they're all corrupt bastards). When people hear this they say, "Oh, you just threw your vote away". WTF? What happened to voting for who you felt would do the best job regardless of what party he/she belonged to? Now I have to vote between two crap choices or I "throw my vote away". Since I feel that both the major parties are out of control; to me voting isn't worth my time.

In any event, I refuse to vote for any candidate that does not support term limits.

Re:people that care about voting (1)

slavetrade55 (444917) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587907)

Well you could just spoil your ballot. Then at least you can say you cared enough to goto the booth, even if you despise the candidates, heh.


Re:We may not have a lot of people voting (1)

thanasakis (225405) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587805)

What do their laws have to do with this? Voting (IMHO) should be compulsory because it is your obligation to participate in the decision making process. You can't let something that important in the hands of the others. In Ancient Greece, the same word was used for the one who wasn't interested in the commons and the one who was stupid. Hence the word "idiot" was created. Like it or not everybody should at least vote.

Re:We may not have a lot of people voting (-1, Troll)

Klerck (213193) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587810)

Everybody SHOULD vote, but that doesn't mean everyone should have to vote. You can't call a society "free" if the government forces its citizens to do anything. That's not freedom; it's fascism.

Re:We may not have a lot of people voting (1)

thanasakis (225405) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587854)

Well, I didn't say that we should be draging everyone to the ballot, that would realy be another thing. But the phrase "I don't vote because all the politicians are stupid" really doesn't help anyone. Voting is not an obligation, it is a right, so let's not easily forget that thousands of people gave their lives so today we can exercise this right. I don't think that Democracy can run on auto pilot, everyone must do his/her part or we might face grave dangers (e.g. fascism)

Re:We may not have a lot of people voting (1)

nutshell42 (557890) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587868)

The government forces you to pay taxes, take care for the education of your kids and if you crash in some other car and flee the scene

God, that's fascism!

Re:We may not have a lot of people voting (2, Insightful)

Doctor Faustus (127273) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587888)

You can't call a society "free" if the government forces its citizens to do anything. That's not freedom; it's fascism.

That's a nice idea, but it's just not possible. Government does force people to do things (pay taxes, for instance), and it has to in order to accomplish anything.

Voting is the foundation of a democracy. I don't think it's unreasonable to require everyone to participate. Along with that, though, voting shouldn't require showing up at one specific place, on only one day, and a weekday at that.

Re:We may not have a lot of people voting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587821)

In know way should I be forced to corrupt my morals
and vote for a wanker. I rather be shot than vote fo some of the candidates.

Re:We may not have a lot of people voting (1)

Doctor Faustus (127273) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587906)

In know way should I be forced to corrupt my morals and vote for a wanker. I rather be shot than vote fo some of the candidates.

Then vote for a minor party. I voted straight-ticket Libertarian in 1996. They may not take any positions, but it may cause the major parties to change some positions to attempt to catch those votes.

Re:We may not have a lot of people voting (1)

novakreo (598689) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587809)

Well, among other things, Australia does not have a DMCA to deal with...

if you don't vote you should shut up (2)

fantomas (94850) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587902)

I'd like to see an implemention of an idea they are thinking about over here in the UK (but I am not sure it will happen here, maybe not in the politicians interest) - make voting compulsory, but include an option on the ballot paper for voting 'no confidence in any of the above candidates'.

This way everybody votes, or at least is pressurised to think about the idea, but has the option to declare they have no confidence in their options if they really don't want to choose any of those standing.

(rant on) Really, if you don't get involved in a democratic process then you really shouldn't complain about the system. I include in 'getting involved' non-mainstream actions like joining a radical party or an anarchist group or a single issue ecological group, just do something to try to change things, and get involved. If you do nothing to try and improve your community and environment, you are just a waster and should shut up. People probably died in your country to get you the right to vote. (rant off).

Hmmm. Especially when the Florida ballot... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587764)

...reads: (a)Jeb Bush (b) the incumbent and (c) the President's brother as your three choices on the ballot!

Re:Hmmm. Especially when the Florida ballot... (2, Funny)

ninthwave (150430) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587844)

so news I found that I haven't heard confirmed from the states can someone comment on if they have heard of this.

The Article [] from The Guardian []

I don't think it is off topic and is relevant to the elction discussion in general but if you think it OT let me know or ignore the post.

Flaws in the voting system (4, Insightful)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587768)

Two candidates.

Re:Flaws in the voting system (2)

hitzroth (60178) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587825)

Nader, Gore, Bush, and the Independent and Libertarian candidates whose names I forget. Yup. Two.

Re:Flaws in the voting system (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587839)

Ok so out of those who has a chance of winning.
Who can get on the TV in a head-to-head and be forced down the voters throughts.
Who gets billions of dollars in corporate funding.

You'll find that there really are only
Two candidates.

The same is true in the UK, and in the recient french elections.(though there was some fucked up, don't let the evil commies get in).

Re:Flaws in the voting system (2)

dvk (118711) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587870)

NOBODY is forced to vote for one of those two big ones. Was the system more favourable to the two big parties? Sure as hell. Does the "system" want to stay the same? Yep, that's hy it's called "system" :)

But looking at many local examples (the most known - or should we say motorious :) - being Jesse Ventura), one can see that there's ABSOLUTELY no reason for the 3-d party candidate to not win. The LAW is not stacked against them. Just the established system. Which is a big difference.

Anyone who complains about US system being the worst, oughtta lok at USSR or Iraq. Having experienced the beauty of the "100% vote for General Secretary Andropov" country myself, I can't say that it's in some way, shape or form better than US's, despite having been ofiicially called "elections" and "democracy".
Just a little interetsing historical tidbit: for those who weren't aware, USSR even had a Constitution, since at the very least 1930s. Fat good did that one do :)


Re:Flaws in the voting system (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587903)

Come on, the 'system' is so highly stacked in favour of two candidates that there's no way that the third choice could ever win. to the point that a third candidate is mearly a gesture

Re:Flaws in the voting system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587869)

There are times when American culture wants to boil a given issue down to a binary decision, which is perhaps easier, but as I think we all know, life is actually in the grey area in between. I think part of the time we have the media and those whose bribe the media to thank for that, the binary method.

Re:Flaws in the voting system (0)

Sex_On_The_Beach (621587) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587874)

Hey what about Iraq?
One candidate in the ballot!! and guess who it was.

Re:Flaws in the voting system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587926)

The same was true in the french election, or at least from the media coverage.
There were two chioses in the final vote 'far right' and 'not quite so far right'

The 'far right' candidate was slammed in the media and by the UK government and probably many others, making the final vote a one horse race.

Re:Flaws in the voting system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587878)

Some Guy: "Then I believe I will vote for a third party."
Kodos: "Go ahead. Throw your vote away!"

"Don't complain about your lack of options..." (4, Interesting)

Dog and Pony (521538) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587927)


Jokes aside, I once got the American election system explained to me by an American. He said "You take two extremely right wing politicians (from the viewpoint of the rest of the world), one is against the death penalty, and the other is for. Now go vote."

When I've told this back to others, they say that it is pretty much so - it doesn't matter who wins, it is basically the same anyways. Now that is what I'd call a big flaw. Personally, i wouldn't know if it is really that bad, since I'm not from the US.

Also, I'd say the system where money wins (in the sense that only rich or company sponsored ones can afford the campaigns) seems very, very strange and fishy to an outsider. What view or standpoint would any rich or bribed politician share with me?

Also a good source (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587774)

A proof, I believe, is located here [] . Interesting reading, considering that it says that a fair election is mathematically impossible.

May be the worst but... (1)

TimWeigel (542949) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587775)

It seems to have worked reasonably well - until recently, perhaps. The whole 'electoral college' thing has always made me a bit uncomfortable, though. I also think of many times when politicos say, "This is what my community wants, but I'm voting the other way anyway." Sometimes it's conscience, but usually it's money talking. (insert pithy Benjamin Franklin quote here - many of 'em will work) I still prefer to live in a country that at least pretends to be a democratic republic - consider some of the alternatives. For all the US readers out there, let's get out and be part of the inefficiency on Tuesday!

Re:May be the worst but... (1)

TimWeigel (542949) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587789)

Sorry to reply to my own comment... I meant to mention that I do know why the electoral college exists, I just don't like it much. Of course, I shudder to think what would happen if the popular Presidential vote DID really matter beyond making electors look silly if they vote the opposite way. There, that's out of the way.

My view on "instant runoff" (5, Interesting)

lpontiac (173839) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587782)

I'm an Australian, and we use the "instant runoff" system described in the article. My view on it is that rather than putting the most popular candidate into office, it keeps the least popular candidates out of office.

There is a problem that the article neglected to mention - "how to vote" cards. Each candidate will generally recommend how they think people should vote - themselves first, naturally. The same sheep mentality that leads to 70% of the population voting for the same party every election leads to many religiously following these how to vote cards.

The end result is a heap of wheeling and dealing between candidates for these "directed preferences." It even becomes a stick in between elections that the minor parties can use to beat a major party with; in a marginal seat, having a minor party favour you over your primary opposition can be the difference between winning and losing.

Re:My view on "instant runoff" (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587807)

Ouch, I'm glad we don't quite have that here in the UK.

My personal preferance would be blind voting, your not allowed to know the party of the candidate. This would force people into knowing a little bit about each candidate and picking the one they 'want'.

Re:My view on "instant runoff" (1)

nutshell42 (557890) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587896)

This is not a flame but a real question:

I thought the system in the UK was worse than most on the planet as it's 100% majority voting of candidates so a party can end with 49.9% of the votes without a single seat in the house of commons and there're no other national elections. Am I right or am I misinformed about the UK system?

Re:My view on "instant runoff" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587920)

That's an interesting idea, but unfortunatly could never really work in the U.S. where we (for the most part) only have two parties.

Re:My view on "instant runoff" (1)

SnAzBaZ (572456) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587922)

I would have thought it would be pretty obvious which candidates stood for who, based on their policies and what they stood for.

Re:My view on "instant runoff" (5, Insightful)

Scarblac (122480) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587833)

The end result is a heap of wheeling and dealing between candidates for these "directed preferences." It even becomes a stick in between elections that the minor parties can use to beat a major party with;

That sounds like a Good Thing. The winner of the election gets the seat and thus direct power, but smaller parties still get some power even though they're not elected.

In a simple system where the highest number of votes wins automatically, it doesn't matter much what minorities want, once you have enough votes to win. Even in cases where the race is close so they do matter, this instant runoff system formalizes it (there is a clear minority party which makes it explicit who their voters should vote for next), making it a more direct process; candidates have a good view of the issues that matter to the minorities.

So sure, it's a lot of wheeling and dealing, politics etc, but it sure seems to me it should work better at representing everybody's interests, at first sight.

Instant runoff system (1)

msl_80 (560194) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587787)

The problem with the instant runoff system is that it requires a bit of voter intelligence. Those little old ladies that couldn't deal with the butterfly ballot - imagine explaining it to them. "So write down a 1 beside your favourite candidate, and a 2 beside your second favourite". "But I don't have a second favourite, I just like that nice Mr Gore". The first past the post system has the virtue of simplicity, at least.

Re:Instant runoff system (1)

Jim Hall (2985) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587849)

My wife and I had a discussion about the voting process last night, and the problem comes down to every American has had "one citizen - one vote" drilled into their head since 2nd grade. So to try to remove that process in favor of an "instant runoff" election process would cause problems because too many dumb Americans would see it as being something other than the "one citizen - one vote" theology they know so well (even though it is still a "one vote" process.)

I suggested that perhaps voters could be allowed to split their vote 2/3 & 1/3. It's still 1 vote (2/3 + 1/3 = 1) but this allows you to vote for a first choice and a second choice. Or maybe you only vote for one person, so the "1" goes to a single candidate. I wonder if a voting system like this would have changed the 2000 election? Imagine if a bunch of Nader voters said "I'll vote 2/3 for Nader, but 1/3 for Gore because he'd be a good second choice." And I don't think this assumes a 2-party + third candidate system ... it is just a particular implementation of first choice / second choice.


Choices, choices. (2)

3-State Bit (225583) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587797)

Other voting systems abound. One alternative is the instant runoff...
And it's very popular [] . I was just reading about it because of some person's sig on slashdot in support of it. Hopefully the person will post to this story....

Also, from the faq [] :
"Who uses IRV? Many places. Ireland to elects its president, Australia to elect its House of Representatives, and the American Political Science Association to elect its president. Cambridge MA uses a variant of IRV to elect its city council, and literally hundreds of jurisdictions, organizations and corporations use IRV around the world."

The system in Australia (4, Interesting)

The Original Yama (454111) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587804)

I'm quite partial to the Australian system (although I may be biased since I'm Australian). It is a variation on the simplistic British 'first-past-the-post' system. Basically, you number each candidate in the order you prefer, with #1 being your favourite candidate. When the votes are counted, they first tally all the #1 votes. If after that nobody has a clear majority (50% of the vote plus one), they count the #2 votes and add them to the #1 tallies. They keep doing that until someone gets a majority.

What I like about this system is that you are not tying yourself to one candidate. Your vote won't be wasted if you vote #1 for a minority candidate, since if they don't win your next preferences may count. This also means that you're not necessarily guaranteed a win if you're in one of the larger parties.

In the end (generally), you don't get an electorate that's split between people who did and didn't vote for the winner. Since everybody's preferences are taken into account, you get a decent compromise.

I didn't read the article (1)

CoolD2k (457145) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587808)

But there is no question the true power doesn't rest in the people. We are not a democracy, but rather a republic. The people have a great deal of power, but not directly. The average person is thought to be too simple minded to really vote well. That is the reasoning behind the electoral college. We express our opinions through the popular vote, and then those opinions are reviewed by the person who actually has a vote. They may or may not have to go with the majority depending on the state. Its all part of the checks and balances, we don't give anyone too much power, not even the people.

Take cover (0, Troll)

Keylarn (622425) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587822)

Slashdot has conspired with Sciencenews in an attempt to claim that there are inperfections in American Democracy.

I fully expect Dubyah to declare both sites to be terrorist regimes in league with Al Queda and Saddam Hussein. He'll surely sight ./ effect as an example of a weapon of mass destruction.

On the bright side if the least popular candidate does win, that does explain a lot about various elections over the years...

Re:Take cover (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587843)

What is the "dotslash" effect? Is it similar to the "slashdot" effect?

Re:Take cover (1)

Keylarn (622425) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587871)

As much as I'd like to try to cover myself by saying I planned it as an example of a misquote by Dubyah I'll just confess to it being a typo and try to get more sleep before posting in future.

misunderstands "instant runoff" (1)

masterv (173870) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587824)

Firstly, instant runoff is a stupid name; preferential voting sounds cooler.

Whatever its potential benefits, instant-runoff voting is prone to one of voting theory's most bewildering paradoxes. If a candidate is in the lead during an election season, making a great speech that attracts even more supporters to his cause shouldn't make him lose. But in the instant-runoff system, it can.

It then proceeds to cite a ridiculous example, where only three different order permutations, A-B-C, B-C-A, and C-A-B exist. Of course, under stupid assumptions, stupid things can happen. When you start to include A-C-B, B-A-C, and C-B-A, which are all valid orders of preference, the "problems" with the preferential voting system don't seem so dire. The candidate with the most broad-based support will end up winning (which, btw, is what happened in the ridiculous example in the article anyway, but the article's tone cleverly ignores this important fact).

Not the point (2, Insightful)

ZoneGray (168419) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587829)

The point of having elections is not so that we can measure the will of the voters. Rather, we have them simply because they're a fairly orderly system for choosing people for public office. Remember the phrase, "democracy is the worst possible system, except for all the others." There's much truth in it. Ours is a very a stable system, survived the Florida fiasco with barely a hiccup. Trying to make it more "just" would probably make it less stable... for examply, should we make it so Democrats think it's more just, or so that Republicans think it's more just. Either would be a disaster. What we do have though, is something that's fairly good at guaging public opinion, and which is respected and obeyed, if not loved, by all the participants. Democracy isn't an end unto itself, it's just the best method of preserving liberty.

Who makes the voting machines? (2)

1010011010 (53039) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587831)

Who makes the voting machines, the ballots, and who dos voter registrations? Private companies, in a lot of cases.

See the article here []

Because current vote-counting systems are not sufficiently protected from manipulation, and are getting less and less auditable, it is now very important to know who has access to the machines. There is no place for secrecy in our voting-counting system. Secret voting, yes. Secret vote-COUNTING, no -- in fact, it's unconstitutional.

For some inexplicable reason, the U.S. is rushing to eliminate the only physical record of the mark made by each voter, going to straight touch-screens with no paper trail. Canada doesn't allow this. Neither does Japan. Why are we so casually throwing away the only real audit trail that protects our vote?

With touch-tone screens, we simply have no paper trail for millions of votes, with private, secret, and (according to computer security experts), insecure programming for vote-counting machines that invites tampering. It takes only ONE true believer with access to manipulate the counting code.

Therefore, disclosure of ownership, flagging conflicts of interest, has become critical.

One man - One vote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587834)

As long as I get to the be one man, and the one vote will be mine

NOT flawed, designed not to capture will (3, Interesting)

NSParadox (135116) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587840)

Political scientist have known for years that the US election system does not capture the "will" of the voter as well as a proportional representation system. This math is certainly not new. However, there are a number of drawbacks to other forms of election that should be expounded on.

1: In proportional representation, there are more likely to be minority parties with elected officials who have extreme/radical viewpoints that are dissimilar to the viewpoints of the "average" voter. Because of the US' election system, no candidate can choose to isolate a significant portion of the population with his views and yet still be elected, to a large "smoothing out" extremist policy. While many feel that this is a bad thing, almost all extremist policy is not realistic to implement, and partial or full implementation of this policy can cause a good bit of damage.

2: In proportional representation, the government is generally unitary in nature, meaning that the entire government is controlled by one party. Although there are more parties beyond the controlling party and another party represented, they still have a HUGE capability to control government policy. If the party in charge changes (and they often change), the entire government policy may change as well. Imagine if a country implemented social security, and then cancelled it 12 years later because the Socialists were replaced by Libertarians!

3: Most other countries do not implement a form of federal government. While this may work for countries where there country is roughly the size of a US region, it makes interests associated with a geographical locale very difficult to achieve. While every vote should be equal (or as equal as possible), the reality is that interests are largely decided by the environment of the voter, and partitioning the environment, and tiering government, means more interests of more voters are going to be met without completely missing the interests of other voters.

4: Most unitary governments do not have a strong set of checks and balances; i.e., judges and execute officials are appointed via the parliament/prime minister, and the prime minister is elected by the parliament. The effect of this election policy is similar again to point 2: a shift in political power can cause a dramatic shift in policy in a short period of time because there are fewer roadblocks between the will of the current parliament and the implementation of that will.

Out of all of the election policies I've studied, IGNORING THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE (because it's a system with several undescribed states, if we were to somehow reach one of those states by having an election of an official "tied" in enough ways we wouldn't know what the next step would be), I prefer the US government system. It's not designed to reflect the will of the people right now. It's designed to reflect the long-term interests of the people after filtering out extreme views. Its perponderance of gridlock has prevented so many stupid things from happening it's totally uncountable. That being said, I like the way Australian government is structured, except I REALLY do not like the idea of being able to put multiple candidates on a list. Political scientist mathemeticians have shown that by being able to list multiple candidates on a piece of paper, it increases the voting power of a citizen to > 1, and they can use these voting lists to perform elaborate tricks to achieve an end result which might not effect the will of the voting populace at all.

Tired of rambling, so I think I'll stop here.

Radical changes are indeed necessary. (1)

I Am The Owl (531076) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587842)

I think the most interesting thing posted here so far was the AC comment [] about fair elections being impossible [] . Obviously, radical changes are needed in today's system for it to work correctly.

First of all, perhaps for USians to improve, they need to look at the superior systems present in Europe. The systems of the 1930's represent the height of European thoughtfulness and ingenuity in election systems. Never since has such decisive, positive action been taken through the true will of the people. Just look at what they accomplished! They were able to work together to nearly bring down the rest of the world! You never see this kind of coalition building with USia today, and if you just take a look at their system of elections, you'll see why.

Now of course, this isn't to say that they're not improving and working towards the ideal of their European betters; the 2000 election and subsequent events have proven that there has been remarkable progress in their system. But they just aren't there yet. And frankly, Europes isn't there any more either.

So, best of luck to all of you. You're almost there!

Re:Radical changes are indeed necessary. (2)

Yokaze (70883) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587913)

Do you know, that every true Democratic system bears the possibility of its own destruction?

The fact, that the US system didn't produce dictators and Europe did several cannot be reduced to it's election system.

The difference of the US and Europe lies more in social, economic and historical problems.

Various quarrels between European nations, pride, bad economy, comes to mind.

The reduction know of the result on the voting system is uninformed, to say the least.

Instant Runoff Voting (2)

1010011010 (53039) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587850)

Instant Runoff Voting [] should be adpoted for elections. Heck, we use a version of it to decide what soft drinks to stock in the kitchen at work. Our variant gives everyone four votes, which they can spread among the choices as they see fit.

From the site:

The IRV works basically as follows: Instead of just casting one vote for one candidate, voters rank the candidates: 1,2,3, etc. (hence, the motto, "it's as easy as 1-2-3."). If no candidate receives a majority of the #1 votes, the candidate with the least total of #1 votes is eliminated. The second choice votes from these ballots are then transferred to the other candidates. The ballots are recounted, and candidates are eliminated in this fashion until 1 winner emerges with a majority of the vote.

approval (1, Redundant)

sstory (538486) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587856)

'approval voting' where voters pick all the candidates they approve of for the position, would be a great improvement in our system.

This is *old* news (2, Insightful)

Chacham (981) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587858)

Since democracies have started people have pointed out the flaws in the voting system. One specific critique was done by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carrol) which talked about the British system. Unfortunately, it was ignored.

The University of Virginia, has been working with the Lewis Carrol Society of North America to print his many works (up to 3 of 9 last I checked). The third book, which is mathematical approach to politics, is availible here [] and here [] .

biggest problem (5, Informative)

SquierStrat (42516) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587872)

In my not humble at all opinion, the biggest problem is that our elections are from 7amto 7pm on TUESDAYS! They need to move the elections to Sundays and open the polls for 24 hours. As it is, alot of people are simply unable to vote because of work and commutes.

Of coures elections are flawed in the US (5, Insightful)

CashCarSTAR (548853) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587876)

What do you expect from a flawed society? Seriously.

Let's take the Presidential campaign of 2000. What choices did the people have. Let's take the two mainstream candidates first for example. Here's the story that was created by the media. You have the straight-talking cowboy with a heart of gold vs. the lying politician who can't even make up his mind on himself. And oh by the way, they will do exactly the same thing once they get in office. The people didn't stand a chance.

Nader:Not a viable option. Not to the fact that he's a third party, but the fact that Nader was more concerned with burying the Democrats than actually convincing people of things. (I'm a strong supporter of the Green platform, so cut that one off at the pass)

Buchanan:A viable option in my mind. People knew what he stood for. They just didn't like what he stood for.:)

Libertarian:The Libs. have the same problem as the Greens, in getting out an actual platform. With the Libertarians it's a bit more ingrained because the platform sometimes falls into hypocritical thought. (Drug Laws Bad, Property Laws Good!..BZZZT)

The problem in the US is not the voting systems. Well, the voting systems are a problem, but not quite in the way listed. The problem with US voting systems is that different areas use different voting systems with different margin of errors, which creates some differential in the actual vote count.

The problem in the US is the entertainment base of the media. They try to create a horse-race out of EVERYTHING. They equivicate the Democrats and the Republicans on everything, and pretty much ignore anything that would pretty much end one of the parties. For example, a massive coverage of the Pitt/Webster scandal right now would in essence make the election next Tuesday unwatchable. Why? The result would not be in question. It doesn't make for good TV.

News as entertainment. Sorry, I get enough of that from Jon Stewart. I want the rest of my news to be damn serious.

Fair shmare.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587877)

I say politicians should have to buy our votes. No point wasting all that money on ads: just buy the votes! Bidding is secret, you never know how much your opponents are paying the voters. So, your amount better be good! And the voter collects the money after voting (but before the results are announced).


  • Full voter turnout
  • Voters start taking interest in the process (ok, its more of #1)
  • Voters get something tangible in return
I don't see any drawbacks.

the real flaws (1)

NixterAg (198468) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587881)

The real flaws are that people are quite confident with casting votes to candidates they know nothing about. I don't want legions of people voting that don't know who the candidates are and what the issues are.

For example, Sean Hannity, a conservative radio and television political personality, often will go on the street in his radio show and ask questions to normal, everyday citizens. One typically might go like this:
Question: "Who is the Secretary of State?" Answer: "I don't know."
Question: "Who is the Vice President?"
Answer: "I don't know."
Question: "Who'd you vote for?"
Answer: "Gore."
Question: "Why did you vote for Gore?"
Answer: "Because Bush sounds dumb."

"He looked better on TV" or "he sounds dumb" are not valid reasons for determining who one will be voting for. No matter who you end up voting for, exercising your right to vote without exercising your obligation to be educated about the vote is not doing anyone any favors. That's why I think all of those "Rock the vote" campaigns and so forth are hurting things.

of course it's flawed! (2)

Theodore Logan (139352) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587883)

Anyone who has even a minimum grasp of basic voting theory knows that Kenneth Arrow proved in 1952 that there is no consistent method of making a fair choice among three or more candidates. Thus all voting systems are, in some respect, flawed.

Short intro here [] . Couldn't find a link to the proof itself, unfortunately.

Not against change, but... (1)

wray (59341) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587887)

Our system has worked well for over 200 years. The benefits of a two-party system are many. If we change the voting system, be prepared to be moved out of a two-party system, and all the problems that brings.

It isn't about 'measuring' as much as 'forming' (5, Insightful)

Wellspring (111524) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587889)

This is yet another in a long line of 'physical science rules misapplied to the social sciences.' A mathematical analysis designed to produce the guy who is everyone's best friend is all fine and good, but that's at best tangential to the real business of elections. Most people seem to have this vision that an election is a beauty pageant where a bunch of leaders are picked who then get to make all the decisions based on sweet reason. The real business of elections is to form mandate, consensus and acceptance.

Mandate: The winner points to a large number of votes as a justification for his / her agenda.

Consensus: The process of elections is designed to determine what kind of compromises among winners (remember that there are hundreds of elections at once) must be made to govern. Dozens of factions have to work together, and this is how the horse-trading happens that lets the hippies work with the union workers work with the trial lawyers.

Acceptance: OK, you disagree with the results of the elections, and you can't find other factions that you are willing to work with. You want to be ideologically pure and go your own way, and you don't have the popularity to make it on your own. You at very least have to accept the process that got you there. Acceptance is what keeps us from breaking into violence after the election.

OK, so how does our system fare?

Well, that article addresses the question, "what is the best way to measure my Mandate" to the exclusion of all else. In other words, it measures elections as if they were opinion polls. I'll come back to it.

In terms of Consensus, we have the best system in the world, which is why our government has only broken down into fighting once. In a parliamentary system, you get elected and then (as is happening in Israel) you form a coalition government by compromising with other parties to form a majority. So the people's will is measured, then a compromise is formed in a back room by elites.

In our system, the 'spoiler' factor that the article describes as a bad thing actually helps. In the end, you pretty much have to be in one of the two major parties, or your vote is useless. That means you have to compromise with the religiously orthodox, small businessmen, and engineers on one side (broadly) and lawyers, teachers, union officials, and students on the other (again, very broadly). You have to do the compromising, so you decide exactly what kind of deal to cut in the primaries. The two parties meanwhile have to be as inclusive of compatible points of view as possible. So our system rocks at building consensus. People who hate compromising, of course, love parliamentary systems, which are more entertaining in academia or on TV, but are notoriously unstable.

Finally, acceptance. Well, I think that our system has that, too, though it was strained in 2000 with the election fiasco, and events in NJ more recently.

Anyway, that's what the point of our election system is. Remember, even in physics, examining a system is reflexive: it changes what you're looking at. Our system isn't a measurement, it is a way to arrive at solutions that get the most popular viewpoints across, a good compromise if your faction didn't win the primary but won the general, and at least confidence in the process if you didn't even win the general. I'd say our system is the best I've seen, compared to either paper plans or real life.

Bah... (2)

Espectr0 (577637) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587891)

In the long run, math does not lie. The one with the most votes win. Period.

Here in Venezuela we just count all the votes from every part of the country, and add them up. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Article proves best system. (1)

I Am The Owl (531076) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587893)

Probably the most telling part of the article was the following:

If it weren't for the plurality system, Abraham Lincoln might never have become president, Tabarrok says. In the four-candidate 1860 election, Lincoln was a polarizing figure, popular with many Northerners but abhorred by many Southerners. Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's closest competitor, was more broadly popular, and although he didn't get as many first-place rankings as Lincoln did, he was nearly everyone's second choice, historians hold. In 1999, Tabarrok and Lee Spector, an economist at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., calculated that if almost any other voting system had been used, history books would refer to President Douglas, not President Lincoln. "On paper, Lincoln's victory looks overwhelming, but he actually didn't have broad-based support," Tabarrok says. With Lincoln now a folk hero, the result of that election might seem good in retrospect. But that's a separate matter from whether the voters actually preferred Lincoln on Election Day, 1860.
Obviously, Abraham Lincoln was a pivotal figure in ensuring the freedom of Americans everywhere. But on the other hand, our fundamentally flawed system has also produced such stinkers as Jimmy Carter and Warren G. Harding. What should we do?

Well, of course, every problem has a solution. Here it is rather simple: have a board of qualified experts (preferably university professors in the hard sciences rather than the mushy-minded liberal arts people) go through the qualifications of the best minds in the country, and then select the person that they think is most appropriate. Then do away with Congress and all this other bullshit government elected by the (stupid) majority of Americans. Put the board's selection in the White House, and voila, I assure you we won't have any more doofuses in the White House. When the best minds are on the problem, our country will always make the best decisions.

The framers had a good idea (2, Insightful)

Jim Hall (2985) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587904)

In Article 2 - Section 1 [] of the US Constitution [] , the framers had a good idea that has since been changed through amendment ... perhaps we should consider going back to that original method? Here it is:

"The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President ... after the choice of the President, the person having the greatest number of votes of the electors shall be the Vice President."

Basically, the candidate with the most votes becomes President. You take his votes out of the pool, and the candidate with the most votes after that becomes Vice-President. Seems kind of simplistic, but this was written in a time when they wanted to keep the election process simple so that we didn't have the mess we had in 2000. I suspect the campaigning would be much more civil if the person you were knocking down could end up after the election as your boss ... or your second-in-command!

Doesn't sound too bad to me.


'New election' (2)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587911)

In student union elections at university they used a single transferrable vote system (list preferences in order, eliminate weaker candidates until one candidate has more than half the votes, as mentioned in the article) but as well as the list of candidates for each position there was an extra choice 'new election'. Meaning 'none of the above'. If 'new election' is elected then new candidates are invited to come forward (old ones can stand a second time) and another election is held.

I kinda like the french system (2)

abhikhurana (325468) | more than 11 years ago | (#4587919)

I somehow like the French system where they have voting in two rounds. In the first round they select the two strongest candidates and then in the second one has only the option of choosing one of the two. Theoretically its a very sound system but it too has its flaws like we saw this year. Apparently people stop taking the first round seriously. As a result either they dont vote, or they use it as a protest vote. But sometimes that may lead to a not so popular candidate coming second, like it happened this year. But still, overall I think its a good system, much better than the US system. But obviously, two rounds cost double the money.

The Perfect Election System (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4587923)

Iraq: Saddam wins 100% of the vote!
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