17. Election Reform

Ending the Electoral College and Enactment of Uniform Federal Election Rules in All of the StatesThe 99% demand the abolishment of the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote in presidential elections to avoid situations where the Electoral College elects a candidate who does not receive a majority of the popular vote.

As mentioned in suggested grievance one, Congress shall immediately enact uniform electoral reforms requiring total equal public campaign financing to all candidates who obtain sufficient petition signatures and/or votes to get on the ballot and participate in the primaries and/or general election. All funds used for the election of federal politicians will be drawn from a public trust specifically created for this purpose and managed by the Federal Elections Commission and the United States Treasury.

Thus, a person who receives sufficient signatures to get on the ballot for the House of Representatives would receive “x” public dollars, Senate, “y” public dollars and President, “z”public dollars.  All funds for candidates to be drawn from this political campaign trust will be funded by the taxpayers.

However, individuals, unions, corporations or other groups or entities that wish to contribute to the political campaign trust may do so without knowledge of where the funds will ultimately be applied. All private funds contributed to the political campaign trust will be kept confidential and commingled with taxpayer monies used to pay for the entire federal electoral process. Politicians will no longer be permitted to ask for campaign contributions of any kind.

Moreover, the Federal Communications Commission will require all licensees to provide free equal commercial air time to all candidates on the ballot. Failure to comply with these new rules and regulations to provide free and equal air time to candidates on the ballot will result in cancellation of the broadcast license. To reduce voter fraud and voter discrimination, Congress will utilize the Commerce Clause and other constitutional authority, to implement nationwide uniform election rules applied to all voting districts.  The FEC will be directly responsible to ensure equal access to the polls, removing unfair hurdles to independent candidates and third parties so they may appear on the ballot.  

”Gerrymandering”, which freezes out third parties and ensures electoral outcomes will be ended through the use of non-partisan public commissions to fairly and impartiality redraw voting district lines. Voting will take place on weekends and holidays to increase voter access to the polls and minimize voter disenfranchisement. The FEC shall issue free voter registration cards to all citizens who are eligible to vote so that they cannot be turned away at a polling station because they do not have a driver’s license or other form of identification.

The civil rights division of the Justice Department shall aggressively review all complaints of the exclusion of voters with non-violent criminal records, tactics used by certain states and municipalities to limit and obstruct voter access to the polls by requiring “tests” to vote. The federal government shall invest in a uniform, secure, and verifiable voting system to be used in every voting district in the United States. Additional provisions shall be made for those citizens who cannot attend polling sites due to disability, illness or absence from the country.

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Showing 62 reactions

Richard Fobes commented 2012-04-11 15:52:50 -0700 · Flag
I just posted a new grievance here:


It explains how banning the use of single-mark ballots in Congressional elections will allow us, the 99% to:
  • vote out of office the incumbents we don’t like,
  • vote into office the problem-solving leaders we want,
  • elect candidates who are not excessively influenced by the biggest campaign contributors,
  • have more influence than Congressional lobbyists,
  • elect Congressmen who will actually reduce unemployment and underemployment instead of just talking about it,
  • get Congress to pass tax laws that are fair,
  • force Congress to crack down on Wall Street abuses,
  • elect lawmakers who don’t waste taxpayers’ money and our natural resources,
  • make changes that stop wasting bright young minds and the lives of young soldiers,
  • financially benefit from a free market that is finally fair,
  • stop further attempts to limit freedom of speech on the internet,
  • motivate Congress to care about the long-term future instead of focusing on short-term gains for the biggest campaign contributors,
  • liberate members of Congress so they can spend more time working and less time fundraising,
  • begin the long process of planning and passing a Constitutional Amendment that will bring the Presidential general-election process into the twenty-first century,
  • regain our international stature as a nation that behaves with high standards of fairness,
  • make voter turnout soar when, at last, there are meaningful choices on general-election ballots.

Please give a thumbs up to this grievance so that it gains enough visibility for further discussion.

“Let’s bring an end to the primitive use of single-mark ballots in Congressional elections.”

Richard Fobes, author of “Ending the Hidden Unfairness in U.S. Elections”
Douglas Cantrell commented 2012-04-04 13:00:55 -0700 · Flag
Traditionally, the states have determined for themselves how to elect their representatives. Congress does have the authority to change this, but I’m generally opposed to this approach, since standards tend to inhibit progress.

There are exceptions, however, so I’ll need to wait for details before I can offer a full response.
Richard Fobes commented 2012-04-04 11:23:07 -0700 · Flag
We seem to agree that the “grievance” statement at the top of this “election reform” page is much too narrow. It only attempts to reform Presidential elections. This narrow goal is not worth the effort of pushing through a Constitutional Amendment, which would be necessary (because this election is the one election that the Constitution controls).

Yet we also agree that we need to reform the way members of Congress are elected. Fortunately that reform can be implemented directly by Congress, without needing a Constitutional Amendment.

Therefore I’m working on the wording for a revised grievance about “election reform” (with a different title) that would reform Congressional elections. When it’s ready I’ll submit it to the “add grievance” page.
Richard Fobes commented 2012-03-23 10:35:41 -0700 · Flag
Here is a further clarification about what Douglas Cantrell and I are saying, plus some important related concepts:

Voters who understand the details about how the ballots will be counted almost always make adjustments in how they mark a ballot. In other words, the same voter will mark the same kind of ballot differently depending on how the ballots will be counted.

This issue also applies to the single-mark ballots we now use. As an example, in the presidential Democratic primary election that John Kerry won, voters who didn’t want Kerry (who was probably the money-backed choice) had to choose whether to vote for the alternative (either John Edwards or Howard Dean) they liked more, or to vote for the alternative who had a better chance of winning. That choice is influenced by the fact that the most votes, not a majority of votes, is the criteria for winning. (We don’t really know the actual popularity of the candidates because single-mark ballots do not collect enough information to correctly measure popularity.)

In contrast, Roberts Rules of Order require a majority of votes to win, so a voter can honestly vote for a less-popular candidate, without causing vote splitting. Interestingly Roberts Rules of Order do not specify how to get a majority; it is up to the candidates and voters to discuss what changes they favor between each round of voting. (The rules wisely prohibit the candidate with the fewest votes from being encouraged to withdraw; that’s because that candidate actually can be the most popular choice.)

A similar (roberts-rules-of-order-like) approach to voting will be used at the upcoming Republican convention where the winner must win by a majority of the votes cast by the delegates, with the delegates switching to other candidates based on back-room deals with a candidate who gets the fewest votes in an earlier round of voting.

Hopefully this knowledge will help readers here understand the wild results that are likely to occur at that upcoming convention, namely that Santorum and Gingrich are likely to team up as candidates for President and Vice President, in which case they already have the needed majority of votes to win over Romney.

The difference between the “most votes” and a “majority of votes” is huge! The writers of the U.S. Constitution recognized this, but at the time (without computers and without voters having a way to “play back” a voice recording of the Presidential candidates) their only choice was to create the Electoral College.

Electoral votes are worth keeping because they protect a state having bad weather on election day from another state having good weather on election day. That is a significant difference that cannot be balanced by uniformity of election laws. (Of course the “college” part, which involves delegates, should be eliminated, yet that is easy to do by adopting better ballots.)

(If these clarifications are useful, or if instead they come across as distracting, please let me know.)

Richard Fobes
Douglas Cantrell commented 2012-03-22 13:51:36 -0700 · Flag
If voters were honest, pairwise counts wouldn’t be misleading. But every election system is vulnerable to strategy, so the votes themselves, however they’re interpreted, will always be misleading. That was my only point.

Of course, nothing short of a dictatorship would be worse than our current system. I never meant to suggest otherwise.
Richard Fobes commented 2012-03-21 20:25:35 -0700 · Flag
As a clarification, Douglas’ words “… might misinterpret the pairwise counts as honest preferences” imply that pairwise counts are misleading. They aren’t misleading.

What IS misleading is the term “most votes” when the ballots are single-mark ballots.

Many people mistakenly believe that when single-mark ballots are used, the choice with the most votes is the most popular, and the choice with the fewest votes is the least popular. Neither is necessarily true. (Sometimes it is true, but other times it isn’t true.)

Consider the example in Wikipedia’s “vote splitting” article about a Canadian town voting on a new name. The town is now called “Thunder Bay” even though 60 percent (more than half) preferred the name “Lakehead” or “The Lakehead.” The splitting of votes between the similar names caused “Thunder Bay” to get 40 percent of the votes, which is the most votes. But it’s not the most popular. And the “spoiler” choice of “The Lakehead” is not necessarily the least popular — because if the “Lakehead” choice was not on the ballot, “The Lakehead” might have easily won.

Vote splitting often occurs in American Idol results, although it’s called “surprise” results. (Yes, there are additional factors involved.) A clear example of vote splitting was the early elimination of Jennifer Hudson. Each season there are new examples. You can find my commentary about vote splitting and other vote-related issues, and poll results, and a ballot for this week’s singers, by searching for “VoteFair American Idol poll.”

So, the most important point about voting is this: Single-mark ballots (which we use now) do not give us enough information to know which choice is actually most popular, and which choice is actually least popular!

Richard Fobes (a.k.a. “VoteFair”)
Douglas Cantrell commented 2012-03-21 16:16:35 -0700 · Flag
Fair enough. Some people might misinterpret the pairwise counts as honest preferences, but as long as the right people know better, there’s no harm done. Meanwhile actual vote information would be quite useful when compared with decent polls.
Richard Fobes commented 2012-03-21 13:09:19 -0700 · Flag
Douglas Cantrell’s interesting suggestion of voting twice, once as an official vote and then as an unofficial “candid survey-like” vote, would be confusing to voters in so many ways.

I do understand the logic behind the suggestion.

However, very few voters would understand what’s going on. (Which one counts? Will the “candid” one really count even though the claim is that it won’t? If the second vote doesn’t count, why are we wasting tax dollars on it? etc.)

My point about publishing pairwise counts makes use of the same information that is already collected. It simply counts the results in a way that produces numbers that any voter can understand.

Specifically, pairwise counts allow a voter to know if a majority of voters really prefer the winner compared to the voter’s favorite candidate.

If candid and “complete” preference information is desired, opinion polls can collect it. The only reason opinion polls commonly ask “who is your (only) favorite?” and nothing more is that they want to mimic what the official votes collect. Lately some better opinion polls are asking for pairwise preferences (e.g. if TweedleDee and TweedleDum are the only candidates in a race, who would you vote for?).
Douglas Cantrell commented 2012-03-20 17:46:18 -0700 · Flag
You seem to have misinterpreted my suggestion, so let me try again.

You said that pairwise counts should be included in the results, so as to judge the effectiveness of the system. I agreed, on the condition that these counts not come from the actual votes, which are inevitably twisted by strategic behavior, but from separate ballots, which do not influence the election.

Because the separate ballots would not influence the election, strategic behavior would be largely nonexistent. Given that fact, I suggested that range ballots be used, so that more information might be collected. Pairwise results would still be returned, but so would average scores.

As an aside, I’m a proponent of approval voting. Funny thing about strategy in that system; it’s almost always indistinguishable from honesty, even if you have perfect cardinal preferences for every voter.
Richard Fobes commented 2012-03-20 13:00:42 -0700 · Flag
Every counting method has some strategies that can (if enough voters use the same strategy) change the results. This fact is recognized by election-method experts.

Range voting, which uses score ballots, is vulnerable to strategic voting even more than the best of the other methods. (At its worst, it produces results that are similar to what would happen if Approval voting were used.) A method called “Majority Judgement,” which uses the same score ballots, is more resistant to strategic voting (but it’s difficult to comprehend).

Therefore, although I agree with Douglas Cantrell that score ballots COULD provide more information (about voter preferences) IF they were filled out sincerely (non-strategically), experience shows that voters WILL NOT fill them out sincerely when it affects who will win the election.

Teachers, some students, and others in the academic world tend to prefer score ballots, probably because it’s similar to assigning grades (A, B, C, D, F, plus, minus, etc.).

Personally I would support the use of score ballots IF there was a fully fair(!) way to count them, which includes being resistant to strategic-voting tactics. However, in my opinion (and the opinion of many others), at this time there is not yet such a (fully) fair counting method for score ballots.

Therefore, under current (realistic) conditions, I strongly favor 1-2-3 ballots, which are also called ranked ballots.

Why do pairwise counts need to be explicitly required as part of the results if 1-2-3 ballots are used? Because approval voting (which uses approval ballots) and range voting (which is the easiest way to count score ballots) do not do any special counting method beyond simply adding up numbers, which means there are no other results that need to be shared. (Special case: if Majority Judgement were used, then Range-voting results also should be published, but that’s obvious.)

In contrast, 1-2-3 ballots (a.k.a. ranked ballots) can be counted in different ways, so the requirement for pairwise counts ensures that if instant-runoff voting (or some other non-pairwise method) were used as the counting method, then the voters also would be able to calculate who would have won if a pairwise-counting-based method had been used to count the 1-2-3 ballots.

I hope these clarifications are helpful.

Richard Fobes
Host of the long-running VoteFair American Idol poll
Douglas Cantrell commented 2012-03-19 15:41:26 -0700 · Flag
That’s a fair point. Only problem is that basing reports on the actual ballots would make them subject to the same strategic behavior as the election method being used; you’d need additional ballots that didn’t influence the election to get honest results.

If you’re going to do that, you may want to use range ballots, since they let you collect more information when voters are honest. That way you could report average ratings, in addition to pairwise comparisons. I tend to think range ballots are easier to fill out, too. It’s not terribly important, though; pairwise counts would give enough information to make a fair judgememt.
Richard Fobes commented 2012-03-19 11:24:04 -0700 · Flag
Yes, politicians (as puppets of the 1%) would try to exclude the best ballot-counting methods, and leave only the worst methods — because unfair counting methods are so much easier to manipulate. Fortunately this dilemma can be solved indirectly.

A well-written law must require that election results include pairwise comparisons. This means that the published results not only need to identify who wins the election, but also the results must indicate how many voters prefer each specific candidate compared to each other candidate. This approach allows each voter to know the count for how many voters prefer their favorite losing candidate compared to the winning candidate (regardless of which candidate is their favorite).

The availability of these “pairwise counts” would quickly reveal which counting methods produce fair results, and which counting methods too often produce unfair results. Note that the law does not need to require that the winner be pairwise preferred over the next-most-popular candidate, even in the situations where there is such a pairwise-preferred winner (called the “Condorcet winner”).

When Aspen Colorado tried instant-runoff voting, the pairwise counts revealed that the actually most-popular candidate was preferred by more voters than the declared winner, and that is why they abandoned instant-runoff voting and went back to single-mark ballots. (Alas, they failed to realize that they were using the right kind of ballot but the wrong kind of counting.)

In other words, the law does not need to exclude any counting method; it just needs to require revealing the full results, and then voters can judge for themselves whether the official result is fair. This allows the different ballot types and counting methods to compete without a legally imposed bias.

Notice that the reason so few people now realize the level of unfairness going on in primary elections is that single-mark ballots do not yield enough information to know who is really the most popular, or even who is really the least popular. Also notice that “spoiler” candidates do not exist in better counting methods because better methods can handle more than two choices. (The whole reason we have primary elections is to prevent “vote splitting” and spoiler candidates in general elections.)

If anyone following this discussion doesn’t already know about “vote splitting,” I suggest looking it up on Wikipedia.

If anyone in the theatre world is interested in better understanding pairwise counting, there is a skit online (at VoteFair dot org slash pairwise_counting_skit dot html) that entertainingly demonstrates pairwise counting and its fairness compared to single-mark-ballot (“plurality”) counting.

Richard Fobes
Douglas Cantrell commented 2012-03-16 19:00:12 -0700 · Flag
But if Congress decides what’s fair, who’s to say they won’t prohibit everything except Borda and IRV, for the same reasons?

State legislatures are collectively composed of thousands of people; to prevent the adoption of an effective method in every state would take a massive conspiracy, or lobbying on an unprecedented scale. And even then, many states have an initiative process.

All it takes to start a national reform is a single success story, but Congressional oversight could stop that from happening.
Richard Fobes commented 2012-03-16 10:53:16 -0700 · Flag
Consider that an effective way for politicians (and their special-interest “supporters”) to block election-method reform is to adopt something unfair like the Borda count and then, after it produces lots of spoiled ballots and (even with unspoiled ballots) unfair results, they can claim that election-method reform doesn’t work.

Consider that Aspen Colorado adopted instant-runoff voting, got unfair results (the winner was not the Condorcet winner), and switched back to plurality voting. They failed to consider that they were using the right kind of ballot but the (arguably) “wrong” kind of counting.

Also consider that if there are no limits, politicians will do what was attempted in Ontario Canada, namely steer the (proposed) choice to “closed-list proportional representation” because they (actually the special interests behind the politicians) know how to control such elections — with that control being clear from the observation that European democracies do not have elected leaders who are significantly better than the U.S. elected leaders.
Douglas Cantrell commented 2012-03-15 16:43:21 -0700 · Flag
I disagree that ‘obviously flawed’ methods should be disallowed. If a state thinks that a method is badly flawed, they won’t adopt it. If they think a method has merit, they have every right to adopt it for choosing their representatives and distributing their electoral votes. Involving Congress just invites unreasonable national standards, like banning Condorcet on the grounds of DH3.

Which, I might add, I did not bring up to discredit or slander Condorcet methods. I brought it up because opposition to a national standard is based on the lack of any perfect election method to set as that standard, and you were portraying Condorcet methods as being unreasonably close to perfection.

Unfortunately, you’re still doing it. Even when preferences aren’t cyclic, the DH3 pathology can still occur. If your favorite candidate isn’t the Condorcet winner, you can simply create an artificial cycle by reversing some of your preferences, at which point your favorite candidate might win. If your favorite candidate is the Condorcet winner, meanwhile, this doesn’t create any problems, as long as you’re the only one doing it.

Given all of that, a rational vote for some voters would be to support their favorite candidate, and to list the other candidates in reverse order of perceived viability, to maximize the chance of a Condorcet cycle, and to maximize the chance of their favored candidate being selected from that cycle. When enough voters do this, the result is the least viable, and presumably worst, candidate being elected.

Is this a realistic scenario? I have no idea. There’s very little data to suggest one way or the other. But it’s possible that it’s a common result, which means that the federal government shouldn’t force states to use Condorcet.

Of course, you’ve already said that you agree with me on that point, so to some extent this is a pointless argument. I just don’t want an advocate of uniform standards to read this, and decide it’s okay to advocate for a constitutional standard, so long as it’s based on the Condorcet criterion.
Richard Fobes commented 2012-03-14 23:51:40 -0700 · Flag
I agree there should be flexibility about alternatives to single-mark ballots, and that no single method should be chosen at the Federal level.

(However, some obviously flawed methods — like the Borda count — should be disallowed because they are so unfair in so many cases.)

I do NOT agree that “DH3” (cited by Douglas) is a weakness of the Condorcet methods.

There is an important concept involved here: “circular ambiguity.”

Here is an exaggerated example of “circular ambiguity”: A group of voters are sitting around a table and point to the person on their right as their first choice, then point to the person on their left as their second choice, and then point to the person at the head of the table as their third choice.

The “DH3” issue that Douglas cites assumes this kind of extreme level of circular ambiguity! The “DH3” claim is a lame attempt to discredit the Condorcet methods.

For meaningful comparisons of voting methods, I encourage readers to go to Wikipedia’s “Voting system” page and look at the “comparison” table. That table is the “battleground” between election-method experts from around the world. Note that “DH3” is not in that table.

Also note that circular ambiguity, especially among the top choices, is rare.

Another important voting concept is “strategic voting,” which amounts to voters marking their ballots in ways that take advantage of the weaknesses in the selected vote-counting method.

Range voting is known to be quite vulnerable to “strategic voting,” so it’s ironic that range-voting advocates would use a strategic-voting example in an attempt to claim weakness in Condorcet methods. Actually, the Condorcet methods are less vulnerable to strategic voting.

For a more mathematically rigorous assessment, consider that the “Declaration of Election-Method Reform Advocates” basically states that the Condorcet methods are the best at identifying a winner who is the most likely to win a runoff election between that candidate and any(!) other candidate.

I’m not advocating that Condorcet methods should be the only ones that should be used.

Rather, I am defending them against the slander of the “DH3” reference which uses a highly unrealistic scenario that involves an extreme case of circular ambiguity.

Richard Fobes
Douglas Cantrell commented 2012-03-14 15:28:47 -0700 · Flag
I don’t support IRV, but many do, and I think the states should be able to use it if they choose.

Condorcet methods work well when voters are honest, but strategic behavior leads to preference reversal, and that potentially means the worst possible winner in a significant percentage of Condorcet elections. For more information, google the DH3 pathology.

So again, there’s no consensus as to which voting system is best. As such, it’s important that we don’t inhibit progress by adopting a standard that’s nearly impossible to change.
Richard Fobes commented 2012-03-14 12:57:03 -0700 · Flag
Any of the Condorcet methods would provide much fairer results than instant-runoff voting (IRV). (I recommend VoteFair popularity ranking, which is equivalent to the Condorcet-Kemeny method.)

Also, any of the Condorcet methods would be much fairer than using “score ballots,” even if Majority Judgement were used instead of the less-fair “range voting” method of counting.

The Declaration of Election-Method Reform Advocates (at “Ban Single Mark Ballots” dot org) has more if this kind of info.

I agree that it does not make sense to promote a Constitutional Amendment to reform Presidential elections. Instead we need to reform other elections first.

Yet it’s worth mentioning that some years ago I wrote a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would yield fair results for Presidential elections. It’s at: www.votefair.org/amend.html

It’s complex, so I ended up writing the book “Ending The Hidden Unfairness In U.S. Elections” to explain what needs to be understood about voting.

The most important point of all this is that if anyone here doesn’t know about “pairwise counting,” please learn about it. It can easily — and fairly — handle U.S. Presidential Elections (including using Electoral Votes without the Electoral “College”).

I wrote a skit (short theatrical production) that demonstrates the fairness of pairwise counting compared to plurality voting (which we use now). It’s at: www.votefair.org/pairwise_counting_skit.html

Richard Fobes
Douglas Cantrell commented 2012-03-13 20:15:32 -0700 · Flag
Yeah, electoral votes are the important part; the people behind them can be removed without problems. I tend to think of the actual College as a harmless tradition, but I suppose there’s always the possibility of faithless electors.

Perhaps more importantly, I just realized I’d somehow equated changing the way EC votes are counted with forcing states to use the new method when producing their EC votes, which is absurd. Plurality is a terrible system even when other systems produce the votes, so it should be changed.

Unfortunately that means choosing an alternative. I’d normally suggest range voting, but I’m not sure how you’d convert the results of an IRV election into a range ballot. Condorcet would be good, except that you run into serious problems when voters are strategic.

It would probably be best to let Congress set the procedure, with some limitations. They’d probably tend to favor whatever method got them elected to Congress, so as long as the states can choose that for themselves, there’s some hope for progress. More so than if an amendment was needed, at any rate.
Richard Fobes commented 2012-03-13 09:54:40 -0700 · Flag
It’s important to understand that we can abolish the Electoral College without also abolishing the still-needed Electoral Votes.

If we adopt a fairer voting method, such as any of the Condorcet methods that are supported by the “Declaration of Election-Method Reform Advocates” (see “Ban Single Mark Ballots” dot org or Facebook), then the pairwise counts can be converted into Electoral Votes (using decimal numbers) before being merged into the overall national pairwise counts.

Electoral Votes protect voters in states that have different conditions.

For example, consider a state that has oppressive polling practices (such as not enough voting booths) and bad weather on election day, and recognize that Oregon (where I live) would have an advantage because we all vote by mail (which is helpful considering how much it rains here).

Electoral Votes compensate for such differences.

Of course we should stop the outdated practice of giving Electoral Votes to the specific people known as the “Electoral College.”

Richard Fobes
Author of “Ending The Hidden Unfairness In U.S. Elections”
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