Range voting and some of its theoretical advantages (for Democrats)

In this post I would like to introduce you to a very simple but revolutionary voting reform called "range voting." I am a PhD mathematician and the founder of the Center for Range Voting.

For a ton more information about RV, please browse that site. Please join the CRV and/or its own blog.

Range voting is simply this:

  1. voters supply ratings on an 0-10 scale (the "range") to each candidate.
  2. candidate with highest average score wins.
(You've seen it in the Olympics.)

The current "plurality" system is inferior to range voting in many ways.
First, "name one candidate then shut up" causes each voter to express far less information – in fact the minimum possible amount of information, making that the least-democratic possible voting system. A Nader voter cannot express his opinion about Gore versus Bush.

Second, plurality votes not only give less information, but they tend to be less-honest information. For example, studies showed in 2000 that about 9 out of 10 voters who honestly regarded Nader as the best, in fact voted for Gore or Bush because they were afraid of "wasting their vote" or causing Gore to lose, etc (a fear that in fact came true in Florida). That is a huge amount of dishonesty, in this case dishonesty that hurt Nader by distorting his vote count to make his support appear far smaller than it actually was. I do not consider a system in which 9 out of 10 supporters of somebody feel forced to lie, and the remaining 1 out of 10 cause the election to swing in a direction they did not intend, to be a "democracy" at all. It is a "joke."

With range voting, a Nader supporter could give Nader a full 10, but then also give Gore a full 10, if he wanted. The whole phenomenon of "vote splitting" simply would no longer exist. Gore would have won easily in 2000 with RV.

Now some have got the idea that the cure for these ills is instead "Instant Runoff Voting." That is a mistake:

  1. IRV cannot be done on most of today's voting machines. Range Voting (and this is non-obvious, but true, e.g. see the demos on the CRV web site) can be run on every voting machine in the USA, computerized or not. Right now. Zero hardware and zero software modification needed. It is also easy to total range elections by hand, but it's not easy with IRV.
  2. IRV tends to lead to foul-ups. San Francisco adopted it with the result that for every one of their nonobvious 2004 races, the software froze and the election results were delayed weeks. The only way IRV elections can be done is if either all the votes (not just totals, but every vote individually) are transported to one central headquarters, or if all voting machines are linked in a network. Both ways are just asking for security/manipulability/fraud nightmares.
  3. It is a myth that IRV solves the spoiler "Nader" problem. This is correct under the assumption that Nader (and his future analogues) will always get a tiny fraction of support. However, with the IRV system, that tinyness assumption is not necessarily always going to be true! Nader got 0.38% of the plurality votes in 2004 – tiny; but our studies at CRV indicated the true support for Nader in 2004 was about 60% of Bush's support, which is not tiny at all. This just exhibits the huge unfair distortion/bias caused by the plurality voting system which made Nader's support appear tiny. On the CRV web site are several example fully worked-though IRV elections (here, here, and here) in which a voter, by voting "Nader" top, causes both Nader and Gore to lose, whereas by dishonestly (for that voter) voting Gore top, Gore would win. This is exactly the same "spoiler" phenomenon that happens under the plurality system, so it is a myth that IRV fixes that problem. In contrast, range voting really does fix the problem – a voter giving Nader the maximum possible range vote cannot cause Gore to lose to Bush. Ever. Under any circumstances. Period.
  4. You might think IRV votes share with range votes the virtue that a voter can express much more information. But in fact, IRV often ignores a lot of that information. For example, a Nader-top IRV voter who also expresses (elsewhere in his IRV vote) the fact he prefers Gore over Bush, can have that preference totally ignored by the IRV voting system. The CRV web site contains some fully-worked election examples showing such ignoring going on in a massive way. In contrast, with range voting, none of your vote is ignored. Ever. And all of it is genuinely used.

How big a deal is this? Our computer simulation studies indicate that, by adopting range voting, a comparably-large improvement in the human condition and government would occur as was caused by the very invention of democracy in the first place. (These things can be measured using a yardstick called "Bayesian Regret"; this all is discussed on the CRV website.) That is how big a deal. As big as the invention of democracy.

In the next post I will talk about why and where and how Democrats should want Range Voting.

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