Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Friday Lunch Model of Election

It's election day, so I thought I'd talk about voting again. There are a lot of ways for a group of people to come to a decision based on a list of choices. The best explanation of various voting methods I ever saw was in a Discover magazine (I think) some years ago. The writer used the example of choosing a place to eat. It worked well because everyone has been in the position of trying to pick a place to eat with friends or coworkers and it easily shows many of the strengths and weakness of a given voting method. Let’s imagine a carload of people trying to pick a place to eat (since that example will show up in a link later anyway).

First, the non-democratic methods of picking a restaurant:

Autocracy – the driver decides where to eat.
Oligarchy – the people in the front seat decide where to eat.
Plutocracy – the person paying decides where to eat.
Republic – the passengers pick someone to decide where to eat.

Now, on to the voting:

One person, one vote – Everyone chooses just one restaurant. If all but two people pick different restaurants, then the restaurant those two picked is where they go. If no one else in the car likes that pick, tough. That’s where we’re eating. Pipe down.
Primaries – The “fast food” contingent chooses one restaurant, the “sit down” contingent chooses another restaurant. A buffet may or may not be offered as an option. Then everyone gets to choose one of the selections. The people who don’t really want to waste time at a sit-down restaurant are afraid to throw away their vote on the buffet, so they vote for fast food, even though they’re not really in the mood.
Run-offs – Everyone chooses just one restaurant. The one with the least votes is eliminated, then everyone chooses just one again. Continue until those who are most hungry give in to those who are most adamant about where to eat.
Instant run-offs – Everyone grabs a piece of paper and writes down all of the restaurants they want to eat at and then ranks them. The person riding shotgun goes through all the papers and looks at the first choices. If someone’s first choice receives the least votes, he looks at their next choice and re-tallies. Once the second choice votes are considered, the choices with the least votes then go to the third choice. By the time he finishes figuring out the vote, lunch is over.
Approval voting – Everyone lists the restaurants where they want to eat. The one where the most people want to eat is chosen. 3-way ties necessitate additional negotiation.

I found this essay that goes into more detail on this example to argue for approval voting (as opposed to one person, one vote – he doesn’t go into other methods). I prefer approval voting because it encourages more than two options. There’s no sense that you are “throwing away” your vote because you can support more than one candidate. One person, one vote tends to encourage two candidates. The California recall election was an extreme example of why one person, one vote is problematic. With so many candidates, it was theoretically possible for someone who won 5% of the vote to become governor (imagine that someone with high name recognition like Arnold hadn’t run). Allowing people to vote for all of the candidates they felt would be capable of governing would have come closer to reflecting the actual desires of the voting public. My only concern is that ties and tight races would become more likely, since it would become possible to support all candidates in a race.


Anonymous John said...

Ok, first, the driver should get 2 votes - one for being a person going to lunch and one for driving. This will encourage people to drive. If it is raining, the driver gets 3 votes; if it is a blizzard, the driver gets 4. Votes can also be purchased -whatever the market will bear. People in the car are then ranked by age. The most mature person gets an extra vote, and all others have their votes multiplied by a proportionally determined fraction from 1 (the oldest) to 0.1, the youngest, and it is added to their vote "strength". Anyone
with any special dietary restrictions (real or imagined) does not have their vote counted, because they are a pain in the butt. Anyone who complains about the driver's driving, loses their vote to the driver (this could mean an in-flight change in destination). At the end of the drive to the restaurant, all passengers, even disenfranchised ones, vote on who was the most pleasant to ride with (i.e., a popularity contest). The winner gets an extra vote. This could mean a new restaurant destination. If it does then the ride isn't technically over, and the vote is invalidated. Since the vote is invalid, the current restaurant whose parking lot the vehicle is in, remains the winner. Winning the popularity vote is kind of like winning Miss Congeniality. You’re a loser, but you have to smile all through lunch.

11/08/2006 8:04 AM  

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