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.

Quote of the Day - November 7, 2006

What part of 170% utilization don't you understand?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Quote of the Day - November 6, 2006

Fry: Try shocking him.

Bender: (shouting at the Professor) Your social security check is late! Stuff costs more than it used to! Young people use curse words!

-- Futurama

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Happy Guy Fawkes Night!

Because the British needed some kind of excuse to have an annual fireworks display. I feel like I should rent V for Vendetta.

Quote of the Day - November 5, 2006

One who shows signs of mental aberration is, inevitably, perhaps, but cruelly, shut off from familiar, thoughtless intercourse, partly excommunicated; his isolation is unwittingly proclaimed to him on every countenance by curiosity, indifference, aversion, or pity, and in so far as he is human enough to need free and equal communication and feel the lack of it, he suffers pain and loss of a kind and degree which others can only faintly imagine, and for the most part ignore.

- Charles Horton Cooley