Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Can we just ditch plurality-rule voting systems already?

It's been known for a while now that every voting system has fatal flaws. Most elections in the US use some 'first past the post' method, where the ticket winning a plurality of votes wins. This popular rule allows for some truly perverse outcomes where a block of voters' wishes is sliced up and a niche candidate--opposed by a big majority--wins the election. We see this possibility unfolding tonight in the New York lieutenant governor's race:
"The key problem for the governor is that Cuomo-Wu and Cuomo-Hochul would count as votes for different pairs, and would effectively split Cuomo's vote between two tickets. ... If the Cuomo-Wu and Cuomo-Hochul votes are split enough, though, the Republican nominee Rob Astorino — viewed as a long-shot contender — could theoretically sneak to victory with a small plurality.
This unlikely scenario would be a great example of the winner of an election being determined not by the electorate's vote but by the characteristics of the specific voting system being used. But the disturbing truth is that every election outcome is highly contingent on the voting rule in place, not just the attention-grabbing shockers. The only thing we can do is decide as a polis what voting system we want, and which sorts of groups we want to help and hurt. I for one support instant-runoff voting, or better yet the Borda Count, which both tend to mitigate plurality-rule's twisted logic somewhat and favor more moderate, consensus candidates.

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