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.
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.
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).
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.
In a remarkably candid TIME interview with Molly Ball after announcing his candidacy in Ohio’s 2022 U.S. Senate election, for the seat being vacated by Rob Portman, J.D. Vance acknowledged that he’s pandering to ex-president Trump because that’s the only way to be viable in the GOP primary: “I need to just suck it up and support him.”
It’s believed that Portman abandoned his Senate seat, despite remaining popular among Ohio’s general election voters, in part because he didn’t want to pander to Trump for the sake of winning the primary. In this respect, Portman is in the same position as Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Richard Shelby of Alabama, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, all non-Trump Republicans giving up their Senate seats.
Vance’s comment, as a kind of exclamation point on this troubling trend, vividly illustrates one of the main observations of recently released “The Primary Problem” report from Unite America: the existing system of partisan primaries, followed by plurality-winner general elections, not only affects which candidate ultimately holds office but also how candidates choose to campaign and then act in office in order to avoid being “primaried” when running for reelection. The distortion of representation is pervasive as a result of the particular institutional arrangement in which candidates compete. (An even newer report, from New America, reaches a similar assessment–“primaries incentivize more polarizing behavior among candidates and legislators”–although it is cautious in its conclusions on how best to address the issue.)
I wonder, therefore, what kind of candidate J.D. Vance would have attempted to be if he were running, not in the current system, but instead in the system of “Round-Robin Voting” that the Election Law at Ohio State program is developing. This system, which involves a variation on ranked-choice voting, requires candidates to compete one-on-one against all other candidates for the office regardless of party affiliation, to determine which candidate is most preferred by a majority of the entire electorate. If you watch until the end of this 15-minute video explaining Round-Robin Voting, you’ll see that it hypothesizes an “Opportunist” candidate attempting to position himself (or herself) in between a Trumpian Populist (like Josh Mandel, already running for this Ohio U.S. Senate seat) and a traditionally Conservative Republican (like Rob Portman). Does J.D. Vance exemplify this “Opportunist” candidate, and how would he fare in a Round-Robin Voting nonpartisan primary? Also, would Portman have run for reelection if he had been able to do so in a Round-Robin Voting nonpartisan primary?
Rather than answering these questions definitively right now, it’s instead worth keeping them in mind as the 2022 midterm campaigns unfold. The big-picture point: as much as the changing nature of American politics is caused in part by changes in voter preferences, it is also significantly a product of the particular system in which politicians operate. If that system artificially magnifies increasingly extremist tendencies in what voters want, it’s necessary to alter the system itself to undo that dangerous magnification of extremism.