Deciding on Voting Properties



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Deciding on Voting Properties

Democracy is developed around the concept of voting and elections, but how the election is decided or which voting method to use is not specified. The most commonly used voting method is the plurality voting method. This method entails every voter to vote for their first choice and that candidate is the winner. Despite the wide use and acceptance of this system, it contains many flaws. One problem is that is easily manipulated. If a third party candidate entered the race this candidate would be able to decide the election. Whichever of the two candidates the third party candidate’s political views are closest too would lose votes. This would no long accurately account for the wants and needs of the voting population. The method also does not always elect a candidate, who would win in an election against every other candidate in head to head matchups.

In some more progressive cities, like San Francisco and Portland1, new methods have been implemented in an effect to fix these changes; however these methods contain their own flaws. One of these new voting methods, Instant Run off Voting lack Voter Fairness, or Monotonicity. In other words voting for a candidate could potentially hurt that candidate, and voting against a candidate could potentially help that candidate. No voting method is perfect. Every voting method lacks some properties. The choice is to figure out which properties are important to have in an election and which ones are dispensable.

There are six major voting properties: Condorcet, voter fairness, clone invariant, loser independence, single winner, and Condorcet loser2. Condorcet is characteristics that if a candidate wins head to head match ups against every other candidate than that candidate is elected. Sequentially, Condorcet loser means that if a candidate loses every head to head match up then this candidate will not be elected. Voter fairness is the concept that a vote for a candidate will help that candidate and a vote against a candidate will hurt that candidate. Clone invariant is that property that if a candidate who had all of the same opinions as another candidate entered the election, it would not hurt the candidate who holds the same positions. Loser independent means that if a candidate who was going to lose the election drops out it will not affect the election results. Single winner means that there is only one winner.

The problem is that no voting method can ever have all of these methods. The three properties of single winner, Condorcet, and loser independence are incompatible. A method can have a maximum of two of these three properties. So which properties should an election have and which ones can it go without. I attempted to answer this question through the use of two surveys. One survey was conducted on the students in my Game Theory and Democracy class and the other was based on follow students who are not in the class. The surveys were the same outline. I asked the students to rank the six properties that they felt were most important to an election. I provided a definition of the property to help inform gather more accurate results.

The ranked pairs listing of the results for the students in the game theory class are listed below.



  1. Condorcet

  2. Voter Fairness

  3. Clone invariance

  4. Single Winner

  5. Loser Independent

  6. Condorcet Loser.

These results differed from the results of the people not in the class - shown below.

  1. Voter Fairness / Single Winner

  2. Condorcet

  3. Clone Invariant

  4. Loser Independent

  5. Condorcet Loser

Single Winner won the plurality vote in the second survey; however it was in a tie with Monotone in every other method. It came down to tiebreak vote. People outside of the game theory class would prefer to have an election where only one winner was elected or with voter fairness over Condorcet. Single winner ended up 5th out of the six properties for the students in the game theory class. These surveys further demonstrate the varying views and indefinite conclusion of the question.

The results for the game theory class were somewhat expected because the importance of Condorcet was a major topic in the class. Many of the class discussions and the readings emphasized Condorcet and the benefits of having a Condorcet method. Voter fairness even though is an important fundamental property, because Condorcet was emphasized more in the class and processes many benefits. Single winner is a property that at first glance seems like an obvious property that all methods have; however, in class we discussed the possibility of the having an election without single winner. One of these methods that do not have the single winner property is the Two Player Game Theory method. Despite all of the significant properties of Two Player Game Theory, it is not a single winner method and as the survey showed would be viewed with unfavorably by the general public. But then some of the methods that are single winner lack some other properties that Two Player Game Theory has, such as loser independence. Loser independence even though helps the election form being manipulated by a losing candidate was not ranked that high in the survey.

The inability to decide on which properties to include in an election hinders society’s ability to decide on a voting method, less likely to manipulate and more accurate of the general public’s views. It is vital that there is a decision on which properties are most important to have in an election. Once this is decided then improvements can be made to the current voting systems, and implement innovative methods, such as Ranked Pairs, Instant Run-off Borda, Least Worst Defeat, Two Player Game Theory, and Schulze. These methods contain more of the six vital properties then the current voting systems, and would be a step in the right direction.

Works Referenced:

Egelko, B. (2010, April 20). S.f. instant-runoff voting upheld. The Chronicle. Retrieved from http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-04-20/bay-area/20856835_1_instant-runoff-voting-voting-system-instant-runoffs

Electoral reform second choice or second-class? alternative ways of picking mayors are spreading. (2011, October 22). The Economist, Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/21533435/print



Tabachnik, M. (2011, April 25). Strategy and Effectiveness:  An Analysis of Preferential Ballot Voting Methods.

Wright, B. (2009, April 20). Objective Measures of Preferential Ballot Voting Systems.




1 Egelko, B. (2010, April 20). S.f. instant-runoff voting upheld. The Chronicle. Retrieved from http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-04-20/bay-area/20856835_1_instant-runoff-voting-voting-system-instant-runoffs


2 Wright, B. (2009, April 20). Objective Measures of Preferential Ballot Voting Systems.



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