Should Maine use Single Transferable Voting?

Lee Drutman at Vox reports:

If Maine Question 5 passes, Mainers will get to select up to five candidates in order of preference. If there is no majority in the initial tally of voting, and their first choice finishes last in the initial tally, their vote will be transferred to their second choice in the next tally. (In each tally, the last-place finisher gets eliminated). And if there is still no majority, and their second choice ranks last in the second tally, their vote will be transferred to their third choice, and so on, until one candidate has a majority.

Or, put another way: If one candidate wins a majority in the initial tally, there is no runoff. If no candidate wins a majority, candidates are eliminated from the bottom-up, with each eliminated candidate’s supporters going to their next-ranked choice for the following round, until one candidate has more than half of the votes. (For a video explanation of how this works, I recommend this short explainer.)

Versions of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) have been used in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Malta, Tasmania, and NYC City Council from 1937-1947

STV systems tend to make candidates more civil to each other, and less likely to attack each other’s character and ideology.  More generally, it induces politicians to cater more frequently to constituency whims and preferences, at the expense of drawing sharp contrasts across ideologies.  You don’t want the voters from the opposing ideology to rank you very low, so you’ll ease up on the insults and try to appear like a very useful centrist.  The resulting emphasis on constituency service has historically been the case in Ireland (most but not all of the time).  Similar tendencies have been observed in Tasmania and Malta, and the parties evolve to become less ideological.

Traditionally, I have not been a huge fan of STV systems, but this year they sound a bit better than usual.

You can start here on the literature on STV.


You'd need to do this with a computerized system that won't accept a misvote because otherwise people will screw up badly.

The Democrats lost the Presidency in 2000 because Gore supporters in Florida supporters botched simpler ballots more often than Bush supporters botched them. From the New York Times:

Democrats Rue Ballot Foul-Up In a 2nd County

Democrats in Duval County prepared meticulously for Election Day. They registered thousands of voters and ferried enough people to the polls in predominantly African-American precincts to give a solid boost to Vice President Al Gore in a county expected to swing reliably into Gov. George W. Bush's column.

But the results of Duval County's vote left Democrats here shaking their heads. More than 26,000 ballots were invalidated, the vast majority because they contained votes for more than one presidential candidate. Nearly 9,000 of the votes were thrown out in the predominantly African-American communities around Jacksonville, where Mr. Gore scored 10-to-1 ratios of victory, according to an analysis of the vote by The New York Times.

The percentage of invalidated votes here was far higher than that recorded in Palm Beach County, which has become the focus of national attention and where Democrats have argued that so many people were disenfranchised it may be necessary to let them vote again. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have demanded a hand recount or new election in Duval County.

Local election officials attributed the outcome to a ballot that had the name of presidential candidates on two pages, which they said many voters found confusing. Many voters, they said, voted once on each page. The election officials said they would not use such a ballot in the future.

Rodney G. Gregory, a lawyer for the Democrats in Duval County, said the party shared the blame for the confusion. Mr. Gregory said Democratic Party workers instructed voters, many persuaded to go to the polls for the first time, to cast ballots in every race and ''be sure to punch a hole on every page.''

''The get-out-the vote folks messed it up,'' Mr. Gregory said ruefully.

If Mr. Gregory's assessment is correct, and thousands of Gore supporters were inadvertently misled into invalidating their ballots, this county alone would have been enough to give Mr. Gore the electoral votes of Florida, and thus the White House.

The voters turned out by Democrats, Mr. Gregory said, took the instructions to vote in every race to mean: ''I've got to vote for Gore. I've got to be sure Bush doesn't get elected. I've got to vote on every page.''

Democratic officials, Mr. Gregory said, should have told voters they were bringing to the polls. Vote for Gore, then skip the next page.

''In hindsight,'' he said, ''we didn't fully understand the problem. ''

STV is used in Cambridge Mass. It is wonderful, in my view, in dealing with a town-gown dichotomy like theirs - ensures that no interest backed by more than a ninth of the voters can get submerged. And when I lived there there was always someone with an Italian surname, and someone with an Irish, on the City Council. In my current county (Arlington VA) first past the post coupled with staggered terms resulted in a less and less popular in crowd within the Dems getting their candidates elected for years, followed by five straight elections in which the candidate backed by the earlier majority failed election. Result in both periods was that many voters felt shut out, and some fairly widely held opinions weren't present on the dais.

What you described in florida honestly sounds more complex then STV. If writing 1-5 in corresponding boxes is too complicated you're free to just write 1 in for whoever you like the most just like you do now.

Perhaps complexity that leads to voter mistakes is a feature, not a bug, by reducing the impact of voters too unintelligent or uninterested to learn the rules.

The Florida votes lost by Dems because their voters can't read was likely dwarfed by the GOP votes lost due to the networks repeatedly saying the west Florida polls were closed when they were not.

Also, any sentence that begins with "Al Gore lost the 2000 election" needs to end with "because he was so awful he couldn't even carry his home state."

You'll be able to say the same about Trump in another 6 weeks.

The thing is, Gore and Bush more-or-less tied in 2000.

Sure and if Gore carried TN he woulda won. Trump's going to lose, but it will be close, and winning his home state of NY, which he won't, might be enough to swing it his way.

Ordinal balloting was used in Australia for nearly a century 'ere computers were invented.

How long did it take them to calculate the results of the election? Cambridge MA's voting system (it may've changed; Dave S says they use STV but when I lived there, the procedure for transferring votes included a random element and IIRC it took a several days even with an army of poll workers to figure out who won).

Elections administration is a tiny part of public expenditure.

Single-transferrable voting (Hare system) is difficult and difficult to explain. The alternate vote is quite straightforward. Count the first preference votes, eliminate the trailing candidate, redistribute the ballots to the next preference listed on each, rinse, repeat.

STV is done by the voter in exactly the same way as AV: ranking 1-5 is easy to do. In each case, spoiled vote rates are similar to other systems. It's harder to explain STV than AV, though.

The rules can be more accomodating in preferential voting.

In Australia, the electrocal commission TV ads say (or at least used to) that you must put a number in every box. But this is a lie, and your vote will be counted if you put distinct numbers in any subset of boxes. A man was oonce prosecuted for publicising this fact.

The law was changed not long after that prosecution (almost 20 years ago!), and now for a House of Reps vote to be formal, you can't leave any more than one box blank.

I do like Tyler, but it seems weird to be opining on the "STV" and illustrate by saying that such as a system is used in "Tasmania". I'm sure it is, as it is the Australian voting system, used across Australia for the Federal election. It's like saying the system of having a presidential election every 4 years is an interesting one, and is known to have been used in Montana and other countries around the world.

Tyler's confusing STV, which is used in Tasmania's lower house (and the ACT parliament) and other Australian upper houses, with instant run-off voting, which is what we have for most lower houses. The Maine proposal is for IRV, not STV.

IRV is STV. Specifically, STV describes a general system where a single district may elect any number of representatives, and IRV is the special case of STV where a district elects only one representative.

Donkey vote is 1,2,3,4,5

Reverse donkey, less popular, is 5,4,3,2,1

Donkey voting is an indictment on mandatory voting (an idea I am against - apathetic / ignorant voters should not be encouraged to vote), not an indictment on any sort of preferential voting.

Countries with mandatory voting have had to institute randomized ballots (probably a good idea in any case) to counter the Donkey Vote.

It's not a vote on adopting STV (which would involve multi-member constituencies).
It's a vote on adopting, the related but simpler, Instant Run-off Voting.

While there are better systems than IRV, I hope we can all agree that first past the post is the worst possible system, and that we need to do all we can to kill it off. Once it is well and truly dead, maybe we can move to Condorcet methods or a non-deterministic system.

No, we don't all agree on that.

We can all agree that first-past-the-post is the worst possible system, Brett Champion notwithstanding. This can be backed up mathematically. I'm not sure Wikipedia is the final word on voting criteria, but here's a chart on various advantages/disadvantages to each. As you can see, IRV satisfies more criteria than plurality. But wait! Some of these criteria are more important than others. I'd personally say the most important is the Condorcet Loser criterion, which means that the least popular candidate cannot win. A simple example in Plurality is a Cat, Beagle, and Lab, which get 40/31/29% of the vote. The cat would win, even though 60% of the people preferred a dog. That's our system, and we're in a living example of it.

Our plurality system would not be so bad if the second place candidate won the Vice Presidency (or won some other authority), as was stipulated in the Constitution. However, because we hate political competition and compromise and love political monopolies, we have the 12th amendment.

Or, you could do it right and just use range voting:

In this thread, everyone should pimp their favorite voting system, apparently.

Mine: Borda Count. With the number of candidates that we have to examine, Clone Independence is not really a concern. It fails the Majority Criterion in the exact same way it fails the Condorcet criterion, which is to say, in a rare unique situation.

The first past the post system is unfair, but IRV is even worse. Drutman writes:

"After all, an election with only two choices, Democrat and Republican, only allows voters to send a very weak signal. But in an election with multiple third parties, even if it winds up electing just a Democrat or a Republican, voters can send stronger signals of where that support came from and help bolster the potential influence of third parties.

Imagine an election of 100 voters in which the first choice round of voting goes: Democrat: 35, Republican 30, Libertarian 25, and Green 10. If 21 of the Libertarians ranked the Republican second, these 21 votes would go to the Republican in the instant runoff, and the Republican would get a winning 51 votes, even if all 10 of the Green votes went to the Democrat."

IRV does send a signal, but it's a signal that parties can more effectively ignore. If 5 percent of voters support the Green Party, that may send a signal to the Democrats, but they can ignore it, knowing they will receive the Green voters' second preference. If instead they had lost the election because of those 5 percent of voters who voted Green, they would need to pay greater attention to their concerns. A vote for the Green party thus becomes less meaningful.

More importantly, it is simply not true that IRV eliminates strategic voting. Take Drutman's example and suppose that Republican voters' second preference is evenly divided between Democrats and Libertarians. With this, should the Libertarian party receive more votes than the Republican party, the Democrat, rather than the Republican, will be elected. Thus, Libertarian voters who prefer the Republicans over the Democrats have an incentive to vote for it strategically rather than vote for their preferred choice. This effect should be expected in any IRV system where there are three parties which come close to one another in their percentage of votes.

There is another, even weirder possibility for strategic voting. In Drutman's example, after the first found of elimination, if we assume that the Green candidate's voters will go to the Democratic candidate, he will have 45 of the votes against 30 for the Republican and 25 for the Libertarian. A forward looking Democratic or Green voter could predict this and vote instead for the Libertarian, causing the Libertarian candidate to advance into the final round and then be defeated by the Democrat. The Democrats could elect their candidate by voting for the party most ideologically opposed to them.

We know of a system which has been used widely, much more so than IRV, and which eliminates strategic voting: proportional representation.

How is it worse for the candidate who the majority prefers to be elected? Why is that strange? Surely the strange thing is to only allow voters to partialy express their preferences, and to only partialy count them.

IRV fails to eliminate strategic voting in theory (although in practice it pretty much does), but first past the post pretty much compels it. How is that a step backwards?

Proportional representation does not allow for members of parliamentary to be held accountable in representing particular voters. Every member can deny responsibility in representing any particular voter. Mixed preferential/proportional systems exist (eg. Australia), and you get some benefits of both.

Strategic voting cannot be eliminated. No one is making this claim. It can be reduced, however. Drutman is a retard, since that entire post was saying "What if people treated IRV EXACTLY like Plurality? It'd act almost as bad as Plurality!"

Given that Plurality is the worst of all possible worlds, I'll accept proportional representation over it, even though I also strongly detest proportional representation. I'd prefer to vote for my own candidates, thankyouverymuch. Not all Democrats are created equal, nor are all Libertarians or Republicans. Some Republicans would prefer to vote for a Democrat they can trust than a Republican they cannot.

Would this actually improve vote legitimacy though? Eventually, you get all the candidates around the middle and the extremes feel left out- except this time both extremes are angry instead of the loser.

>> "Would this actually improve vote legitimacy..."

Legitimacy and fairness have nothing to do with voting (democracy).

Democratic-Majoritarianism is fundamentally unjust.
Why does 51% of a society get dictatorship over the other 49% ?
What system of ethics endorses such an absurd concept ?

Of course, America practices plurality-democracy... which is even more absurd and illegitimate.

Minority Government has its tentacles heavily into every aspect of American life -- that is the problem. Voting is merely a ritual fig leaf to conceal the actual political power structure.

51% only gets a dictatorship in a world of 100% party unity. In reality if one party has exactly 51% of voters and offices then most policies will have to be somewhat bipartisan since on many issues you will normally expect to loose a few of your own party and will have to make it up with a few from the other side.

The attempt to create safe districts in nearly all races, spearheaded by Republicans, therefore makes the system less democratic. Therefore a system like proportional voting helps relieve some of that anti-democratic pressure by allowing voters to choose their representatives rather than representatives choosing their voters.

51% gets power because otherwise less than a majority has power. Every alternative to majority rule is a form of minority rule.

In practice many of the 51% have friends, relatives, etc who are not in the 51%, and to maintain 51% support requires treating a large supermajority reasonably weĺl even if not according to their preference. That's why the rule of law and minority rights tend to exist alongside democracy.

Also you'll never get 100% voting so even if you had exactly 50%+1 support in the population your 'rule' would not be safe as it is almost certain someone will forget to vote on election day. In reality democracy means rule by a super-majority.

At least the parties should nominate their candidates using STV. Then extreme minorities would not have their people as candidates. We would have candidates supported by the majority.

In parliamentary elections you can have more diverse ideologies fairly represented if you use multi-representative constituencies. Even so everyone would know who is their representative: the one highest up in their ballot.

In practice, is not what happens for president? The primaries extended during half year, state by state, have the same dynamic that an IRV/AV system - the candidates with less votes quit, and their potential supporters transfer their vote to one of the remaining candidates.

Not enough. STV + primary dynamic is much better. If A is #1 for 5% but #2 for 90%, A won't quit, as STV polls show that most others should quit and in the end A will have a majority. We would be much more likely to have emphasis on STV polls.

I'm a huge fan of our Irish PR-STV system. We get multi-party systems, people voting by conscience instead of dread of their most-hated party, and pretty stable government. It's not perfect, but it's a whole lot better than first-past-the-post. In the UK, with their first-past-the-post system, a majority of people voted against the Conservatives, who went on to become the only party in power. It is unfair and dysfunctional, punishing smaller parties and strengthening the oligarchy. By all means embrace PR-STV.

>It is unfair and dysfunctional

Yes it is, and very obviously so.

However first-past-the-post goes a long way towards getting Democrats elected, which suits people like Tyler just fine. Even the GOP has no problems with it, as it guarantees they will do no worse than second place.

Gets a lot more Republicans elected at the state level though.

If you are going to institute a run-off system of voting, it's better to hold an actual election, like they do in France, at least for president. With an instant-run-off system, voters don't have the facts staring them in the face of having to select between X and Y, so their second choices are merely theoretical at that point, and, therefore, more likely to be cast based on emotion rather than reason.

What's the objective here? Do we want to change behavior of candidates during the campaign, or do we want to change their behavior once elected? This would probably change the former, but I don't see how it changes the later.

It changes who gets elected, and most people who win elections face re-election, so it changes their behavior once elected.

I'm not at all sure it changes who gets elected. I suspect that the candidates will merely change their behavior during the campaign and get elected just the same. Certainly the current incumbents will (change their campaign behavior and still get re-elected.)

Do you think voters completely forget everything that happened before an election campaign?

I like the idea of different states having different systems, because it reminds us that we have a federalist system. We do have to be careful about changing the system every 4 years for partisan reasons.

I believe the term 'single-transferrable-vote' is commonly used for a species of proportional representation where-in a candidate to be elected has to achieve a quota derived from the total number of ballots cast divided by the number of seats at stake in a constituency. Any 1st preference votes received in excess of quota are apportioned among the other candidates according to their share of the elected candidates 2d preference votes. The term 'alternate vote' is used for ordinal-balloting in single-member constituencies. You have multiple rounds of tabulation and in each the trailing candidate is eliminated and his ballots are distributed to the next preference listed on each. They use this method to elect the Mayor of Minneapolis.

No voting system is perfect, but Instant Runoff strikes me as a good balance between making a reasonable approximation of societal preferences from a set of individual preferences and being relatively easy to implement.

I don't know enough about psychology to say if the above claim about manual runoffs making people more rational about their second choices holds any weight, but given how hard it is to get people to participate in one vote, it strikes me as likely that maintaining voter turn out would be harder over multiple rounds of runoff voting.

As for Majority rule: How often is the majority on one issue the same as the majority on another issue? You might have a core of a political party who agree on most things in their heart of hearts, but in any sufficiently large group, not everyone is going to agree on everything. If you have the same 51% on the winning side of every binary decision, it's probably an indicator that something's unbalanced or outright broken.

I've started reading the above link on ranged voting, and while I don't have time to read it all right now, I agree with some of the points made in its introduction. I might comment further once I've had time to read the whole thing.

The US Federal Government shouldn't be making decisions on anything that doesn't affect the US as a whole or is at least too widespread for any one state to handle it. The States, and for more localized problems, individual counties and municipalities, should have the freedom to experiment with what policies and procedures are best for their respective circumstances Instead of DC calling all of the shots and making blanket declarations that might , on the surface, benefit the majority, but end up hurting the minority to the point of hurting the whole or represent a compromise that hurts everyone when leaving it to the states could allow for a variable approach that benefits all.

And for the record, in a hypothetical world where the Green and Libertarian parties have universal ballot access and I've only done some of the research I should've done, I'd probably vote a mixture of Green and Libertarian for my first and second choices, mostly Democrat for third, and mostly Republican for fourth, assuming no other minor parties got on the ballot and all four parties managed to field candidates accross the board. I'm also a fan of the Constitution Party in general principles if not any specific candidates, but the gap between 4th and 5th seems to be nearly as large as the gap between second and third given the current structure of US politics.

Several 'cons' on the idea that states are ideal to do 'experiments'

1. It seems to me the US has become more ideological in the age of mass media and now social media. State races are covered less and less and people who pay attention to policy do so on a national level. Remember Sarah Palin's claim to fame started when she ran for the local school board on a pro-life ticket, an ideological issue that had nothing to do with the public schools in Alaska.

2. 'Small gov't' often means 'Big gov't' in your life. Take Social Security. It's a pretty simple concept and system, pay into the system by working, collect from the system when you retire. Imagine instead it was state run. You decide to move from NJ to Arizona. Ohhh ohhh, to plug a budget gap Chris Christee decided to impose a 12 month waiting period on Social Security payments to people who leave the state. Arizona doesn't credit you for money you didn't earn in Arizona. Some nearby state is trying to void giving you credit because NJ had same-sex marriage and they don't like that, even though you were never SSM. 'One size fits all' may be a phrase that mocks a Federal solution, but for the individual it sometimes means the most freedom. You have one system, you know how it works and you can then do what you want from that baseline.

3. It's not clear at all that we have a good method of evaluating and communicating what has worked and not worked from 'state experiments'. CA, for example, has allowed illegal immigrants to get drivers licenses on the theory better to have people 'in the system' than feed the underground economy even more. Other states have tried to ratchet up the pressure even more to keep illegal immigrants outside of any system of law. Does anyone here think either side will have results fairly reported and evaluated to the rest of the country? At what point will one method be deemed to have worked and then be adopted nationwide? Keep in mind if most state races end up being ideological rubber stamps, you no longer have a mechanism which rewards state decision makers for making decisions on behalf of their state's interests.

Good that so many agree there is a problem, are willing to try things, to improve systems and outcomes.

So if I follow this correctly you vote in order of preference:

A - 1st
B - 2nd
c - 3rd
D - 5th
E - 4th

So they tally and no one has a majority of 1st place votes, but A comes in last. A is then eliminated and since I voted for A, my vote now switches to B. So B now has all those who voted for him as their #1 choice, plus all the #2 choices that came from eliminating A.

It seems like it would be a good idea to try. It certainly makes reporting results very complicated since the data to tally with each ballot goes up a lot. But hey we do have computers.

IMO I would like to try proportionate voting. 5 openings you get 5 votes, you can bundle all your votes on one guy or spread them out. The top five get the jobs. No you wouldn't use it for single slot positions like governor or president but you would use it for a state's congressional delegation or a portion of it.

This system would be rejected as racist in America because it would destroy the Democrats system of identity politics, and it would likely lead to an increase of white candidates winning. Think about racial prejudice among minorities and whose is most likely to be put on bottom.

The system does not preclude black-majority constituencies. Nor does it preclude a victory by a black candidate anywhere else. What it does preclude is a candidate like Cynthia McKinney anywhere but a monochromatic district. Depending on the method of registering candidacies, it might preclude a Conyers or a McKinney just about anywhere. If you had contingencies wherein you had something analogous to a 'jungle' primary in lieu of party nominated candidates (whether candidate registration was by petition or by placing a deposit), you might see circumstances where the rest of the community unites contra a candidate appealing to the most truculent blacks.

Too bad Gov. Jerry Brown just vetoed a bill that could have expanded instant runoff voting in California. He thinks that Californians are stupid, saying "Ranked-choice voting is overly complicated and confusing."

He's a Democratic Governor of a Democratic state. There's no way he's going to change the system that's placed his party on top.

The answer is this, and it also applies nationally, and furthermore literally everyone knows that the answer is this.

So you will therefore never, ever, ever hear any length NPR reports, not any in-depth NYT articles, about how this is a clearly better system.

Much better to focus on how it is unfair that illegals are not supposed to vote. Hey, they live here too!!

To the extent that Brown is honest, the problem is not that the voting system is too complicated, but rather that it fries voter circuits given the jumble of positions which are up every year. Reducing the number of elected offices, holding referenda and elections for the court system at a different time of the year than you do other offices, and contriving a regular electoral calendar (federal offices in year one, local councils and mayors in year two, governor and state legislature in year three, and special purpose offices in year four) would correct that problem.

One problem with your thesis: the two loci which have experimented with ordinal balloting are Minneapolis and Cambridge, Mass. Both are liberal venues.

In the "never gonna happen" box, I like "loser delegation". In that system, if you vote for a losing candidate, she can delegate the votes she received to a winning candidate from another district. Leg votes are no longer 1 rep 1 vote. Instead, they are a function of the number of votes received in the election, increased by the number of delegated votes. In that way, everyone's vote "counts". Either your candidate wins, or your vote gets delegated to a winner who fairly closely reflects your views. In that way, every vote has some degree of representation. Under first-past-the-post, voters for losing candidates are out in the cold.

"One problem with your thesis: the two loci which have experimented with ordinal balloting are Minneapolis and Cambridge, Mass. Both are liberal venues."

They are so solidly liberal that there's little likelihood of conservatives winning. So, there's no specific need to 'protect' the system from conservatives and/or Republicans.

The same would apply to any solidly Republican area too, of course.

The big advantage of STV as far as I'm concerned is that it gives proper recognition to minor parties.

With a traditional one-man-one-vote, you are often in the position of having to cast a tactical vote for someone you honestly don't like, just to prevent a worse one from winning. Consequently, election results over-state the level of support for major party candidates, and under-state it for minor parties.

This makes it extremely difficult for minor parties to make any headway.

But if you could vote for your ACTUAL favourite - Libertarian, Green, whatever - safe in the knowledge that your second-choice vote will still act to keep Hillary/Trump (delete as appropriate) out by counting towards the other one, then those minor parties would be able to grow, maybe even eventually becoming genuine contenders.

Having read through the above link on range voting, I'd have to say I like the concept and feel it probably more closely matches how people actually evaluate choices rather than trying to force them into a strict ordering. On a 0-20 scale, I'd probably rank Johnson and Stein in the mid-teens, Hilary around 7 or 8, and Trump near the bottom. I still say instant run off is a step in the right direction though.

As for the comments against pushing decisions down where appropriate, I'll agree Social Security is probably better handled at the federal level so it can better follow individuals, but a decision as to whether to widen a stretch of highway between two cities in the same state should probably be handled by the state in question rather than the Federal Government.

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