Different uses for voting
need different types of voting.
Archive PageVoting in Meetings
How to manipulate agenda voting.
Loring One-winner Rule: Condorcet + STV
Condorcet's rule, voting cycles, and manipulation
Single Transferable Vote and manipulation
LOR and manipulation
LOR and Parliamentary Motions
Rules of Order
How to conduct a meeting vote.
Initiatives and constitutional amendments
Stability is not rigidity.
Underlying Concerns In Legislative VotingJane Mansbridge's insightful book Beyond Adversarial Democracy contrasts adversarial and consensual methods of group decision making. She observed town meetings that used each method. Conflicting interests that are greater than common interests push groups to use discussion and voting rather than discussion and consensus. Large groups or those with many issues may use voting to save time, at least in the short run. Straw-poll voting helps focus long discussions. Voting offers absolute equality; even busy or unassertive people can have a full "voice". The anonymity of secret ballots protects dissidents. Most importantly, some issues allow decisions that are not adversarial or consensual: Multi-winner rules to fund proposals or select committee members can give minorities their fair share of power -- without letting anyone block action.
Meetings often make interlocking decisions 1 at a time through yes-no voting, with or without explicit rules of order, agendas, and votes. Items at the top of an agenda can make later options moot. At other times participants may talk about all options at once but never clearly tell (vote) their second and third choices -- so a small interest group united on a single proposal can appear to be the strongest group. And an individual with a good compromise but no ardent supporters might drop it from the discussion. Good voting rules avoid all these problems.
Voting cannot research the issues, educate voters, or dream up a compromise. It cannot implement a decision. It cannot prevent a majority from systematically treating minorities less well than it treats itself. But casting ballots can educate members about setting budgets (MVP) and priorities (LAR). A tally of votes can find the major opinion groups and focus a discussion on the strongest idea from each group (STV) or on the most central options (Condorcet Series) or both (LER).
Manipulation of Agenda VotingLegislators know each others' priorities and control the options on a ballot. They routinely devise proposals to split the opposition. These factors make manipulations effective and likely. Legislative voting rules have features to reduce manipulation, making them more complex than electoral rules.
What's wrong with the common agenda rules? Like plurality rules they are inherently erratic in their results and that is closely related to some types of manipulation. The books listed in the bibliography give examples of these and other problems. Here's how to milk common legislative rules:
Agenda tricks, loopholes and failures are too numerous to list here. But the most common ones are worth pointing out.
A) Late introduction: The later an option is introduced, the fewer alternatives it must defeat. (But items at the top of an agenda can make later options moot.) Phillip Straffin gives an example in which any 1 of 4 options can win depending on the agenda's order of votes.
III 3 Ballots Rank 1 2 3 1st A C B 2nd B A D 3rd D B C 4th C D A
IV Agenda Orders and Outcomes
B) Pareto Criterion: In the first case D wins even though the voters are unanimous in preferring B over D. Thus sequential pairwise voting sometimes violates the "Pareto Criterion" which states that if all voters prefer B over D, a voting rule should not produce D as the winner.
C) Insincere ballots: The second agenda chose A, the last choice of voter 3. He can come out better by voting insincerely for C on the first vote instead of his true preference for B. The result would be B versus C, C v A, C v D, D wins.
“Our third voter has thus achieved his second choice instead of his last choice by this judicious bit of insincerity, and in the process has produced a rather undesirable social outcome. Sequential pairwise voting invites voters to think strategically and vote insincerely.”
D) One against all: Pitting 1 against all, often the status quo versus all proposed changes, requires the 1 to beat an alliance of all others. Therefore the 1 can lose even if most people like it more than any other 1.
E) Poison-pill amendment: To reduce support for a bill, opponents may attach a poison-pill amendment, often taking a good idea too far. Some who backed the amendment then join those who opposed it; together they defeat the amended bill.
F) Freeloader amendment: Attach an unpopular item to an essential bill.
Democracy requires a clear public record of reps' votes on legislation, so voters may rate their reps. A rep's preference ballot can rank all competing proposals. It is much clearer than a series of votes on unfamiliar parliamentary procedures.
Condorcet's Rule and Voting CyclesCondorcet's rule is not always decisive. There is no Condorcet winner if A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A. This is called a voting cycle. It is sometimes called a voting paradox because it can occur even if each voter has non-circular preferences.
Less than 10% of simulated elections lead to a chance voting cycle when there are 4 options spread among 200 voters. But on a council with 3 factions, inadvertent ties are fairly common. Manipulators of Condorcet's rule always try to create voting cycles.
Voters can often forge a cycle by ranking the central item below an opposition item. In our first example C was a Condorcet winner. But if voter 1 changes his ballot to rank C below D, we find a voting cycle in which D beats C, C beats B, and B beats D. The Loring One-winner Rule would break the tie using STV, which still elects B. Thus voter 1 could win his second choice, B, instead of his sincere third choice, C. Unlike STV, Condorcet's rule is susceptible to such punishing votes.
Table Ib 7 Ballots Rank | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1st | A B B C D D D 2nd | B C C B C C A 3rd | D A D D B A C 4th | C D A A A B B
Table IIb Tests of 4 Candidates | A B C D A | - 4 5 5 5 prefer D over A B | 3 - 4 3 3 prefer D over B C | 2 3 - 4 4 now prefer D over C D | 2 4 3 -
Conspiring to create a cycle is hard and risky in a large, diverse electorate with many candidates. But the examples above and below show it can be easy in a council with a handful of factions. If option B is the most central, supporters of moderate-left A may add their support to those who sincerely rank the right-wing C above B, helping C to beat B
Thus strategic voters can manipulate Condorcet's rule to end indecisively in a voting cycle. But they cannot manipulate it to elect their preferred option nor to eliminate the 1 which would be the Condorcet winner if they cast sincere ballots. That option is always one of those tied in the voting cycle.
To resolve voting cycles, several people have created "Condorcet-completion rules." By-laws may send a voting cycle to a rule such as Tideman's Ranked Pairs, Schulze's Beat Path or LOR; to further discussion and vote trading; to tabling the motion or to dividing it into parts; or to a tie-breaking vote by the chairperson. LOR is detailed below.
Single Transferable Vote Resists ManipulationAll decisive voting systems can be manipulated, sometimes. (Mathematicians have created proofs for this.) Using preference ballots from a large association's presidential elections, with 5 candidates in each, Chamberlin, Cohen, and Coombs researched how often 9 voting systems were manipulable and how easy the manipulations were. The rules were plurality, Borda, Hare (STV), Coombs, approve 2, approve 3, and the Condorcet completion rules Kemeny, Minimax, and Black's (Condorcet then Borda). The other rules were manipulable in all 10 tests, but STV was manipulable in only 1. They concluded:
“The most striking result is the difference between the manipulability of the Hare [STV] system and the other systems. Because the [STV] system considers only 'current' first preferences, it appears to be extremely difficult to manipulate. To be successful, a coalition must usually throw enough support to losing candidates to eliminate the sincere winner (the winner when no preferences are misrepresented) at an early stage, but still leave an agreed upon candidate with sufficient first-place strength to win. This turns out to be quite difficult to do.”Often impossible.
As they imply, first preference is the rank most likely to be sincere on a ballot. It is hard to convince voters they will get a better result by lying about their first preferences. Truncated ballots with some options unranked were not allowed. Merrill reports that findings by Tideman agree with these and states, “Indeed, since the Hare [STV] system appears very difficult to manipulate, strategic voting tends to be identical with sincere voting...”
Enacting the majority policy, the Condorcet winner, is a key criterion for successful democracy. STV fails in simulated elections less often than plurality rule but more often than Borda and some others. But the other rules often reward strategic voting and so encourage it. As a result, they might not even start with the sincere ballots needed to find a majority policy. Finding the best policy is the primary reason to block manipulations. Increasing trust is an positive consequence.
[Two notes about elections: 1) This section seeks a completion rule for policy decisions by groups of 5 to 500. Strategic voting is expected here. But in large elections, accidental voting cycles are likely to be more common than successful manipulations. Simulations can compare completion rules by the "utility value" of their results in voting cycles, that is a measure of how close to the electoral center a rule's winning option is. By that criterion, LOR rates below some other completion rules such as Black's combination of Condorcet and Borda. Black's rule may be better for large elections even though it is easy and tempting to manipulate.
2) Multi-winner STV is even tougher to manipulate than one-winner STV. But encouraging options which are similar to a projected winner can reduce its 1st preferences and lead to its elimination. Condorcet's rule defeats that squeeze strategy and also reduces the free ride incentive in multi-winner elections.
A note about research on manipulation: Concocted examples prove a possibility, not a probability. They are no more true to life than cooked data in an ecology field study. We know every voting rule can be manipulated. The question then is, "Can some be manipulated more often than others?" The answer is found by statistical simulations and polling data, not by creating data to fit conclusions. Chamberlin and others found that both sources of data showed that STV is the least manipulable rule for large electorates. ]
Condorcet + STV, the Best of BothOne "Condorcet-completion" rule was invented independently by this author and I.D. Hill of England's Electoral Reform Society. Hill's rule enacts the Condorcet winner if there is one. If a cycle occurs, Hill uses a process of eliminations and transfers like STV until 1 of the tied proposals tops each of the others. (All Loring rules use Condorcet's rule followed by STV.)
Loring One-winner Rule (LOR) for legislative voting builds on Hill's rule. When there is no Condorcet winner, LOR picks from the voting cycle both the STV winner, because that is the hardest rule to manipulate; and the option ranked highest by the chairperson, because she has the least incentive to create a cycle. (The chair's vote may be replaced by 1 of the other hard-to-manipulate rules listed above.) If the chair and STV pick 2 different winners from the voting cycle, LOR compares those 2 by simple majority rule and all of the ballots.
All 4 tallies: Condorcet's rule, STV, the chair's tie-breaker or another completion rule, and the final runoff, all are tallied from the same rank-order ballots. A voter casts 1 simple ballot and the series of tallies is automatic.
The need to create a voting cycle may make LOR even harder to manipulate than STV. Creating a cycle sometimes requires more conspirators than manipulation of STV does. Thus LOR often increases the number of voters who must be organized into a conspiracy.
In order to manipulate LOR, a group must 1) create a voting cycle and either 2a) manipulate STV, or 2b) chance upon a case in which STV does not enact the Condorcet winner. Thus LOR could be easier to manipulate than STV only in 2b, when STV fails to enact the policy preferred by a majority.
3) In addition, LOR calls for a final 1 against 1 test if STV and the chairperson disagree. This runoff step increases the risks for strategic voters. When the true Condorcet winner is 1 of the 2 finalists, a crossover strategy will give the manipulators a result no better than the Condorcet winner. (In B versus C, C wins. In D versus C, D wins and the conspirators get a result they like less than the Condorcet winner, C.)
Of course Condorcet, STV, and the chairperson could fail simultaneously. But the chance of that is less than the chance of failure for the best element of LOR. (Experimental variations on LOR will be shown in l_lor_1.htm.)
Reducing Policy GridlockThe more diverse a council is, the more solutions are offered for every question and the harder it is to build majority support for any 1 proposal. Better voting tools are needed than the notoriously manipulable maze of agenda voting.
A one-third minority should not have the power to enact one-third of the laws nor to write one-third of each law. Enacting a law is like electing a mayor, only 1 of many candidates can win. So the winner should be the 1 proposal that most people prefer over any other, the Condorcet winner.
Motions to delay a decision are common in legislative debates. But a simple majority should have the power to strike those options from the preference ballot. That makes a deadlock impossible unless a majority explicitly allows it.
Here are the traditional parliamentary motions that a council might require on its preference ballots: A) No change, B) The Main Motion, C) Amended versions of the main motion, D) Divide the Question to simplify a motion;
Combining these motions on one ballot speeds voting. It reduces parliamentary maneuvers that block the majority's will such as poison-pill amendments or requiring a particular option to win a majority against all others put together. But it does not reduce the need for debate or change the rules and order of debate for parliamentary motions.
Motions to delay include: E) Table the Proposal blocks debate until a motion to Take from Table passes, F) Postpone to a Definite Time delays debate to allow further study, G) Refer to Committee should require the committee to study and report, and H) Postpone Indefinitely prevents voting but allows debate.
The parliamentary motion to table a bill poses a great dilemma in democratic decision making. As stated in Robert’s Rules of Order:
“The Object of this motion is to enable the assembly, in order to attend to more urgent business, to lay aside the pending question in such a way that its consideration may be resumed at the will of the assembly as easily as if it were a new question, and in preference to new questions competing with it for consideration. It is to the interest of the assembly that this object should be attained instantly by a majority vote, and therefore this motion must either apply to, or take precedence of, every debatable motion whatever its rank.The motion to table is voted immediately. But a preference ballot includes the motion to table plus a straw poll on the bill and each amended version. Incomplete ballots do not count. Thus reps cannot avoid voting on an issue by tabling it.
If the objective is to move to a more urgent question, then once that question is resolved the motion before the council is the previously tabled question. Or a vote by 1/3 may remove a motion from the table after  days. A vote to take from table has precedence over all “new questions competing with it for consideration.” It may be tabled again by a 50% majority vote, leading to a sea saw battle.
A motion to end debate quickly and vote may require a 2/3 majority. But if voting is blocked for  days, a scheduled vote that wins a 50% majority may close the debate and bring the matter to a vote. Thus reps cannot avoid voting on an issue by debating it ad infinitum.
There must be a balance: a motion may not be tabled forever over the wishes of a substantial minority, but it may not be debated forever over the wishes of a majority. Otherwise a minority with a series a motions could tie up the council for weeks.
The objective of these timed reductions is to prevent reps from avoiding an issue, to force them to vote, even if they vote for the “No Change” option.
Conducting a Condorcet VoteDebate the issue and proposals.
Print and hand out the ballots.
While people vote, draw a table with a column and a row for each option.
(See for example Table II in elect.htm.)
Ask "Raise your hand if you ranked A above B"
Count the hands and write the number in the B row of column A.
Ask "Raise your hand if you ranked B above A"
Count the hands and write the number in the A row of column B.
If B, wins ask "Raise your hand if you ranked B above C" and so on.
Fill all cells in the winner's column.
It must get a majority in every cell in its column or else there is a voting cycle.
If a voting cycle occurs, use a completion rule. LOR calls for using STV.
Verify the tally by entering the ballots on a computer program such as PoliticalSim.
Initiatives and Constitutional AmendmentsBy using a Condorcet rule, an election can decide among competing versions of a referendum or initiative. Voters have a real choice only when offered competing versions of a policy. Not just a tax, yes or no, but several versions of the tax can and should be offered. Your rep may recommend the version she prefers.
Initiatives are most appropriate for controlling elected officials by setting election rules such as voting rules, district boundaries, campaign funding and public disclosure laws, and by setting limits on terms, salaries, taxes, debt, and so on.
Condorcet's rule offers voters several options when amending a constitution. A proposed amendment must better all rivals and must win a super majority (60% or 67%) against the "No Change" option. If it does not, there is not sufficient agreement for a constitutional change. Amendments may need super majorities of both voters and reps.
One country, Switzerland, and many organizations give voters the power to block some legislative decisions, often involving increased taxes or dues. The vote to override usually requires only a majority but could require two-thirds of the electorate. (It is worth noting that Swiss voters choose to pay for high-quality government and services.)
Stability Is Not RigiditySome theorists have argued recently that the political balance should be poised on a knife edge, set to change quickly because policies must evolve by trial and error. In their view, a central compromise is often 1 of the worst policies because it fails to resolve an issue's urgent decisions.
But while policy flip flops give new programs a chance to be tried, such brief, haphazard changes are not valid experiments. A balanced council should let each side test its program on the issue or constituency where it has its strongest support. Policies can evolve smoothly, although we rarely notice as it happens.
Controversial IssuesThe abortion debate exemplifies how an issue can polarize communities. Even in these cases Condorcet's rule can find the policy supported by a majority. That should not end the ethical debate, but it should end the debate over which policy has majority support.
Abortion is a complex ethical issue, but policy options suggested to date fall along a one-dimensional line with various restrictions added from left to right. Candidate A says it should be legal, free, and encouraged for unwed teens. E says it should not be encouraged. J says it should require teen counseling and parental notification. P says it should require a 2 day wait for all women and private funding. U says it should not be allowed except in cases of rape, incest, or grave risk to the woman's life. Z says it should never be legal. It seems likely that 1 of the middle positions is a Condorcet winner, with a narrow yet clear majority over the next closest policy. But our current electoral and legislative voting rules fail to reveal the majority position.
Vote TradingA voter can increase his power on issues he cares about by trading away votes on other issues. A computer-based auction system can make this quick and can allow bidding in fractions of a voter's weight. One rep might, for example, bid to trade half a vote on a hot issue for a whole vote on an issue with less demand.
Some people find trading partners; others don't – so the distribution of power becomes uneven, as intended, but also unfair. One person might get 3 or more votes on an issue while another, who cares about it just as much, gets only 1 vote. Bluffing, pretending to mildly oppose whatever a potential trading partner favors, is common. By pretending to "change" my vote (to just what I sincerely wanted) I get something for nothing. Of course the mere possibility of such behavior increases suspicion and cynicism.
z_future.htm has a way of ranking priorities that discourages vote trading as it gives a voter 1 vote on an average priority, extra weight on his top priority, and less than 1 on low priorities.
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Comparative data 2