Category Archives: alternative voting systems

Breaking round-robin ties

The USA women’s soccer team is advancing out of the preliminary round-robin stage of competition based on a “goal differential” tiebreaker used to differentiate teams with the same win-loss records. “The United States finished second in Group G on the strength of its plus-3 goal differential,” the Washington Post reports. I mention this here because a similar “vote differential” statistic is used to break ties among candidates in Round-Robin Voting. One reason for developing Round-Robin Voting as an electoral system is its straightforward comparison to round-robin competitions in sports. If the public can understand how a round-robin tournament works in the Olympics, the public can understand how round-robin competition would work in an election. The ability of the public to understand its own electoral system is an important feature of a democracy, including the public’s willingness to adopt the system in the first place. Obviously, there are other important criteria in making a choice among alternate electoral systems, including those directly relevant to how each system translates voter preferences into an overall winner entitled to govern in the name of the people. Still, as this year’s Olympics unfold, it’s a useful reminder that the idea of Round-Robin Voting should not be ruled out solely on the ground that it is too complicated for voters to understand.

Share this:

Could you withstand the pressure?

Two articles, one in The Atlantic and the other in The New York Times, discuss how first-term Representative Nancy Mace–a Republican from South Carolina–initially condemned Trump for causing the January 6 insurrection, only to backtrack since then. She’s no Liz Cheney, in other words.

But it’s easy to criticize. Can any of us be sure how well we would handle the pressure if we were in their situation? (The pressure is the threat of being abandoned by Trump’s supporters in favor of someone more loyal to Trump.) It’s easy to say we’d have the courage and fortitude of Cheney, but unless we face it ourselves first-hand we can’t really know. The sad truth is that, in the aggregate, Cheney is the exception, not the rule.

The implications of this is that, insofar as is possible, we should look for institutional ways to reduce the pressure and to make it easier for our representatives to do the right thing rather than the wrong thing. (One reason I’ve been working on the idea of round-robin voting, and how it relates to the kind of instant-runoff voting system adopted in Alaska, is to explore institutional alternatives that would help reduce this sort of pressure.) The basic insight of Madisonian theory, as I understand it, is that the institutions of government should be structured in such a way as to “economize” on the limited amount of political virtue that inevitably exists given human nature. “If men were angels,” as Federalist 51 says, we wouldn’t need to worry. Conversely, if there’s no virtue whatsoever, republican government couldn’t possibly function (only anarchy or despotism). So the trick is to calibrate institutions to the amount of virtue that exists (which hopefully is at least sufficient), and if possible create a virtuous circle where good institutions breed more virtue, which in turn make it easier for institutions to serve the public interest. (The virtuous circle, in other words, reduces the pressure on individual politicians to outperform expectations in light of human nature.)

The big-picture problem, as I see it, is that right now our Madisonian system is seriously out of calibration. Currently, there’s not enough virtue for our existing set of institutions. Or, to put the same point another way, our institutions are not, or no longer, well-suited to the amount of virtue we collectively have at the moment. We need to recalibrate, to get our institutions and our communal measure of virtue sufficiently back in alignment. But that’s easier said than done.

The advantage of stories like these two on Nancy Mace is that, as incomplete as they inevitably are in explaining our current predicament, they spotlight the the fact that the virtue component of the recalibration effort necessarily operates at the level of individual souls; it’s not just a matter of the overall structural context in which these individual souls operate. To get a virtuous circle rolling in the right direction, we will have to up our game at the individual level, in order to achieve the institutional reforms required to reduce the need to rely on extraordinary virtue, and to secure even more institutional reform, and so forth. It’s going to be a difficult challenge, but there’s no point giving up without trying.

Share this:

Trump’s efforts to “primary” Cheney

Politico goes deep into the details of former president Trump’s concerted plans to oust Rep. Liz Cheney as revenge for her commitment to honest vote-counting. Particularly interesting are the efforts to change the rules to make it more difficult for Cheney to win:

Underscoring the urgency, Donald Trump, Jr. earlier this year threw his support behind legislation that would change Wyoming election law to make it harder for Cheney to win against a splintered field. The proposal would have implemented a runoff if no primary candidate received a majority of support in the first round of voting, thereby forcing Cheney into a one-on-one matchup against a Trump ally.

The legislature, however, voted down the bill in March. Since then, some state lawmakers have pursued other election law changes that would hinder Cheney’s prospects.

Two of the potential rule changes under consideration according to an article linked to by Politico are ranked-choice voting and a California-type nonpartisan top-two primary. I don’t know if either of those moves would be successful in blocking Cheney; much as with Senator Lisa Murkowski’s situation in Alaska, it would depend on what percentage of voters view Cheney as their first-choice preference. As I discuss in my paper on Round-Robin Voting, both Instant Runoff Voting (what “ranked choice voting” usually is) and California’s top-two system privilege the electorate’s first-choice preferences in comparison to all the preferences that voters have among the candidates in the race. In other words, if many voters really don’t want a candidate to win, perhaps because they view the candidate as authoritarian and dangerous to democracy, that preference (no matter how strong) will be downplayed in either Instant Runoff Voting or California’s top-two system.

Round-Robin Voting, by contrast, does not privilege (or downplay) any of the preferences that voters have among the various candidates and thus will treat a preference that a candidate lose equivalently to a preference that a candidate win. Without looking more closely at the Wyoming race, I can’t be more confident of my assessment, but I’m inclined to think that Cheney would fare much better in a system with Round-Robin Voting than under the current system or under either Instant Runoff Voting or California’s top-two system. The same point applies to Murkowski. The basic reason is that voters who don’t prefer Cheney or Murkowski as their first choice, but really don’t want a Trump-endorsed candidate to win, might rank Cheney or Murkowski second (and enough voters who prefer the Trump-endorsed candidate first might hold their noses and still prefer Cheney or Murkowski to a Democrat). If this is true, then Cheney and Murkowski can win the head-to-head matches that form the Round-Robin Voting competition, even if they would not have enough first-choice strength to prevail under either Instant Runoff Voting or California’s top-two system.

Thus, as one considers how the choice of an electoral system may favor Trump’s midterm efforts to purge Cheney, Murkowski, and others in his quest for a return to power, one should consider the same question in reverse: what electoral system would best protect against Trump’s authoritarian-style populism? I submit that a version of Round-Robin Voting has the best prospect of serving that democracy-protection purpose (although that hypothesis should be tested empirically with whatever data can be mustered for the task).

Share this:

Tournament Elections with Round-Robin Primaries

I’ve posted a draft of this paper on SSRN. Here’s the abstract:

Round-robin voting uses ranked-choice ballots but calculates which candidates are most preferred by a majority of voters differently from instant-runoff voting. Like a round-robin sports competition, round-robin voting determines how each candidate fares against every other candidate one-on-one, tallying the number of wins and losses for each candidate in these one-on-one matchups. If necessary to break a tie in these win-loss records, round-robin voting looks to the total number of votes cast for and against each candidate in all of the one-on-one matchups—just as round-robin sports tournaments look to an equivalent total point differential statistic to break ties. When used in a primary election as the method to identify the top two candidates deserving to compete head-to-head as finalists in the general election, comparable to the use of round-robin competition as the preliminary stage of a sports tournament, round-robin voting is the electoral system best able to implement the democratic idea of majority rule.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to present an earlier draft at the University of Wisconsin Law School’s “Public Law in the States Conference” on June 23, and I’m looking forward to working with the Wisconsin Law Review on preparing the paper for publication. This draft will be revised before submission to the law review’s editors at the end of August, and therefore I very much welcome any comments that readers might email me before then.

Share this:

“Why New York’s Election Debacle Is Likely to Fuel Conspiracy Theories”

NYT:

It has been one week since the New York City Board of Elections botched the release of preliminary ranked-choice tabulations from the city’s mayoral race, counting 135,000 dummy ballots that employees had used to test a computer system and then failed to delete.

It was a stunning display of carelessness even from an agency long known for its dysfunction, and the reverberations will continue long after Tuesday evening, when Eric Adams was declared the winner of the Democratic primary race by The Associated Press… That’s because, while the mistake was discovered within hours and corrected by the next day, it provided purveyors of right-wing disinformation with ammunition as powerful as anything they could have invented.

Share this:

“In New York City, did ranked-choice voting let the wealthy override the working class?”

From Ben Lempert’s Monkey Cage analysis:

Using ranked-choice voting requires voters to gather and consider a lot of information…. The research confirms that ranking several candidates is challenging.

Scholars have also found that well-off White voters have more information about electoral politics, at least when asked trivia-style questions about how the government works and who holds office. But despite these background factors, no clear evidence suggests that the complexity of ranked-choice voting burdens disadvantaged voters….

Ranked-choice voting might be so complex that it reinforces inequality. Ranked-choice voting could also make our politics more egalitarian precisely because it asks for more information from voters.

Share this:

“New York’s ‘head-swirling’ mistake puts harsh spotlight on ranked-choice voting”

Politico: “Even though last week’s fumble by the city Board of Elections — in which it released incorrect vote tallies before fixing the totals 24 hours later — was not specifically related to the ranked-choice system, the complex way of choosing candidates is drawing new scrutiny as New Yorkers are going on two weeks waiting to learn the identity of the city’s likely next mayor.”

Share this:

“Common Cause/NY Statement on BOE Issues”

Release:

Responding to the series of events today regarding the Board of Elections, Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner, issued the following statement:

“The BOE has now clarified that the discrepancy in the count was due to human error, not any problem with the technology or ranked choice voting. We are not at all happy that it happened, but it was a mistake that the BOE is moving to correct. We appreciate all the campaigns’ consistent pro-democracy message that fair and accurate results are worth waiting for. The long time opponents of RCV seizing this moment to attack a more democratic system of elections — that exit polling shows voters overwhelmingly support — are misguided, and misleading the public. We remain focused on moving forward to ensure the responsible and reliable results New Yorkers demand”

On Monday Common Cause/NY and Rank the Vote NYC released the results of exit polling conducted by Edison Research.

Highlights include:

New Yorkers embraced Ranked Choice Voting at the ballot box.

83% of voters ranked at least two candidates on their ballots in the mayoral primary. The majority of those who opted not to rank did so because they only had one preferred candidate.

42% of voters maximized their newfound power and ranked five candidates.

New Yorkers understand the promise and the power of Ranked Choice Voting….

Share this:

“New York Mayor’s Race in Chaos After Elections Board Counts 135,000 Test Ballots”

NYT:

The New York City mayor’s race plunged into chaos on Tuesday night when the city Board of Elections released a new tally of votes in the Democratic mayoral primary, and then removed the tabulations from its website after citing a “discrepancy.”

The results released earlier in the day had suggested that the race between Eric Adams and his two closest rivals had tightened significantly.

But just a few hours after releasing the preliminary results, the elections board issued a cryptic tweet revealing a “discrepancy” in the report, saying that it was working with its “technical staff to identify where the discrepancy occurred.”

By Tuesday evening, the tabulations had been taken down, replaced by a new advisory that the ranked-choice results would be available “starting on June 30.”

Then, around 10:30 p.m., the board finally released a statement, explaining that it had failed to remove sample ballot images used to test its ranked-choice voting software. When the board ran the program, it counted “both test and election night results, producing approximately 135,000 additional records,” the statement said. The ranked-choice numbers, it said, would be tabulated again.

The extraordinary sequence of events seeded further confusion about the outcome, and threw the closely watched contest into a new period of uncertainty at a consequential moment for the city.

Share this:

“How to Use Ranked-Choice Voting to Help or Hinder N.Y.C. Mayoral Candidates”

Rob Richie NYT oped:

New York City has embarked on the biggest ranked-choice voting election in American history with the Democratic primary for mayor on Tuesday. Plenty of New Yorkers are looking for advice on how to fill out their ballots to help their favorite candidates — or to try to block other candidates they don’t want in City Hall.

As a longtime planner and champion of ranked-choice voting, I’ve pulled together some guidance for marking your ballot for a variety of scenarios involving the mayoral candidates, in particular Eric Adams, Maya Wiley, Kathryn Garcia, Andrew Yang and Scott Stringer. But first, the good news for voters: This is not rocket science.

The system is designed for voters to express themselves and arrive at a consensus candidate. Because voting to get the results you want is so intuitive, ranked choice has become the nation’s most popular new electoral reform after successful uses in elections in Maine for president and Congress, mayoral elections in more than a dozen cities and elections for leaders of many major associations.

Among the upsides: In Tuesday’s primaries, races up and down the ballot have multiple candidates of color and women, and in ranked-choice voting, none of them have to worry about split votes. That term describes what often happens when two or more candidates appealing to the same voters run in an election and the votes are divided, causing neither to win. This helps to explain why RepresentWomen and FairVote show sharply rising success for underrepresented candidates.

The best advice is simple: Rank your favorite candidate first, your second favorite second and so on until you reach New York’s maximum of five ranked candidates. If you rank five, you’ll have cast your most expressive ballot ever.

Share this:

Symposium on Ranked-Choice Voting

The journal Politics and Governance has devoted its most recent issue to a series of empirical studies of RCV:

The Politics, Promise and Peril of Ranked Choice Voting (2021, Volume 9, Issue 2)
Edited by Caroline Tolbert
Complete issue: www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/issue/view/251

Table of Contents:

Editor’s Introduction: The Promise and Peril of Ranked Choice Voting
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/4385
By Caroline J. Tolbert and Daria Kuznetsova

Ranked Choice Voting in Australia and America: Do Voters Follow Party Cues?
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/3889
By Benjamin Reilly

Using Campaign Communications to Analyze Civility in Ranked Choice Voting Elections
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/4293
By Martha Kropf

Demographic Disparities Using Ranked-Choice Voting? Ranking Difficulty, Under-Voting, and the 2020 Democratic Primary
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/3913
By Joseph A. Coll

The Impact of Input Rules and Ballot Options on Voting Error: An Experimental Analysis
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/3938
By J. S. Maloy and Matthew Ward

Ranked Choice Voting and Youth Voter Turnout: The Roles of Campaign Civility and Candidate Contact
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/3914
By Courtney L. Juelich and Joseph A. Coll

Election Reform and Women’s Representation: Ranked Choice Voting in the U.S.
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/3924
By Cynthia Richie Terrell, Courtney Lamendola and Maura Reilly

Variants of Ranked-Choice Voting from a Strategic Perspective
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/3955
By Jack Santucci

Lessons from the Use of Ranked Choice Voting in American Presidential Primaries
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/3960
By Rob Richie, Benjamin Oestericher, Deb Otis and Jeremy Seitz-Brown

Share this: