most-least pt 2

One good thing about Twitter is getting some feedback on things you propose. OK we know most of Twitter is like a swamp, but I’ve had the benefit of some excellent, constructive comments, in the light of my discussion of most-least voting.

The discussion has revolved largely around “how to present, or “sell” it to the public”.

This is a valid question. In the UK we are used to a system that very transparently rewards a single winner in a constituency – the person getting the most votes. For all the flaws in FPTP it is at least clear and transparent what’s going on.

Changing the system runs into various issues that have been raised:

  1. Many proportional systems used across the EU use “multi-member constituencies”. You no longer have a single MP to bring concerns to.
  2. The system used to count is very opaque to the average member of the population. Even someone like me can get bamboozled.
  3. Ranking systems SOUND attractive. In practice they are both theoretically and practically awful.

Multi-member constituencies

Having several members is attractive in one sense – there’s likely to be an MP “close to” your views. However, constituencies are large and GETTING to your preferred MP’s office might be a much bigger journey.

Opaque system

We might know how to physically rank candidates, but the system of how votes get translated into seats necessarily involves equations. Most people’s eyes glaze over.

Ranking is bad m’kayyyyy

Ranking candidates from (1) (top) downwards sounds intuitive. In practice it is riddled with problems.

First, mathematically, for a ranking to properly represent Mr Smith’s preferences, he MUST be equally “certain” of his “top candidate”, his “2nd best”, his “third best”….down to his “bottom” candidate. We rarely get the data to test this. But when we have done, we almost inevitably find it fails. Mr Smith is pretty sure of his top (most preferred) candidate. He is also pretty sure of his bottom (least preferred) candidate. But middle candidates? Nope. Quite frequently he fills them in almost randomly.

Yet in counting, if Mr Smith’s top choice gets eliminated (due to too few votes overall), then his 2nd and lower preferences then become absolutely KEY. They are redistributed. Which is how nonsense candidates like the Monster Raving Loony Party candidate might get through.

Theoretically two things have gone wrong:

First, rankings in the middle are very unstable but mathematically are treated as if the person was “just as certain” as they were with their top and bottom ranks. This is bogus.

Second, redistributing the votes from people whose preferred candidate has been eliminated in effect gives them two or multiple “bites of the cherry”. This is undemocratic. Whether you get “one bite” or “several” depends on whether you happened to choose the eventual “winner” as top rank. Challengers get a shedload of attacks on the front-runner, even if they’re a demonstrable loonie.

Most-Least – what is ITS problem?

ALL democratic systems fail at least one key criterion of fairness (Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem). Most-least’s is not entirely clear. But as a Twitter colleague said, it may be a hard sell, because if (say) Labour and the Conservatives “knock each other out” then a candidate with few “most” votes (but few least votes) may win. This “looks bad”.

I agree, from the perspective we hold at the moment, it does indeed look odd.

However, I’d argue we need to change the narrative. We have to start thinking about “which candidate is the most unifying in terms of being least polarising?” Now, the Monster Raving Looney candidate won’t win. It’ll be a more well-known party candidate. But maybe we should also be taking a leaf out of the book of countries like the USA – with the possibility of recall elections. If a nonsense candidate does get through, it won’t be hard to get a recall election to get rid of him of her in favour of a serious person.

But the bottom line is I believe we must stop thinking that “the winner” gets to ignore the (often 50+% of)  electors who didn’t vote for him or her – and indeed might ALL have agreed he/she was the WORST person on the ballot.

It is all about the terms of the debate and how we define “winning”.