Wednesday, May 04, 2011

How to save Humankind from self annihilation in three easy steps. Step 1: adopt approval voting

Below is a rant I posted to the Election Methods email list. Our current voting methodology of plurality is severely broken and is a root cause of much of what ails us. Step one therefore is to rally behind the most pragmatic and immediately achievable solution called Approval voting.

: [EM] A conversation with an English woman about IRV

[The full post being replied to is available here: [EM] A conversation with an English woman about IRV]

When the pragmatists collide with the perfectionists you get a lot of noise, no directed action and absolutely no results. This is a primary reason why we (the humans) are pretty much screwed, and it is indirectly why broken ideas such as IRV perpetuate.

The pragmatists know that the English woman written about above pretty much represents the norm around the world. Judge them if you will but people have lives to get on with and understanding complicated voting methods for reasons that are hard to explain just doesn't compete with thinking about lovers, current or ex or the latest Friends episode. Ordinary people will struggle with approval, roll their eyes at range and go catatonic over Condorcet.

The perfectionists on the other hand cannot accept any method with even the slightest unintended consequences and so will not endorse imperfect methods even if they agree that said method is an improvement over the status quo.

The two extremes of Approval vs. Condorcet are the best example. I have followed this list for years and read many explanations on Condorcet and just like the description given to the English woman above none of them are easy to assimilate. How the heck do you translate my rankings into "if more prefer A over C ..." You are asking people to have faith in your fancy math and programming. At the end of the day I remain unconvinced that it is a sufficiently better method than Approval by any metric grounded in the messy reality of imperfect humans voting for other imperfect humans to be their leaders.

From the perspective of US single winner elections I say the following:

1. Approval voting;
  - trivial to transition to (no over-voting), want to vote for the
    underdog while hedging your bet for the frontrunner, no problem
  - everyone gets the mechanics and the nuances of approval after a
    minute of explanation
  - very low effort to vote, avoids all the comparisons in ranking
  - minimal real world risk of unintended consequences
  - naturally resistant to strategic voting. It's binary, what can
    you do?
2. Range voting
  - degree of improvement over approval is debatable, at least for
    today, maybe a few years from now the need will be different
  - significant step in complexity for the equipment, 1 bit toggle
    to n bit integer. I can't implement that on the current ballots
    used in Arizona for example.
3. IRV
  - this one feels good to half assed thinkers and that is its
    greatest danger. 'nuff said.
4. Condorcet
  - theoretically near perfect but I don't grok it and neither will
    99% of the populace.
  - a bitch to implement without a computer for the UI and we all
    know how great it is having computers in this process
  - any ranking system is way to much of a pain for the average
    Joe who just wants to get out of the damn polling booth and
    home to dinner. Go try any of the example systems available
    on the web, I'm guessing it takes 10x the time for normal
    non-geniuses to articulate that they want in a ranked system vs.
    approval. Remember, you have an interest in the mechanics of
    voting and have practiced doing ranking. Everybody else
    will experience it as a tedious pain.
  - my gut tells me that Condorcet is more vulnerable to strategic
    twists than Approval. But that could be because I don't get it.

Humankind appears to me to be on a path to self destruction largely caused (IMHO) by the fact that we are forced to choose between the lesser of two corporate sponsored politicians (usually moronic very evil vs moronic mildly evil) that will not and cannot make decisions with the long term interests of all. This is a natural outcome of plurality voting.

I think it is within reach for us to change this bad situation but we need the experts (you) to accept that the world isn't ready for the perfect solution and drive hard for the most achievable and pragmatic solution. Please consider getting behind Approval voting and to stop confusing the politicians and public with complicated ideas. Repeat this everywhere: Approval good, plurality bad, IRV worse.

I apologize for this rant but this list is frequented by a bunch of very smart people and if you all could put the lofty goals and perfectionism on the back burner for a short while and drive hard for imperfect but sufficient Approval voting we would have a shot a breaking the current slide into chaos. By virtue of being informed you are influential, but when your influence is spread out in N different directions it adds up to pretty much no influence at all. To me this is sad. The potential to create good change lost, mostly due to attachment to perfection.

Obviously by the way you should keep in mind that at some time in the not-so-distant future you will be able to *realistically* drive for a transition to the perfect system from the "horribly broken approval voting system in use today" :)