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Plurality of the Despot VS Tyranny of the Majority

So we had a nice, healthy drunken debate last night about the electoral system.

I by no means expect to trump the untold millenia of debate that has occurred on the very topic.

Instead, let's focus on a particular segment. The segment in question: The implicit two-party system sucks. This was the accepted baseline.

Upon further discussion, it became clear that the reason this sucks is the whole phenomenon of "if I vote for party #3 or more, I cast my vote away, useless and impotent". This is further bolstered by the tendency for the bipartisan commission on debates to (oddly enough) arbitrarilly adjust the qualification criteria to a percentage that will exlcude non-apparent dark horses. (to be practical, this threshold must exist, but it can nevertheless be abused. Can you imagine the bipartisan committee of the Broncos and the Vikings deciding who will participate in the superbowl?)

So how do you defeat the "snap" of our single round of elections? How do you make a vote count?

Personally, I have been an advocate of plank voting; nothing irritates me more than when an elected candidate claims a "mandate" for their platform when they exceed a certain threshold in the popular election. Plank voting entails detailing the "planks" of a particular candidates "platform". So vote on each plank of the platform -- this more or less results in the same candidate being elected, but robs them of the right to railroad an unpopular plank in the guise of a mandate.

Another solution, although not new (yet something I had yet to dwell on), is the notion of runoffs. As espoused by my friend Mike, in a runoff environment you are free to vote your conscience in the first round; in other words, vote for someone rather than against them.

Then, if there is no plurality, have a runoff. And so on. In the upper rounds, you can resume voting against candidates, rather than for them.

In many ways, this strikes to the heart of why I feel plank voting is a good thing.

Perhaps cross pollinating the two is in order?

There is no law that says we must have a two-party system. Runoffs would ensure a layer of conscience voting. Plank voting would ensure a record of what the public really endorsed, so that unpopular planks would not be forced on momentum.



If we're going to have plank voting, why not just a town hall style, where we vote on these issues directly, and just vote on the candidates to handle the rest of the stuff?

Platforms seem to be useful as a distillation of the prominent issues of the day. In a way, this winnowing of the issues already happens, since the platforms are formed on the basis of opinion polls (gads!).

The American Public has a short attention span. People would lose interest if they had to vote on every little issue. This is why we have a representative government.

Nevertheless, our representatives still run on platforms, and still claim mandates. It's almost as if the unpopular planks are a rider on a bill -- a good bill gets voted through, even though there are aspects that are relatively unpopular or flat out pork.

Congress was rightly worried about the line-item veto; it indeed represents significant power.


For those that are interested, check out the latest Discover magazine (favorite reading for those of us considered Techie Lites)--there's an interesting article about the four most prominent models of voting that would better produce a "winner" from a group (rather than a pair) of candidates. Basically, they're (ranked in order of coolness):

1. Plurality--what we're doing now. Most votes wins, period. Allows you to win without a true majority (i.e., more than 50%).

2. Runoff--what it sounds like. Keep voting, whittling down the number of candidates, until someone earns a majority.

3. Approval voting--basically the same as what you're calling "plurality"; vote for all the candidates you like. Although the most votes still win, all the marginal candidates get noticed, too.

4. Borda count--This is like the weighted vote method they use to rank college teams in "coaches poll" or to pick baseball awards like MVP. Rank all candidates from top to bottom; the lowest candidate receives one point, the second-lowest gets two, etc., up to the best candidate. Most points win.

There are pitfalls and advantages to each, which Discover explains in their wonderfully watered-down style that appeals to humanities majors like me. Of course, the bottom line in any of these models are that you've got to change the system by using the system--how do you get politicians to legislate themselves out of existence? It's like term limits, and we all know what happened to them (don't we?)

Happy to add my spores to the 'stool (or perhaps my stool to the 'stool)


Ugh. I can't believe I was misusing the word
plurality. Well, I knew what
I was talking about, anyway.

I'll check out the Discover article. Seems
like I've read a similar article on that
topic before -- perhaps they trot it out each
election year.


vote green

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