[governance] Co-coordinator Election Results

Craig Simon cls at rkey.com
Mon Dec 21 21:30:51 EST 2009

Fearghas McKay wrote:

> One of the advantages of STV is it that it is relatively simple to 
> explain, but even then it usually needs an explanation to a significant 
> percentage of the electorate.

I'm very curious about why you might think STV is easier to explain than 
typical IRV.

> Is the addition of Borda Count & Runoff Voting algorithms were the extra 
> complexity of explaining ? Is Better the enemy of Good Enough?

The key to success is providing an easy-to-use ballot that lets people 
rank the available options. Nearly everyone gets the idea of ranking 
right away. Relatively few bother arguing the nuances of different 
tabulation systems.

As with any voting system, when people worry, they worry most about 
whether the systems they use are well protected against counting errors, 
ballot stuffing, and other kinds of manipulation.  And rightly so.

The tabulation system is important nevertheless. For the most part, it's 
a matter of picking your poison. A strong winner will be the clear 
winner in any reasonable system. The challenge comes in deciding which 
system promises greater fairness when outcomes are relatively close.

> Simplicity is always easier to sell and understand - once you start 
> talking about Borda Counts et al I get confused and I am involved with 
> running elections most years for co-chairs/fellow directors.
> For occasional electors complex voting systens are a barrier to 
> understanding and believing in the election process, in my opinion.
> Perhaps even for regular electors.

My experience is that the Borda Count is the easiest ranked choice 
system to explain. Actually, I've implemented a modified Borda. 1st 
place counts as 1. 2nd as 0.5. 3rd as 0.33. 4th as 0.25. Etc. Add 'em 
up. Instead of calling it Borda Count, I call it Depth of Support.

I've also implemented a visualization that helps people see the 
constituents of the support depth. It's very useful in portraying how 
some candidates are polarizing (lots of 1st place votes and few others) 
while others are strong consensus options (dominating 2nd place)

I find Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) to be the 2nd easiest ranked choice 
system to explain... Winning depends on surpassing a 50% threshold of 
votes cast. If no one gets 50% on the first round, then the candidate 
with the least number of votes is eliminated. All the people who voted 
for the round's loser get their vote distributed to the candidate they 
named as their 2nd choice. If no one has yet reached 50%, then the new 
last-place candidate is eliminated and more backup choices are elevated. 
And so on.

The virtue of IRV is that all the participants get to voice their most 
honest preferences. The system's round-by-round elevation of backup 
rankings eliminates the fear that votes for seemingly peripheral 
candidates are wasted, undercutting the chances of a more widely 
acceptable candidate. In fact, the IRV visualization I created is 
designed to show which constituents coalesced to elect the consensus 
choice, and which constituents coalesced in opposition.

IRV is going to become even easier to explain soon, since it will be 
used for the upcoming Oscars (the film industry Academy Awards), and is 
likely to become more resonant in popular culture.

The system I find exceptionally hard to explain is Condorcet. It's been 
even harder to provide a good visualization tool. So I won't get into it.

Some voting wonks might want to argue the virtues of range voting over 
ranked voting. Having LOTS of experience with both systems, I'd be glad 
to do it.

But, for those who've read this far, I'd like to make it clear that 
settling on a voting system is only one aspect of developing an online 
democratic venue worthy of the name. The greater challenge is finding a 
way to channel discourse productively when huge numbers of people are 
demanding to speak and be heard. Think HUGE.

I've been sketching out a radically scalable kind of content vetting 
mechanism, and my bet is that ranked choice formats offer the most 
promise toward achieving that goal.

Craig Simon
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