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Now Is the Time to Think Big on Voting


Now Is the Time to Think Big on Voting

Zachary Roth

Back in 2009, when the Brennan Center released a groundbreaking report on automatic voter registration (AVR), the idea generated an outpouring of support from public officials and op-ed boards. But some cautioned that it could take time.



Not only must the people be able to vote (access) and vote (engagement), they must learn for whom, what, and why to vote. Civic engagement and education thereof needs to proceed tout suite. We need the Bernies and AOCs of the country making civics sexy again. For too long the right has cynically distracted the public discourse toward distractions of mindless entertainment and encouraged disenfranchisement of the electorate. Well articulated messaging is a great antidote to that ploy. The push back began in the 2016 cycle but it is the laurels of which that will quickly be revealed to be but a bony ass if they are not fed far into the future.



“if we want to keep making our democracy more fair and inclusive,”

How about “if we want to make our plutocracy more democratic”

“To be absolutely clear: Brennan Center isn’t currently supporting any of these proposals. Heck, I’m not even sure I support all of them! If there are other, better voting ideas that deserve a hearing, I’m all ears.”

I think you and the Brennan Center should support all of these proposals.

Also please consider Cellphone Voting secured by Blockchain, the same system our troops overseas use to vote in elections back home.

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In Direct Democracies like the Swiss, the public is engaged and educated because it makes the laws and politicians are simply temporary employees.



To eliminate Gerrymandering, eliminate Districts.

Each state selects both state and national legislators from the top vote getters.
It is likely to be representative, as smaller locales would coalesce around a local candidate, and large urban centers would divide around various candidates --and, those candidates who have broad appeal would draw wide-ranging support.

Also, if this seems too experimental for our historic “experiment in democracy,” this concept could be a trial for the next three election cycles.

Surely it would have to be superior to the current mess.



Zachary brings up some good ideas in the voting arena, but fails overall for not mentioning the big issue about voting in our country. Want to think big on voting? How about we talk about and eliminate the 500 lb. gorilla in the room, corrupt voting machines. Until we overcome this major problem, we’ll never have nice things.



" Ranked-Choice Voting. Maine used this system for its federal races last November, and several cities also use it. There’s even legislation in Congress to take it national."

The stupid plurality voting system that predominates in the USA, with a single non-transferable vote that must be given to just one candidate, strongly tends to resolve into a duopoly, because voters tend to vote for “more electable” candidates rather than actual preferred candidates, to avoid “wasting” their votes, or electing the WORST candidate – “lesser evil” voting. Other factors contribute, like we don’t have proportional representation, we just have single-district voting for Congress. But the voting system is key.

We need better voting systems, that allow voters to weigh in on EVERY candidate on the ballot, that encourage voters to vote for their actual preferred candidate rather than compromise for “electability,” that vastly reduce pointless arguments or recriminations for “wasted votes” or “lesser evil” voting.

RCV is far better than plurality voting for these reasons, but Approval Voting or Score Voting are even better. Someone came up with STAR voting, Score Then Automatic Runoff, that supposedly includes the best outcomes of both the scoring systems and the ranking systems. Here’s an article that looks at problems with RCV.

RCV is now in place in Maine, Approval Voting is now in place in Fargo ND, and some folks are working to get STAR voting adopted in Lane County OR. We need more locales and states to adopt intelligent voting systems, to help us all understand how stupid the “normal” plurality voting system is.

If all the people who trash each other for “lesser evil” voting or for wasted votes, or for NOT “lesser evil” voting, would instead put work into changing voting systems to end the plurality system that promotes such compromised voting and such recriminations, we could make faster progress. The first two sites i link in this post are good places to start getting involved. Here’s another STAR voting site with a great bullet-point summary of benefits.



I skimmed this and I’ll have to go over it more carefully along with analysis from others with the opposite conclusion - that IRV has a reasonable combination of traits with respect to the standard voting theory issues. When I was reading a lot about this 15 years ago, I was more enamored with Condorcet schemes because of a) the simplicity of a much smaller sufficient statistic you can move from precinct to precinct (with N candidates, you need just N(N-1)/2 numbers to express the pair wise tallies of each 1 on 1 race (which are obviously easy to deduce from a set of honestly ranked ballots). IRV requires every ballot ordering to be potentially accounted for (or every ordering that is actually used which still cold be a lot). However after talking with a few people about Smith sets and different finishing rules and the fact that Condorcet never really made it into US political elections whereas IRV has been used, I started to give up on Condorcet. I’ll try to keep an open mind on Approval or Star, but my gut inclination is that I don’t want to have to figure out how I’m going to vote on an Approval ballot. On an RCV ballot (with IRV or with Condorcet), I would not try to be a strategic voter and simply vote for who I want first (Bernie or Tulsi it is looking like) and I’d rank everybody down to the last person (the very last doesn’t need to be ranked). On Approval, I could vote Bernie, Tulsi, or Bernie and Tulsi - how the hell am I supposed to figure that out? Voting for both means I don’t get to express a preference for one over the other. I don’t think a lot of voters are going to like that either.

On proportional representation, I read of a simple scheme in a book called “Common Sense, A book for Conservatives & Liberals & Moderates to Unite for an Even Better America”. It’s probably well known but I had never heard of it. Basically you still have geographic districts (no pooling of representatives in the state which is weird given we have small and large states) and then you even things out with extra seats which are assigned based on how many votes the party gets overall. So in the House, you’d have 435 reps (or reduce that number maybe) that are in geographical and possible gerrymandered districts. Then you’d have another set of seats (more than 10% I’m guessing, so in the 435 case, let’s say another 65 to make it an even 500) which you fill via looking at the overall popular vote by party and how many representatives there are of that party. So if Green’s got 3% of the vote but not a single representative anywhere because the support is diffuse then 15 of the 65 seats would go to them. This scheme has a lot of issues because you have to figure out how to choose the filler people and unless you have a very large number of fill people you might not be able to make the numbers work. It also doesn’t take into account independents and unless one gets to vote for party and for the person in your district it doesn’t handle the case where you may like the party but can’t stand the person who’s running in your district. Still, it is thinking out of the box and I’m all for that.

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That’s why i prefer Score voting. Approval Voting is a form of Score Voting, in which the range of scores is from zero to one – the only differentiation you can make between or among candidates. But if the range is from zero to three (my preference, with four different options), or from zero to nine (some have advocated as high as zero to 99), you can more specifically differentiate or rank your choices.

The main issues i see with RCV are the complexity of the count, the fact that each precinct can’t just tally it’s own and report that but all ballots must be crunched together centrally with multiple counts and complex reporting of totals; and the fact that some ballots end up “exhausted” and those voters end up with no say in the final tally. Aside from the greater likelihood of “wrong” outcomes, where an actually preferred consensus candidate ends up losing out, which is what happened in Burlington which led voters there to switch back away from RCV after a “wrong” outcome.

With Score, or Approval, or even STAR, the counts take place at the precinct level and are reported and added together, no need for all-ballot crunching and multiple recounts, no “exhausted” ballots, and less chance of anomalous “wrong” outcomes.

i think the main complaint against Approval Voting is the tendency for voters to “bullet vote,” just vote approval for the one preferred candidate, making it identical to the present plurality voting with a single non-transferable vote.

ANY of these systems is clearly superior to the plurality voting currently used.

And all of these systems are for single-winner elections. Proportional representation (various systems exist) is a whole different matter, and is another way to “make your vote count” so even if you don’t vote for “the winner,” your vote leads to representation by your party in the parliament, thus encouraging a multi-party system to emerge.



I guess RCV has become synonymous with IRV which is unfortunate since I think of it literally as just any scheme which you rank (and not score) the choices. As mentioned, Ranked Ballots using Condorcet counting don’t have this issue, but even IRV isn’t quite as bad as you say on this front. The central tallying point needs a count of each ranking that occurs. In a crazy race like the CA governor when Gray Davis was recalled (my first race here) there were 135 candidates. If everyone actually ranked all the candidates, you’d be right - you’d need every ballot since likely no two ballots would be ranked the same (anything over 11 candidates means there are more possible rankings than voters in the country). But in a typical presidential race, there are only 4 or 5 candidates that 99% of the people are going to vote for and with 5 that is only 120 possible ballots (more if not everyone ranks all candidates, but still a tractable number).

I realize not everyone is going to vote non-strategically - some are going to read up and make an attempt to vote in a way that is best for the one candidate they really want. But I would vote honestly. And I still don’t know how I would vote on a Score ballot either - Let’s say I prefer Tulsi over Bernie. On ranked ballot, I put Tulsi, Bernie, … , … , Klobuchar. On a score ballot do I give Tulsi 3 and Bernie 3 (and express no preference between the two), or do I give Bernie 0 because I’m worried he will overtake Tulsi with a lot of second place votes adding up? As far as explaining to someone how to fill out a ballot (non-strategically), no scheme beats a ranked ballot scheme in my opinion. I agree that this doesn’t make IRV or Condorcet better than the rest as there are many factors to consider.

Other notes until I finish your suggested reading: I’m not worried about exhausted votes in schemes that allow voters to rank all the candidates and I don’t favor schemes that let you only rank 3. Why do you say there are no exhausted ballots with score or approval? You still might decide you can’t express a preference between say Trump and Clinton with Stein and Johnson being tolerable because you don’t want to give either Trump or Clinton any votes that get added to their total whereas with RCV you could still put these two deplorable candidates in last place where they belong but you could put one above the other. I know the Approval people make a big deal on how the ballot doesn’t have to change (you just get to fill in more than one circle if you want) - this is very weak point for me. On the Burlington Mayoral race, I will reread the link you sent and the response by IRV proponents (https://www.fairvote.org/lessons-from-burlington and https://www.fairvote.org/response-to-faulty-analysis-of-burlington-irv-election) but I will reserve judgement that the wrong person was chosen (defining wrong would seem to be difficult except in the case of a majority favored candidate who can’t lose in IRV and I didn’t think could lose in any of the Ranked Ballot methods).

Are you aware of any of the Democratic candidates bringing this up as a major issue? I think I heard Tulsi on a video and apparently Bernie still endorsed RCV in Vermont after 2009. I hope we are ramping up to a change just as the author mentioned occurred for felons.

What was your take on the authors other topics? I assume you are for the nationwide popular vote for president (who isn’t?). What about 16 year olds voting - I hadn’t thought about that since I saw a West Wing episode were very smart kids were making this argument. I think I’d go for that. I can’t imagine the uproar letting non-citizen’s vote, but aside from the backlash issue I might be ok with that on local elections. On mandatory voting, I go back and forth - I think I’d prefer trying other things first - make election day a holiday, automatic voting registration and make voting as easy as possible (no standing in the rain for two hours - that sickens me every time I see it).



Yes to working around the Electoral College with a contract among the states to give their EC votes to the popular vote winner. Didn’t realize we were actually getting close to making that a reality, although perhaps a court challenge would tie it up.

Yes to lowering the voting age to 16.

No to mandatory voting.

Not aware of any major party candidates or functionaries on board with any of the non-plurality systems, which would undermine the duopoly.

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As far as I can tell, the big obstacle to voting for marginalized
groups in the US is not getting them to register, but making sure
they are permitted to vote. Republicans go all out to prevent that.

Would automatic voter registration somehow block or overcome voter
suppression, in a way I don’t see? If I am missing something, what is