Down with Plurality!

Hi friends,

As some of you may know, in general I don’t hold our country’s voting methods in very high regard.  Think about the way we vote for president, for instance.  Aside from not asking voters to state any preferences at all, it’s difficult to do worse than our current system: we can only show our support for a single candidate, when in fact our preferences may be more nuanced.  Moreover, since we can only vote for a single candidate, there’s little incentive to vote for our favorite one, unless our favorite happens to be a front-runner.  This is known all across the universe, as evidenced by the Presidential runs of Kang and Kodos:

Even worse, a third party candidate who garners a decent amount of support may end up hurting his own party and parties more closely aligned to it by acting as a “spoiler.”  Of course, the most well-known example of this is Ralph Nader, who many people believe cost Al Gore the 2000 election (for more on the spoiler effect, see here).

For all these reasons and more, our current system (known as Plurality Voting, or first-past-the-post) seems woefully inadequate.  The good news is that there are lots of alternatives. The bad news is that because there are lots of alternatives, it can be difficult for someone with little background in election theory to be able to recognize what separates a great voting system from a poor one.

This is where the Center for Election Science comes in.  As part of their goal to “educate the general public and advocate election systems that most benefit the public good,” they have recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for a video highlighting the awfulness of Plurality Voting, and explain a simple alternative known as Approval Voting. Approval Voting is like Plurality Voting, but with one change to the rules: instead of being forced to vote for a single candidate, you can vote for as many as you like.  The person with the most votes wins.

I’ve written about Approval Voting before, and the Center for Election Science does a good job explaining the system (and comparing it to other systems) on their website.  But very briefly, here are some of the perks:

  • It never hurts to vote for your favorite candidate.
  • Approval Voting eliminates the spoiler effect.
  • From a practical standpoint, Approval Voting is easy to understand and would be straightforward to implement using current technology.

There are other advantages too, but I’ll let you dig deeper if you’re curious.  The main takeaway is that the Center for Election Science is doing important work, and if you’ve got some coin to toss their way, I’d encourage it.

This weekend they’ve lowered the bar for contributions down to a single dollar.  Compared to what our forefathers sacrificed in the name of democracy, that’s a pretty good deal.

Here’s all the info, if you want to learn more:

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