Isn't the Vote equal now?
Status != Quo
Ranking vs. Rating
The Equal Vote
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Problems and the solution
Plurality Voting = fail.
Instant Runoff Voting = fail.
What the yoots say
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Six kittens from Catsburg
The founders of our nation required that we have an equal weight vote, specifically so our government will work for us. Unfortunately this founding vision has never been realized: there are two persistent inequalities in how we vote, and these inequalities benefit special and partisan interests at the expense of We the People as a whole.
Oregon is the only state in the nation considering election reform on this November's ballot. That measure, #90, directs the Oregon Legislature to create a voting system "through which all Oregon electors may participate on an equal basis, in all phases of the selection process," and thereby create the nation's first equal voting system.
But what does it actually mean for us to be equal in the vote?
The test for equality of weight is balance. Therefore, in order for the voting system to provide an equal weight vote to each voter, for every possible way you can vote, there must exist a counter-balancing vote I can cast that leaves the election outcome the same before and after our two votes are counted.
But because our current system limits us to one choice, whenever there are more than two candidates, the more similar candidates split supporters' votes. This is the spoiler effect inequality and it creates a vote that is impossible to balance. Voters who like one candidate actually have more power than those who like more than one. Consequently, we are encouraged not to “waste our votes” on a long shot candidate we might really like and instead vote only for the “lesser evil,” in order that our worst option be prevented from winning.
This gives a sneaky advantage to well-funded special interests, because the lesser evil is just the more tolerable of the two frontrunners with the biggest financial war chests, who are therefore most beholden to the money.
The single choice limitation results in a two-party-dominated political system with outcomes heavily biased towards special interests. Independents without big backing don’t even get a fair count. Instead they are vilified for participating, because the more support they draw, the more likely their presence on the ballot will spoil the outcome and result in the election of the "greater evil."
The Second Inequality: Exclusion
The primary election was created more than a century ago to give voters the choice of which candidates from their party would be nominated to the general election. Prior to the establishment of the primary, the two main party candidates were chosen at party conventions or in the "smoke-filled back rooms" by party bosses. Unfortunately, this effort to give more voice to the people has created another dimension of inequality in the vote: partisan exclusion.
Taken together, these inequalities silence more than half of us and afford choice only between the two polarized candidates deepest in the money's pocket. Not super surprising then that we have a special-interest dominated government mired in partisan gridlock.
Ballot Measure 90
The Oregon Open Primary explicitly directs the Oregon Legislature to “create a fully open, equitable, and fair election system … through which all Oregon electors may participate on an equal basis … so that all Oregon voters have the equal ability to select two finalist candidates...” This directive unambiguously requires that all voters be equal in all elections. No more partisan exclusion, no more spoiler effect.
The vote between the top two is always equal. But what about the primary vote itself? If the single choice limitation were to continue after Measure 90's enactment, the spoiler effect inequality would actually be magnified. And therefore the pressure would increase for us to support not our true favorites, but the one candidate we think has the best chance to beat the one we like least– the lesser evil of the two candidates most beholden to the money.
The California Top Two
California adopted a top two general election system in 2010. While the California law bears similarity to the Oregon Open Primary, it differs significantly in its purpose, excerpted in part:
“(a) Purpose. The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act is hereby adopted by the People of California to protect and preserve the right of every Californian to vote for the candidate of his or her choice…
(b) Top Two Candidate Open Primary. All registered voters otherwise qualified to vote shall be guaranteed the unrestricted right to vote for the candidate of their choice in all state and congressional elections… The top two candidates, as determined by the voters in an open primary, shall advance to a general election…”
The California system has no requirement of equality within the primary election itself. Quite the opposite; as shown above, the California system’s stated Purpose specifically enshrines and magnifies the single choice spoiler effect inequality present in our election system today. As a result, Californians have experienced directly the pernicious effects of increased vote-splitting: campaign costs have increased, special interest outcomes are even more prevalent and in some cases two candidates advance who don’t at all represent the majority.
The Oregon Open Primary does not suffer this critical defect. It is imperative therefore that the enactment of the Oregon Open Primary address not just equality in the top two general election, but also provide equality in the choice of the top two as its clear statement of intent demands.
Ranking vs. Rating
The choice of a single favorite, Plurality Voting, is the simplest ranking system. It turns out that with more than two candidates, all ranking systems fail the equality test and are provably "unfair." Rating systems don’t suffer these significant defects. Think of Olympic judging, product reviews on Amazon (5 out of 5 stars!), or the simple “Like” on Facebook. All are examples of rating – attributing to each competitor, product or idea an independent measure of value. For every rating you give a candidate, I can give a balancing rating: yes to your no or zero stars to your five, so all rating systems actually pass the voting system equality test.
Even the simplest rating system – a binary yes or no, +1 or 0, support or not – lets us communicate what no rank ordering can: which choices we actually approve. And the ballot for the simplest rating system looks the same as the ballot for the simplest ranking system, only with the single choice limitation removed.
The Equal Vote
The simplest way for the Legislature to enact the Oregon Open Primary’s equality intent then, should it pass, is to remove the single choice limitation in current Oregon election law in conjunction with the implementation of the top two general election.
Finally, at long last, we’ll be able to honestly express support for candidates we actually prefer, without having to consider first who has the most financial strength or who the media says is “electable.” We can actually look at a candidate and think, “I like. Support!”
We’ll get rid of the election system division that creates hyper partisanship and diminish the influence of money in politics by taking away the sneaky incentives to support only the candidates with the most money. And since U.S. public elections have only used ranking systems, we’ll make the equal vote another significant Oregon first.
Please join us.
The influence of money in politics
76% of Americans think that the amount of money in elections gives rich people more influence than the rest of us. They're right. Princeton and Northwestern University recently released a released a study suggesting that our government outcomes function on behalf of a polarized special interest oligarchy not the majoritarian democracy. That's not the deal promised by the whole "We The People" thing.
The Founding Vision of Equality in the Vote
The earliest Supreme Court reference I could find defining the principle of "one person, one vote" is Gray v. Sanders, where the Court unequivocally concluded:
"The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing-one person, one vote."
This language of equality flowed through the opinion:
"Once the geographical unit for which a representative is to be chosen is designated, all who participate in the election are to have an equal vote -- whatever their race, whatever their sex, whatever their occupation, whatever their income, and wherever their home may be in that geographical unit. This is required by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The concept of 'we the people' under the Constitution visualizes no preferred class of voters, but equality among those who meet the basic qualifications."
In Wesberry v. Sanders the Court affirmed this notion of vote equality and traced the principle of "one person, one vote" even further back, before the adoption of the Constitution itself. The Court cited James "Jemmie" Madison, our fourth President and author of the Bill of Rights, who wrote in Federalist #57:
"Who are to be the electors of the Federal Representatives? Not the rich more than the poor; not the learned more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names more than the humble sons of obscure and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States."
The Court specifically equated Madison's passage to the principle of "one person, one vote."
In that same opinion the Court mandated the equality of vote "weight":
"... The apportionment statute thus contracts the value of some votes and expands that of others. If the Federal Constitution intends that, when qualified voters elect members of Congress, each vote be given as much weight as any other vote, then this statute cannot stand.
We hold that, construed in its historical context, the command of Art. I, § 2 that Representatives be chosen 'by the People of the several States' means that, as nearly as is practicable, one man's vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another's."
The Court reaffirmed this notion of weight equality in Reynolds v. Sims, concluding, "the right of suffrage can be denied by a debasement or dilution of the weight of a citizen's vote just as effectively as by wholly prohibiting the free exercise of the franchise."
The purpose of the Equal Vote Campaign is to adjust the mechanism of voting itself to address clear vote weight inequalities in the franchise: the limitation of a single choice in elections with more than two candidates and the segregation of voters and candidates by major party (or not) in the first (primary) election stage.
The Spoiler Effect and Lesser Evil Voting
The spoiler effect is the effect of vote splitting between candidates or ballot questions with similar ideologies. One spoiler candidate's presence in the election draws votes from a major candidate with similar politics thereby causing a strong opponent of both or several to win. The minor candidate causing this effect is referred to as a spoiler.
The lesser of two evils principle (or lesser evil principle) is the principle that when given two bad choices, the one which is not as bad as the other should be chosen over the one that is the greater threat.
More on Ranking Systems
Plurality voting - the choice of one favorite in a field of many candidates - is the simplest ranking system. Other methods like Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) allow you to rank multiple candidates 1,2,3, etc. in order of your preference. It turns out that for elections with more than two candidates, ALL ranked voting methods fail the test for voting system equality because there are rank orderings for which there are no counter-balancing orderings. Further, rank orderings can't account for disproportionate clusterings of candidates, so such systems are necessarily vulnerable to vote-splitting. Some super smart dude named Nobel Prize Winning Economist Dr. Kenneth Arrow actually proved that no rank order voting system with more than two distinct alternatives can produce a “fair” outcome.
Other complaints regarding ranked systems include ballot complexity and winner computation complexity.
Computing the shutout
Currently only members of the two major parties can participate in the primary election. According to May voter registration statistics, 30.9% of voters don't affiliate with either, and are therefore excluded from the contests that select the two frontrunner candidates for the general election. Further, a strong majority of districts provide a single party enough of an advantage because of the imbalanced segregation of voters in the primary stage that its candidate always wins the general election. This silences another 19.7% of voters in the minority party in dominated districts.
That's actually more than half of us. Without a voice of representation in a "representative democracy." Hmm...
You can download the spreadsheet that computes this result.
The Oregon Open Primary Statement of Intent
The intent of the Open Primary Act of 2014 is to create a fully open, equitable, and fair election system, that will be applied to specific federal and state elected offices currently elected on a partisan basis.
This Act will abolish the current practice of relying on political party members or party officials in closed primary elections or conventions to nominate candidates for these offices -- while prohibiting the participation of non-affiliated voters entirely -- and replace it with a system through which all Oregon electors may participate on an equal basis, in all phases of the selection process.
This specifically means changing the current system of primary election contests for these offices so that all Oregon voters have the equal ability to select two finalist candidates to appear on the general election ballot, regardless of the political party affiliation, or lack of party affiliation, of the elector or candidate.
Read the full text of the measure.
Science– It Works
The field of voting method analysis and research has advanced considerably in the 200+ years since the founding of the country. The chart on the following page excerpts results of the simulation and analysis of more than 50 various voting systems produced by Princeton-trained mathematician Warren Smith, PhD.
According Dr. Smith’s analysis, equal (rated) voting methods capture the top four spots as measured by both key performance measures of voting system efficacy: propensity to elect the Condorcet Winner, the candidate who would beat every opponent in a head to head contest, and minimization of net social regret at the outcome of the election with both strategic and honest voters.
Of specific interest is number two on the list– an equal voting two stage election system comprising a first pass approval vote with a top two runoff. The removal of the single choice limitation in conjunction with the top two produces the second best election system ever analyzed, yet keeps the same simple ballot format and two-stage nature of our current system.
|Method||Condorcet Winner||Regret (strategic)||Regret (honest)|
|1. Score + Top Two||15574||0.14785||0.1206|
|2. Approval + Top Two||15054||0.16795||0.15796|
|4. Approval -1, 0, +1||11439||0.17322||0.098206|
|7. Approval 0, 1||10997||0.215||0.18983|
|41. Plurality + Top Two (California)||8823||0.49909||0.23604|
|42. Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)||8387||0.50115||0.21684|
|?? - Current System||??||??||??|
A discussion of strategic voting in the equal vote with a top two
"Bullet Voting" - FairVote, a national election reform advocacy organization, has criticized rating systems because "they create obvious, immediate and ongoing strategic dilemmas in every election. With approval voting, each equally weighted vote counts both for that candidate but effectively against the other candidates -- if you indeed have a preference between the two candidates, you need to weigh whether to 'bullet vote' for your favorite to avoid canceling out that vote by voting for someone else. You can be sure candidates will publicly call for voters to reach out to all candidates they might like with their votes, but privately to urge all backers to bullet vote for themselves."
In a discussion of using a rating system for the primary election with a top two, Rob Richie, Executive Director of FairVote conceded that adding a second round mitigates the bullet voting concern. A voter's desire to see his or her favorite candidate win is balanced by the safety of having two acceptable candidates advance (including his or her favorite).
"Voting or advocating for the weak opponent" - A number of folks have suggested that one way to "game" this system is to cast dishonest votes in favor of a weak opponent candidate in order to squeeze out a more-feared strong opponent. This is not a safe voting strategy; in fact it is only viable if the voter has a very high degree of confidence that his or her favorite candidate will out-poll the strong opponent in the first round. Voting insincerely does not change at all the calculus between the voter's favorite and most feared opponent, but actually increases the likelihood that the voter's own favorite will get squeezed out. This weak opponent strategy is an effective technique in most other primary election systems.