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PhiNotPi's avatar

How large of an impact would an "alternative voting system" have on US politics?

Asked by PhiNotPi (12644points) April 15th, 2014

The overwhelming majority of elections in the US use the plurality voting system (also called first-past-the-post). Each voter casts a vote for a single candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins.

Despite its simplicity and ease of use, plurality voting is not ideal. One major problem is the spoiler effect, which can cause undesirable candidates to win because third parties split the vote. For those interested in the specifics, here is a table of many voting systems and their properties.

It has also been theorized that plurality voting favors a two-party system of government.

There are a few countries which have implemented alternative voting systems, which attempt to eliminate the problems with plurality voting. Australia and India use instant-runoff voting, which eliminates the spoiler effect. Some organizations have used more complicated systems, such the Schulze method (which meets the Condorcet criterion).

Let’s imagine that elections in the US were changed from plurality voting to one of the alternative systems. What effects would that have on the political system?

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27 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

Instant run-off is a grand experiment that has failed in its first full on use here in Northern California with the last Oakland CA mayoral election.

Jean Quan actively sought second place votes, running on a platform “vote for your favorite but vote for me for #2”. Doing so, she became mayor and has been an unmitigated disaster.

PhiNotPi's avatar

@zenvelo I don’t necessarily think that IRV is the best either, since is also has its share of drawbacks. For example, it fails something called the Condorcet criterion, which basically states “The candidate which is preferred over all other candidates should win.” This means that Jean Quan could have won even though (hypothetically speaking) a majority of voters could have agreed that Don Perata would have been better.

PhiNotPi's avatar

(Fact checking shows that my hypothetical scenario above wasn’t how it panned out).

There’s also a problem of voter education, because I assume that most voters might of thought that their second choice wasn’t important.

rojo's avatar

My personal belief is that it would give third party parties and party candidates a much fairer shot at the halls of power. I can certainly see why both factions of the present wealth and power party that presently holds sway over the system would be so against it.

Also, @zenvelo I fail to see why the failure of a particular candidate to perform the functions of office well is an indictment of that particular method of voting. I think it is more a case of the lack of voter education on how the system works and the mindset of the participating voters in question than the method.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

I think a great number of voters would find themselves confused, and not vote. Outcomes would likely be significantly altered. I think though, it might be a worthwhile price, to pay for what could eventually become a much more efficient system.

zenvelo's avatar

@rojo We’ve had ranked choice voting (instant run off) here in the Bay Area for a while. Until the 2010 vote, though, it really hadn’t made a significant difference. But after Jean Quan won, everyone realized it could (and did) lead to someone that most people did not want. And that leads to someone in office that has no real support, no mandate for anything.

rojo's avatar

I see your point @zenvelo but what does it say about the general population if it is swayed by the campaign slogan “Vote for me second”?

zenvelo's avatar

@rojo To quote H. L. Mencken: Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

LostInParadise's avatar

A very good book on different voting systems is Gaming the Vote The book includes lots of horror stories about multi-candidate elections in the U.S. Did you know that both Republicans and Democrats provide financial support for extremist candidates in the other party?

The book s intended for a general audience and may not be as mathematical as you would like, but it has references to more technical books and papers and gives a good overview of the different systems.. Poundstone advocates range voting, which has each voter assign a score to each candidate, like the way Olympics athletes are judged.. He does not care for instant runoff.

Something really needs to be done, because the current system really seems to be broken. I think that the initial beneficiaries might be the more progressive candidates.

rojo's avatar

Yeah, I agree @LostInParadise. A good first step would be to do away with the primaries where candidates are made or broken by the votes of a small minority in a few states that hold theirs first while voters in later states have to contend with the droppings.
Next would be to do away with the electoral college

Dan_Lyons's avatar

How large of an impact would an “alternative voting system” have on US politics?”

None whatsoever. Any alternate voting system would be devised by the same clowns who proved to us in the US Presidential election of 2000 that the whole thing is rigged and they will simply appoint whom they {the money elite} choose.

BeenThereSaidThat's avatar

Heck I would be happy if we could have a voter I.D. If you need a I.D. to get on a plane, train, to buy booze, get cigarettes and go into any Federal office building why the hell shouldn’t you have an I.D. to vote? American’s only!

BTW President Clinton just said yesterday that he thought we should have some type of voter id.

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rojo's avatar

@BeenThereSaidThat Still looking for a problem that doesn’t exist that can be solved by more laws? You have it backwards. You should be asking why we need ID’s for the other things, not why not more reasons to get the government involved.

BeenThereSaidThat's avatar

@rojo I think YOU have it backwards.

rojo's avatar

And why exactly do we need voter ID?

I don’t expect you will be convinced by this but just to be well informed you should at least take a look:

“Out of the 197 million votes cast for federal candidates between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters were indicted for voter fraud. Only 26 of those cases, or about .00000013 percent of the votes cast, resulted in convictions or guilty pleas.”
Voter Fraud Statistics in US history:
•In Missouri in 2000, for example, the Secretary of State claimed that 79 voters were registered with addresses at vacant lots, but subsequent investigation revealed that the lots in question actually housed valid and legitimate residences.

•2004 election in Ohio revealed a voter fraud rate of 0.00004%.

•2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State actually reveals just the opposite: though voter fraud does happen, it happens approximately 0.0009%

•A 1995 investigation into votes allegedly cast in Baltimore by deceased voters and those with disenfranchising felony convictions revealed that the voters in question were both alive and felony-free.

•Many of the inaccurate claims result from lists of voters compared to other lists – of deceased individuals, persons with felony convictions, voters in other states, etc.

•In Florida in 2000, a list of purged voters later became notorious when it was discovered that the “matching” process captured eligible voters with names similar to – but decidedly different from – the names of persons with felony convictions, sometimes in other states entirely.

•A 2005 attempt to identify supposed double voters in New Jersey mistakenly accused people with similar names but whose middle names or suffixes were clearly different, such as “J.T. Kearns, Jr.” and “J.T. Kearns, Sr.,” of being the same person. Even when names and birth dates match across lists, that does not mean there was voter fraud.

•it is more likely than not that among just 23 individuals, two will share a birthday. Similar statistics show that for most reasonably common names, it is extremely likely that at least two people with the same name in a state will share the same date of birth.

•Other allegations of fraudulent voting often turn out to be the result of common clerical errors, incomplete information, or faulty assumptions. Most allegations of voter fraud simply evaporate when more rigorous analysis is conducted.”

Oh, and ACORN:
“Well the answer to the question, “Did ACORN commit voter fraud?”, is nothing really. You see Republicans brought hidden cameras to ACORN and attempted to commit voter fraud. These videos were falsified and edited to make it look like one member of the 500k members of ACORN suggested how to hide taxes.

This led to an organization that helped low to middle income individuals with healthcare, neighborhood safety, voter registration since 1970 with a clean record to file for bankruptcy. The Republicans got their way….. ”


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BeenThereSaidThat's avatar

@rojo. Like I said before, I hate cut and paste. Is there a problem here with free speech?

PhiNotPi's avatar

This thread isn’t really about voter IDs.

BeenThereSaidThat's avatar

@PhiNotPi I guess rojo got it wrong too. wonder why only I was pulled.

rojo's avatar

@BeenThereSaidThat I attached the source at the bottom of the page which, evidently, you did not notice, probably because your mind is made up already and you saw no reason to actually read, research and actually learn the facts.

rojo's avatar

But, as @PhiNotPi pointed out, this is about alternative voting systems so I will drop it. PM me if you wish to continue.

Jaxk's avatar

The problem is not with the voting system or even the two party system, it is with the voters. Most of the country doesn’t have a clue what the issues are or even who their representatives are but we engage in major campaigns to insure the least informed of us are voting. As long as the general population is uninformed and disengaged, it won’t matter what voting system you use, the results will be disappointing.

This is the reason we argue over voter IDs, voting systems, money in politics, and the 2 party system. None of these issues affect the informed voter. The informed voter will vote whether or not someone picks them up to drive them to the polling place. But the uninformed voter will likely just stay home. So we have major campaigns to get the uninformed voters to the polls and create issues that are irrelevant but easily understood (birth certificate or putting the dog on top of the car). Get the uninformed to vote on those issues and get them to the polls and you have a winner.

We won’t have better outcomes until we have more informed voters, regardless of the system we use. Making it more complex will only confuse people further.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I am very much in agreement with @Jaxk on this one. Though I strongly support preferential voting over plurality voting as part of a package of reforms to the American voting system, it strikes me as one that must come after a change to how we educate people about politics and civics. Politicians will always appeal to the lowest common denominator. It’s in their blood. So what we need to do is raise the bottom.

LostInParadise's avatar

One reason why voter turnout is so poor is that there is not that much difference between the parties. Obama came into office on a campaign slogan of “hope and change,” neither of which is much in evidence. The Republicans have been taken over by their more extreme elements and the Democrats are controlled by what Republicans used to look like. Progressive candidates might have a chance of building a constituency if people were not afraid of the spoiler effect bringing into office a right wing extremist.

I am at the point that if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 and Bernie Sanders runs as an independent, I just might vote for Sanders in the hope that he costs Clinton the election. I don’t know how else to send a message to the Democratic party establishment.

LostInParadise's avatar

This article from the previous presidential election sums up how I am inclining. Our plurality system has gotten so bad that the best option may be to vote for a candidate in the hope that the candidate will become a spoiler.

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