Sunday, June 20, 2010

Voting Methods

Slashdot has a post about cumulative voting.  In cumulative voting you have multiple votes and distribute them however you want to the candidates.  Everyone might have 3 votes, or 10, or 100.  They can give all of them to one person, or divide them up however they want.  In theory this would help third parties.  However, in practice, I think it would do little.  People would just give all their votes to one person.  If people are afraid of voting for a third party now because of "throwing away your vote" then they will be against throwing away part of their vote.  Perhaps people would be more willing to give a small portion of their vote to their ideal candidate, while giving the majority to their realistic candidate.

A key to cumulative voting is that each person has just one total vote.  They can just split it up and give fractions of it to different people.  Instead I'd like to see a system where everyone can have multiple whole votes.  Create a simple chart, on the left is a list of candidates, next to each person's name is a box that can be checked.  People can check however many boxes as they want.  Each person with a checked box gets one whole vote.  This means people can have anywhere from 0 to n votes where n is the number of candidates.  The key is that any one candidate can only receive 1 vote, not all n votes.  That is the difference from cumulative voting.

At first giving people different amounts of votes seems like an unfair thing.  But everyone has the same potential number of votes, they just choose how many they want.  In practice, this would mean that people would vote for their realistic republocrat choice, and then also their ideal third party choice.  The total number of votes for republican or democrat likely wouldn't change.  But a large portion of people (perhaps well over half) would vote for a third party.

I do realize that in reality third parties may still not beat out the republocrats.  However, this wouldn't be because people wanted to vote for them but didn't.  Rather, it would be because people truly didn't know who they were and thus didn't vote for them.  This is opposed to the current situation, where even if 60% of people wanted a single third party candidate he may still lose because those people would be afraid of throwing away their votes.

Another system that would serve to help third parties, and is actually being used in most democracies is proportional representation.  Proportional representation requires that people are voting for multiple seats, i.e., some sort of legislative body.  In it people vote for parties instead of actual people.  The seats in the body are then divided up amongst the parties the same way the votes were.  In the US the House of Representatives could be voted like this.  If we kept 435 seats, and used the 2008 elections for data this is what the results would have been:
Party Votes Percent Current Seats New Seats Rounded Additional Total Seats Percent 
Independent Oregon65,1090.05%00.23000.00%

Republocrat got 97.4% of the votes, yet they hold 100% of the seats.  Thus 2.6% of people are completely unrepresented.  Keep in mind this is under the current system in which people often will not vote for a third party, even if that is who they want, because they don't want to throw away their votes.  If we actually switched to this system the third parties' numbers would rise quite a bit.

In the new system we take the total number of seats and multiply it by the percentage the party got.  For democrats that would be 435 * .5411 = 235.38 (the figure above is different due to more accurate numbers being used).  Then normal rounding rules are applied (>= 0.50 becomes 1, < 0.50 becomes 0)  So 235.38 becomes 235.  Due to rounding the total number of seats at this stage may not be exactly 435.  In this example it's 432.  You could simply allow the number of seats to change slightly from year to year.  Alternatively, if you want a constant total then you give out the additional seats in the logical fashion.  You take every party whose seat total was not already rounded up, and order them based on the fractional part of their seats.  In the above example that means Independence at 0.47, then Constitution at 0.46, then Independent at 3.42.  Since there are 3 extra seats those three would each get one more seat.  Alternativly, if you had more seats given out than you had available, then you would take back a seat from whichever party was rounded up the furthest.  In other words, if one party went from 0.51 to 1 they would lose that seat first.

People who know me may expect I'd have two issues with this voting system.  That it requires parties and that it ignores states.  The fact that it ignores states is fine.  The purpose of the House of Representatives represents the people, not the states.  You'd only have a problem if you tried doing this with the Senate.  As for it requiring parties, I will admit that the first time I read about this system that was an objection I had.  However, I can't ignore how well this system works at giving third parties a fair voice.  A possible solution would be to make creating a party as easy as possible.  That way people currently running as independents could simply start the Dale Swanson Party, and run under that.

The main problem with changing the way our election system works is that any change that threatens the republocrats currently in power will be opposed.  Either of the above systems would be fairer which would mean republocrats losing power to third parties.  Thus it will be opposed.  As the republocrats have nearly a total monopoly on government it is unlikely to change.

I've written before about a possible solution to this.  Allow someone else besides the legislative body in question decide the rules for how that legislative body is picked.  In the US this would probably mean letting the states decided how the US congress is elected.  A problem would be that the same parties that control the US congress control the state legislators.  As well as many state legislators aspire to be in the US congress at some point.

Perhaps some form of direct democracy could be used here.  Anyone could come up with an election system.  Get say 10,000 signatures on a petition, and then it would be included on the next US election.  That isn't ideal, but I don't know what else could be done.

Another step towards generally good things in government would be preventing corporate donations to politicians.  It's silly to think that anyone that receives millions of dollars from any entity wouldn't act with that entity's best interests in mind.  Yet, that is exactly how our current system works.  A fix could be as simple as this:  No one may serve in any political office who has received greater than $5,000 in gifts from anything other than a citizen in the district they are seeking to represent, over the last 10 years.  Again, humans don't have a great track record for making decisions that would hurt them personally but help the greater whole.  That is exactly what the current legislators would have to do to enact laws like these.

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