Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Electoral reform

I don't vote. I've never voted. It's a long story.

If, though, at the end of my life you count the number of elections in which I was eligible to vote, whose ultimate outcome was decided by a single vote, and therefore could have been affected by mine, I bet you count zero. Add my vote, take my vote, no change in the result in any election. I literally count for nothing.

My vote would count for more in the following system I first saw described nearly ten years ago:

Instead of counting the ballot papers, and declaring the winner to be whoever got most votes, the ballot papers would be put into a tombola, thoroughly mixed and one ballot paper taken out. The winner would be whoever was voted for on that ballot paper.

To encourage a high turnout, only the winning candidate would retain his deposit. The remaining deposits would be given, as a prize, to whomever cast the vote which was taken out of the tombola.

In this arrangement I'm actually more likely as an individual to have my own vote affect the outcome than in the current system. It doesn't seem any less democratic: as the original post says it's just a statistically noisy form of proportional representation.

I note the following advantages over the "first past the post" system:

The future of politics is right here! What's not to love?

Now read Electoral reform, redux, for more on the math and philosophy of this proposal—and why not to vote in the current system.


Dominic Sayers said...

Isaac, I'm no fan of democracy or governments in general but I think you're demonstrably wrong about voting.

Here's a syllogism to ponder:

Premise: Your vote is the same as everyone else's
Premise: Your vote literally counts for nothing
Conclusion: Everybody's vote counts for nothing

...and yet, we have a result. I suggest that premise 2 is faulty.

Your vote does affect the statistics in a minor way. This historical data does affect the way people vote in the next election (tactical voting, confirmation bias).

On the whole, I think it's worth putting your coat on once every few years.

Richard Kuo said...


Former Googler, has some interesting comments on the subject.

jn808 said...

Isaac. I'm tempted to agree with you, yeah statistically your vote counts for (a minuscule) something. However, the question is, does the outcome? Democracy shamocracy. The illusion of choice. Twat 1 or twat 2?

Does anyone really believe politicians are in charge anymore anyway?


Time for a mince pie.


hannah said...

You know what else sidesteps the tyranny of the majority? Civil Society. This was Tocqueville's point in Democracy in America, where he also coined "tyranny of the majority." By civil society, he means all the local institutions--like town hall meetings, school boards, church groups, even the concept of jury duty--that govern society and foster civic participation. He was blown away by this aspect of American life when he visited America in the 1830's and presented it as the cultural element of democracy that was also the antidote to democracy's more negative manifestation, the tyranny of the majority. Democracy, in other words, is not just about elections. Whether or not he's right is of course debatable. Yet most political scientists do still present the development of civil society--by which they mean an open infrastructure of civic institutions that functions in the space between national government and individual families--as that which enables democracy to work. Supposedly, this civic infrastructure provides a buffer of sorts that resists tyranny of the majority. Countries that don't have it are more likely to succumb to corruption and the forms of soft tyranny that manipulate clannish ties and rivalries. This, I'm told, is what people studying development in third world countries spend their days thinking about.

I also think it's interesting to note that Tocqueville's concept of the tyranny of the majority is rooted in a deep suspicion of the individualism so rampant in America. I share this suspicion. The danger that he saw inherent in this individualism was that it led to withdrawal from civic participation--people began to see themselves as atomized units rather than part of a collective that was, for better or worse, quite powerful. (This is also why many see Tocqueville as a prophet of sorts on the rise of consumer culture. He predicted the rise of a new kind of tyranny fueled by consolidated new money, populist zeal, and a frenzy for private, material comforts.)

I suspect that Tocqueville would have great respect for your statistical analysis of the voting process, that he'd then wonder if it was rooted in the same modern individualism that tempts smart people to withdraw from the democratic process, and that he'd then very much want you to vote.

All this is to say that I think about these things (a lot). I'm a sucker for the concept of citizenship, its history, and the real change made possible by those who fought for it. I think voting is very important, yet also insufficient.

Barry_Liberty said...

All the maths are very interesting. Thanks IH.

I also like the '1 vote made a difference' stories.


Ethan said...

This is a terrible idea as it gives a non-zero chance of electing a candidate that got only a tiny number of votes. All it does is encourage everyone and their dog to run for every office.