Voting Reform

ideas to improve the US voting system


The current voting system in the US is arguably one of the worst ever used. Sure, I'm glad I have the right to vote, but I'd be much happier about it if the voting system did not make my vote irrelevant.

There are two main problems with the US voting system: an incomplete way of expressing one's preference, and the electoral college. Together, these create a system which is extremely chaotic and sensitive to small manipulations. Looking at the election results day-by-day in the US 2004 election, the numbers jump wildly around, to an extent far greater than the popular vote. Sites such as have detailed election data demonstrating this. Or, I have a copy of their animated election results available. The animation shows how chaotic the US election process is.

Limitations of Singular Voting

Many people, when deciding how to vote in the US, encounter the same problems and dilemmas over and over. For example, what if you really like a 3rd-party candidate? Do you "throw your vote away" by voting how you truly feel? Or, do you "choose the lesser of two evils" by picking one of the Democrat or Republican candidates? Frankly, in the current system, voting for a 3rd-party candidate in a major election means you choose to let your vote be ignored. The only way you can make your vote count in this environment is to lie on your ballot. But why should it be necessary to falsify your preferences?

Much effort has gone into voting theory research, in an attempt to find an ideal way to choose an action based on personal preferences. This field involves two main concepts: collecting the most detailed and accurate preferences possible, and evaluating the data in the most fair manner. In both of these aspects, Condorcet voting has emerged as a fairly clear winner. It has the most desirable properties of any voting system devised so far, and the fewest undesirable properties.

Other voting systems are also available; Approval voting is not quite as nice as Condorcet, but would still be a major improvement over what we have now. Or, there is also Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which looks similar to Condorcet from the voter's point of view, but does not count votes in the same way. IRV is only a minor improvement, but it could be a useful stepping stone toward implementing Condorcet. IRV has some problems; ranking a candidate higher can actually cause that candidate to lose, for example.

I propose changing the US electoral system to use Condorcet voting, instead of its current system. If Condorcet is not possible for some reason, I propose we switch to approval voting. Or, as a last resort, Instant Runoff Voting would be a small improvement over our current system.

Electoral College

Once upon a time, the Electoral College was a good idea. Back when it took a very long time to send a messenger across the country, it wasn't feasible to count every person's vote. So we used the next best thing -- a smaller model of the country, designed to be as fair as possible without becoming unmanageable.

But the restrictions of back then no longer apply. The electoral college now is, at best, an inconvenience which reduces the accuracy of elections. At worst, it is an effective and abused tool for Gerrymandering. It produces large changes in the election results based on very small populations of people, making elections very chaotic. It usually has the effect of throwing away nearly half the votes of each state, and sometimes (as with Dubya) even produces a different result than the popular vote. People in states which are either Democrat or Republican strongholds cannot make a difference by voting against the majority.

Several people have created programs to deal with the symptoms of the broken electoral college, such as vote-trading organizations. In that way, you can relocate your vote to a place where it might matter, instead of wasting it where you can be assured it will not count. But why should we have to cheat or lie to make our votes count?

I propose eliminating the Electoral College, and using the popular vote instead.

Vote for Nobody

As an added enhancement, adding "Nobody" to each ballot would make it possible to more accurately express preferences. If you disapprove of all the candidates (or, in Condorcet, disapprove of any), voting for "Nobody" means you don't have to choose the lesser of various evils. And, if the "Nobody" candidate wins, the election would need to be held again, with entirely different candidates.

Mathematically, it doesn't really matter if "nobody" is on the ballot. And practically, it's not a good idea. It introduces logistic problems, in the case that "nobody" wins. Holding another election is time-consuming and expensive. So, I don't think we should really implement the "nobody" candidate. But having "nobody" win sure is satisfying to think about. :)

Last modified: July 02, 2008 @ 12:56 MDT
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