Citizendium - a community developing a quality, comprehensive compendium of knowledge, online and free.
Click here to join and contribute
CZ thanks our previous donors. Donate here. Treasurer's Financial Report

CZ Talk:Ombudsman/Archive 1/Election process

From Citizendium
Jump to: navigation, search

Report of Election Observer 2010

Please note the report I made as election observer after the 2010 elections Gareth Leng 09:51, 1 February 2012 (UTC)

More specifically, here is that report. D. Matt Innis 15:31, 6 March 2012 (UTC)

Referendum on elections

So this is an instant-runoff system? The idea is to transfer votes from eliminated candidates? John Stephenson 13:17, 27 February 2012 (UTC)

Referendum A (election of unopposed candidates)

Please also note that Referendum A had slightly more support than Referendum B, and got a majority, but failed because it did not gain the two-thirds necessary to modify the Charter. However, there is clear support for the idea of allowing single candidates to be elected unopposed and something like this ought to be implemented to avoid endless by-elections. John Stephenson 13:17, 27 February 2012 (UTC)


Another way to avoid frequent by-elections is to fill vacant seats by offering them to unsuccessful candidates. I do not think that having reservists is a good idea, however, because it is likely that in some cases these will be people whose candidacies attracted little support. Actually, allowing the Combined Council to make interim appointments until the next election might be best. John Stephenson 13:17, 27 February 2012 (UTC)

STV and Instant-runoff

I prefer the single-transferable vote and instant-runoff systems. Regarding STV, a proportional-representation system is the only way to ensure that the winners reflect the preferences of the voters and that votes are not wasted. Even if someone is 2nd or 3rd choice, they are still a candidate who the voter is satisfied with. Low 1st choices can, if necessary, be dealt with by imposing a minimum threshold such as the 25% in the referendum. STV also reduces the likelihood of a tie, since they can be broken with 2nd and subsequent preferences. With non-transferable votes, the only options are to re-run the elections or draw lots, which are truly last-resort options for STV.

The system is somewhat more complex than simple-majority voting but there is software to do the sums. The problems that occurred when STV was used in the first post-Charter elections were actually caused by the fact that people were allowed to contest two groups of seats and then give a preference, such that the order that names were removed affected the final results. But this was not a problem of STV itself.

I think I am the first elected member to get in without ever receiving an absolute majority (Hayford got the same number of votes as me, but he also got in previously under STV). I do not feel that I have a mandate, which is why I don't make casting votes on the EC. STV or another transferable system would have avoided this. John Stephenson 13:17, 27 February 2012 (UTC)

Writing here personally, not as a member of the MC, I oppose any voting system that requires software to analyze results. My objection is that such systems fail to provide transparency. If a voting system is so complex that a typical non-technical member can't determine the outcome from published voting information, then those members must trust an algorithm they neither understand nor are able to execute. This would have a chilling effect on election participation rates and would make it very difficult if not impossible for the election committee to adequately explain the election results.
In addition, the mandatory use of vote counting software implies requisite skills that would likely dissuade a large proportion of the community from serving on election committees. This would increase the difficultly of finding citizens willing and able to serve as committee members. Dan Nessett 19:40, 27 February 2012 (UTC)
Now that ballots are no longer to be destroyed soon after the count, the results are there should anyone demand a recount. I see no reason why an explanation could not be given of how votes were redistributed. Also, I believe that voter turnout has actually gone down since simple-majority voting has been used. As for people being dissuaded from acting as election committee participants, if someone is unwilling to participate because they don't want to get involved with software that is not actually that difficult to use, I really don't want them counting votes at all. What would such a person do in the event of a discrepancy even in a simple-majority contest? John Stephenson 07:08, 28 February 2012 (UTC)
Looking at the last few election results it would appear that the election committee could have counted them all on their fingers and toes, and the amount of digits they might need for such a task is getting fewer each time, so we are not discussing whether our new voting system would be so complex as to confound any of our current members, but instead wondering if with more members any new voting system might be better software-driven rather than limited by how many limbs the election committee might have.
If any concerns about software are about finding people able to use (probably simple) software to verify election results then don't worry, if we have enough voters to make software a necessity we will have enough citizens to find one or two not frightened of using it.
As for whether to use a preference system, of course we should. We've already seen the problems our current system has. It produced an alternate that the MC refused to allow to serve office. Their reasoning appeared to be that the alternate didn't get enough support? That being the case it would appear they used the STV system for judging suitability when useful. Although they did keep secret and destroy the results back in those days so it is hard to be sure.
The only reasoning I've heard against a new system is that it is either complex or un-American (that really is something that has been said on the forums), but if we attract enough members to make software a requirement there will almost certainly be a large portion of them that won't be worried by either of these arguments. David Finn 08:23, 28 February 2012 (UTC)
=> John Stephenson - Your arguments have several flaws. First, my point was someone should be able to determine the results "from published voting information." The raw ballots are never released for public display, since that would destroy the whole notion of a secret ballot. No matter how long ballots are retained, transparency requires the ability of non-technical members to determine the results from published information without the intervention of software, the operation of which they do not understand. Any voting system that cannot provide such transparency is flawed.
Second, what is simple to use is an objective judgment. What might be simple for someone with training in the sciences or engineering may not be simple for someone without such a background. Limiting election committee members to only those with technical skills introduces a tendency toward elitism and technocracy that could discourage those in the arts to participate in the project.
Third, even those with a technical background may have reservations about using software to determine the results of an election. I have a Ph.D. in computer science and have the skills necessary to understand how software works. However, taking the time to convince myself that a program correctly implements some non trivial vote tallying algorithm (and taking the time to learn and understand that algorithm) is not something I wish to do. I imagine many others feel the same way.
Fourth, there were 72 ballots cast in the charter referendum, 46 ballots cast in the October, 2010 election (which did not use simple majority voting), 40 ballots cast in the June, 2011 election, 14 ballots cast in the October, 2011 special election and 24 ballots cast in the December, 2011 election. Taking the special election as an outlier, participation has monotonically decreased over the past year and a half. If the use of majority voting is the cause of this, why was there a decrease in the October 2010 election? What evidence exists that use of simple majority voting has anything to do with this decrease? As far as I can see, no evidence supports this conclusion. Dan Nessett 19:40, 28 February 2012 (UTC)
The Charter vote was a yes/no referendum question so cannot be fairly compared with elections in which multiple candidates compete for several seats. Yes, people could also vote 'Revise', but as pointed out at the time, those votes were also to reject the Charter. Of course, there is no proof that the decline in turnout is anything to do with the voting system; that is a suspicion on my part. We know that a firm majority have voted to change the system. If so many are unhappy with the current system, that implies that some might have chosen not to participate in it. John Stephenson 12:54, 3 March 2012 (UTC)
I'm inclined to agree with your last comment.
I'm not sure what you mean precisely by verifiability from published information. The usual practice for STV elections in real life is to publish the totals for each stage. That is, you'd first list the numbers of first preferences for each candidate and then say whether anyone has been elected straight off. If so, you say how their surplus is redistributed. Otherwise, you say who's eliminated and how their votes are redistibuted. Would that be enough for you, or would you want a listing of all preferences on each ballot cast? Even the latter doesn't involve publishing the identity of the voter, or even correlating ballots in simultaneous elections.
STV procedure really isn't that complicated. I could easily work it out myself by hand, without software. So presumably could Peter. So very likely could David. And that's without any new training. You or anyone else here could do it if they want to learn. Peter Jackson 11:24, 1 March 2012 (UTC)


My concern is establishing a voting procedure that is so mysterious to non-technical members that they decide CZ isn't for them, If the algorithm of any voting method is easily implemented using pencil and paper ("easily" being defined as allowing someone without a technical background to execute it without a great deal of effort), then I would have no objection to it. While my view is we are attempting to fix something that isn't broken, if the majority of citizens want to use a voting method other than simple majority (which from the results of the referendum in the last election seems true) I will not oppose that. Dan Nessett 17:02, 1 March 2012 (UTC)

[added later] If STV voting satisfies the pencil and paper test, perhaps someone could explain how to to implement its algorithm with such implements using only published voting results (i.e., without having to divulge individual ballots). Dan Nessett 17:35, 1 March 2012 (UTC)
Let's distinguish between AV for a single post and STV proper for a batch of seats.
The former is really easy and shouldn't cause anyone any problems at all.
In the latter case, you'd probably prefer to use a pocket calculator to work out the proportions.
You still haven't said what you mean by "published voting results". Peter Jackson 18:42, 1 March 2012 (UTC)
For the purposes of this discussion, let's define "Published voting results" as those necessary to execute the algorithm. If a particular voting method requires the availability of individual ballots for this purpose, then I would say there is a significant conflict between it and the maintenance of secret ballot privacy. So, can you or someone else describe in detail how to use paper and pencil to implement both the AV and STV vote tallying methods? From this, we can determine whether the effort to implement those algorithms without software is within the capabilities of a non-technical member. Dan Nessett 19:05, 1 March 2012 (UTC)
Well, I'm still not clear what you mean, but I agree it's probably best to describe the method sufficiently here so everyone knows what we're talking about.

So let's start with AV, which is easier. You start by simply counting up the first preference votes. If someone has more than all the rest put together that's it. Otherwise you eliminate the person with least and pass on their votes to their next preferences. If they give no further preference then they no longer figure. If now someone has more than the remainder put together that's it. Repeat the process as many times as necessary. If a vote's next preference is for someone already eliminated you look for the next uneliminated preference. All really quite straightforward. The only problem you might get is if 2 candidates are equal bottom. Often it won't make a difference. If it does, what would happen in a real election is the Returning Officer would toss a coin, just as they would if there's a tie for the winner in an ordinary first-past-the-post election. Published results would look like this:

  • 1st count:
    • candidate A: 25 1st preferences
    • B: 16
    • C: 12
  • 2nd count: C is eliminated; 12 votes redistributed as follows:
    • A: 7
    • B: 3
    • no further preference: 2
  • result after 2nd count:
    • A: 32
    • B: 19

Would this satisfy your idea of public availability? Peter Jackson 09:59, 2 March 2012 (UTC)

Well, I don't think so, but perhaps I am wrong. For someone to run the algorithm independently, wouldn't they need all of the preference information? For example,
  • Candidate A: 25 1st preferences, 20 2nd preferences, 10 3rd preferences.
  • Candidate B: 16 1st preferences, 7 2nd preferences, 32 3rd preferences.
  • Candidate C: 12 1st preferences, 3 2nd preferences, 40 3rd preferences. Dan Nessett 18:53, 2 March 2012 (UTC)

Now to STV, which is a more complicated version of the same method. This is for when you're filling more than 1 place together: 2 or 3 seats on MC or EC. Let's take 3 as an example. Start by counting the number of valid ballots. Divide by 4. That's the quota. Anyone with at least that many votes is necessarily elected. (It's obviously impossible for too many to be so, unless all the votes are equally split among 4 candidates, in which case any election method requires coin-tossing.) If anyone is so elected, you redistribute their surplus votes, that is, the difference between what they got and the quota. (If there's more than 1, start with the one with most votes.) You do this by a proportion sum, which is where a pocket calculator comes in handy. E.g., if the quota is 5 and someone gets 7 votes, then each vote is transferred to the next preference, but marked down to count as 2/7 of a vote. If, however, the number of votes with a further preference marked is less than the surplus, you don't mark them up to compensate.

Once you've done this for all elected candidates you start eliminating the bottom ones as in AV.

An additional complication is that, as some votes disappear from the total because no further preferences are marked, you recalculate a reduced quota from the number of remaining votes (including the quota for elected candidates. Anyone reaching this reduced quota is elected, but only surpluses above the original quota are redistributed.

Published results would be similar to the above AV example, but obviously mre complicated. I hope this is all clear enough. Peter Jackson 10:16, 2 March 2012 (UTC)

Supplementary note: on the question of deciding which equal bottom candidate is eliminated, note that one common case where it makes no difference (in AV at least) is where, for example, the 2 bottom candidates have 1 vote each and the next up has 3 or more. Peter Jackson 10:18, 2 March 2012 (UTC)

From your description it appears voters specify preferences as in AV voting. However, it isn't clear from your description how these preferences are used. For example, you write, "Start by counting the number of valid ballots. Divide by 4. That's the quota. Anyone with at least that many votes is necessarily elected." Do you mean anyone with at least that many 1st preference votes is necessarily elected? Or do you mean something else?
More generally, your description, while useful in giving the "flavor" of the vote counting algorithm is more indicative than declarative. Surely, there is a precise definition of the algorithm somewhere that you can cite.
Eliding for the moment the question of whether someone with little or no experience in algorithm specification/use could implement STV with pencil and paper, it isn't clear to me from the general description you give what exactly it achieves. I was under the impression that STV eliminated the possibility of tie votes. But, it appears not. Right now, if we have a tie vote (which, by the way, has never happened), we execute a run-off election. You suggest using a random draw to break ties. We could change our procedures to use a random draw and eliminate run-off elections, so STV doesn't appear to provide any advantage in that regard. So, 1) what problem does STV solve; and 2) can you provide any evidence that this problem exists in our community? Dan Nessett 18:53, 2 March 2012 (UTC)
Little time now, so only brief/partial replies.
Your interpretation on the first point is correct.
If you want citations ask Peter. He's the expert here.
One problem is sensitivity/chaos. In an election for 3 members, a change of 1 vote can change all 3 seats in the current block voting; STV only 1. Peter Jackson 10:58, 3 March 2012 (UTC)

Also pressed for time right now, but I'll return later. Just to note, for one of the elections on which I served on the committee, we used OpenSTV software. This is available for download from (and I note that they appear to now offer secure online voting, for free, which is also something we should look at). The software in question allows a choice of election methods - AV, STV, Concorde, etc. For the electorate size we have, it's perfectly possible to perform an election using pen and paper (or, more realistically, as we are geographically dispersed, an online spreadsheet). OpenSTV just makes the process quicker and simpler and reduces the capacity for human error. It is perfectly possible to get exactly the same result the old fashioned way. The software really is simple to use and does not require training - you simply enter the election method being used, the names of the candidates, and the preferences recorded for each candidate. The output in each round of voting can be copied and pasted to show the results at each stage. Anton Sweeney 14:52, 4 March 2012 (UTC)

Well, Anton, while people keep saying it would be "possible to perform an election using pen and paper" with STV, no one seems willing to specify the algorithm necessary to accomplish this. Once again, relying on software that implements an unspecified algorithm would result in a loss of transparency. Dan Nessett 18:40, 5 March 2012 (UTC)
An explanation of STV is here. An explanation of the methods available for counting (the algorithm, I suppose) is here. Anton Sweeney 00:04, 6 March 2012 (UTC)
Thanks. However, what is required is an explanation that someone can use to actually process published results; something like this where I provide the vote counting algorithm for plurality voting. Dan Nessett 00:26, 6 March 2012 (UTC)

That can't be done unless we know exactly which method of STV is being used (there are several). But in general: 1. Determine the quota. The Droop formula is the most common for doing this: quota = (valid votes cast/(number of seats +1)) + 1. (*) 2. Any candidate who has reached or exceeded the quota is declared elected. 3. If a candidate has more votes than the quota, that candidate's surplus votes are transferred to other candidates. Votes that would have gone to the winner instead go to the next preference listed on their ballot. 4. If no one new meets the quota, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and that candidate's votes are transferred. 5. This process repeats until either a winner is found for every seat or there are as many seats as remaining candidates. (*) So if we've 40 voters taking part in a ballot to elect 3 candidates, the quota is (40 / (3+1)) + 1 = 11.

But really - read the WP article. It explains very clearly how STV works and how to do a count and does a better job of explaining it than I can. Download the OpenSTV software and "run" an election using sample data, then use the WP page's explanation to do it manually, and you'll arrive at the same result. An algorithm isn't necessary; a list of steps or instructions might be. Anton Sweeney 14:58, 6 March 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for making an attempt to explain the vote counting algorithm, Anton. However, I think you have demonstrated the point that I am making. The steps you give are missing important information, which someone who is not familiar with the STV vote counting algorithm would need to implement it. For example:
  1. Do voters specify preferences when they vote? If so, how does this relate to the criterion, "[a]ny candidate who has reached or exceeded the quota is declared elected"?
  2. How is a surplus vote defined?
  3. How explicitly are they "transferred"?
  4. When a candidate is eliminated, what happens to all of his/her preference votes (if STV stipulates the use of preference voting)?
I'm afraid just telling everyone to read the WP article insufficient. Our voting procedures need to be self-contained. Also, suggesting downloading the STV software and running it doesn't demonstrate how to execute the vote counting method using only pencil and paper.
So far I have been participating in this discussion as a private citizen. However, given the lack of success in anyone explaining how the STV vote counting algorithm works (in sufficient detail so a non-technical member can implement it using pencil and paper), I will now put on my MC hat and assert the following. Unless, the latter is accomplished, I will neither introduce an MC motion to use STV voting in the next election nor will I vote in favor of such a motion introduced by others. I hope that gets the attention of those supporting this voting method and motivates them to do the work necessary to accurately and precisely define the algorithm.Dan Nessett 17:51, 6 March 2012 (UTC)
1. Is this not self-evident?
2. Subtract quota from votes obtained. If the result is positive then the result is the number of surplus votes. If negative, there is no surplus.
3. That depends entirely on which STV method is being used.
4. They are transferred to the next preferred candidate in accordance with the STV method being used, or where no additional preference is stated, they are discarded.
STV is more complicated than first-past-the-post, but it is fairer and results in less 'wasted' votes. If what you're looking for is a set of clear and precise instructions for carrying out a vote count, then yes, I can provide that if I arbitrarily decide on a quota type and STV method. My explanation will not, however, be much more than an expansion on those in the WP articles, which you seem reluctant to read. I'm on holiday from Friday until Tuesday, with very limited 'net access, and therefore under time pressure until Friday, so I may not be able to furnish what you're looking for until sometime next week. Anton Sweeney 11:23, 7 March 2012 (UTC)
1. No.
2. You keep referring to "votes", but if ballots specify preferences, to which "votes" do you refer?
3. Well, which STV method are you and others proposing? Define it.
4. Again, provide a precise definition of the algorithm you and others propose to use.
In what sense is STV voting "fairer"? Fairer than what? How do you define fairness?
You write, "If what you're looking for is a set of clear and precise instructions for carrying out a vote count, then yes, I can provide that if I arbitrarily decide on a quota type and STV method." Please do so. Pick the version of STV you propose to use and explicitly define the algorithm in sufficient detail that a non-techncial member can execute it using published election results (which you are free to define) and using only pencil and paper.
In regards to my reluctance to read the WP article, I have read it. However, it should not be a requirement for its use that every member reads it. This exercise is for the benefit of Gareth, who must return a report to the MC explaining the pros and cons of the various voting methods. Up to this point in regards to STV there has been a lot of proof by emphatic assertion and not enough sound argument. Dan Nessett 17:33, 7 March 2012 (UTC)
1. Yes, voters express preferences; they put a '1' beside their preferred candidate's name, and optionally a '2' beside their second choice, a '3' beside their third choice, and so on, until they have run out of candidates or decide not to continue expressing preferences. So if candidates are Alpha, Beta, Charlie and Delta and I want Beta to win, wouldn't mind Charlie being elected, wouldn't be too put out if Alpha got in, and definitely don't want Delta to get in, my ballot might look like:

Alpha 3
Beta 1
Charlie 2

2. In any one count, votes are the total of the #1 preferences received by that candidate, plus any preferences transferred to that candidate following the distribution of a surplus after another candidate has been elected with a surplus over the quota in a previous count, plus any preferences transferred to that candidate following the elimination of other candidates in a previous count.
3. There are several different methods, as you know. I'll have a look over them and see which I think would be most suitable for CZ; in one of the 2010(?) elections, the Northern Ireland method was used. Anton Sweeney 19:20, 7 March 2012 (UTC)


Peter Schmitt has provided some references to material on various voting methods. These are welcome. However, do those who support the use of STV voting expect Gareth to read this material and extract from it a pros and cons analysis of STV? If so, then I think their expectations are unrealistic. It is up to those in favor of STV to make the case for it. So, we still need:

  1. An explicit description of the STV variant that its proponents are proposing. This description should be sufficient that a non-technical member can use it with pencil and paper to confirm the results of an election using published election results.
  2. A discussion of the advantages of STV voting. This discussion should define its terms, e.g., what is meant by "fair". It should also demonstrate other properties that are attributed to STV, e.g., that it is less likely to lead to tie votes than Plurality voting.
  3. A discussion of the disadvantages of STV voting. While the proponents of STV may be reluctant to do this, without such discussion, the argument in favor of STV looses credibility. Dan Nessett 22:04, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Gareth has been asked, and accepted, the task of moserating/reporting on this, so yes, I would assume that he would read material that others feel is relevant.

  1. Personally I favour the STV (specifically, PR-STV) system as it's the one I'm most familiar with. Here are detailed instructions for carrying out a STV vote.
  2. Advantages: This page lists the pros (and cons) better than I could.
  3. Disadvantages: See above. This page also lists the pros and cons of first-past-the-post voting. Anton Sweeney 15:35, 18 March 2012 (UTC)
Thank you, Anton. For the record, the page you cite under "Disadvantages" discusses first-past-the-post voting. First-past-the-post voting is suitable only for single seat elections, whereas, claims in the article notwithstanding, plurality voting may be used in multi-seat elections (as we have done for every election of council seat members other than the first).
In regards to the page you cite that explains STV voting, I think it demonstrates a significant disadvantage. Only those with the time and inclination to study that page in depth would be suitable to serve on an election committee. In practice that would exclude a large fraction of citizens and therefore significantly reduce the pool from which the MC could chose for service in that capacity. This, in turn, is evidence that STV voting, and any other voting system that is very complicated to use, tends to create an elite technocratic minority that controls elections. That is not healthy for a democracy.
Before you once again point out that software exists to evaluate ballot results, the use of software that few, if any, citizens understand damages transparency. No citizen can independently validate from the published election results that the election committee correctly identified the winners in an election. Dan Nessett 00:19, 19 March 2012 (UTC)
If election committee members really can't understand the system then they shouldn't be running an election. Furthermore, there is no reason why the details of how votes were transferred could not be published. This has already been pointed out below. I would also like to know of any evidence that STV stokes elitism or that it puts off large numbers of people from voting in the democracies where it used. I see no evidence for the view that voters are likely to be too thick to understand that they may choose to rank candidates in order of preference and that what would otherwise be wasted votes can be transferred to other candidates. John Stephenson 06:01, 19 March 2012 (UTC)
Any citizen can independently validate from the published ballots that the election committee correctly identified the winners. STV is healthier for democracy than First-past-the-post because far fewer votes are "wasted" if one's preferred candidate(s) doesn't get elected. Anton Sweeney 14:56, 19 March 2012 (UTC)
=>John. You write, "[i]f election committee members really can't understand the system then they shouldn't be running an election." Why is that? We have had a number of elections run by citizens who are not technologically sophisticated and who have done a fine job. Please explain why they shouldn't be running elections.
In regards to your question, "I would also like to know of any evidence that STV stokes elitism or that it puts off large numbers of people from voting in the democracies where it used," last May the British public rejected the use of alternate voting (a related system of proportional voting) for Parliamentary elections (see this news article). First-past-the-post voting was retained. The defeat was overwhelming. 69% of the electorate voted against the proposal. Furthermore, this was the 5th time in the last 100 years when the British electorate voted against replacing FPTP (see Table 1 in this article). In 1917, the British public rejected use of STV voting for Parliamentary elections in the larger urban areas.
I think a reasonable interpretation of these defeats is the British public does not want to be told by "experts" they must use an obtuse and opaque voting system. I also think it reasonable to describe such attempts by experts to impose its will on the populace as elitism. Dan Nessett 18:13, 19 March 2012 (UTC)
Dan, I wonder how I would feel if I were one of those whom you euphemistically refer to as "not technologically sophisticated". My reasoning is the same as why you would not want people who don't understand wiki software (like me) making changes to the wiki either. I do know that the STV election was carried out effectively despite the problem of people being allowed to contest two councils simultaneously. We have already used the STV system so we have people with experience of the system and a methodology that has previously been employed. There is a good explanation of the Northern Irish model provided by the NI Assembly. It's more complex because it's more representative.
As for the UK referendum: firstly, the Alternative Vote system is not a form of proportional representation - it's basically simple-majority voting with transferred votes to ensure an absolute majority for the victor. Second, referenda in Britain are not very common and when held invariably turn into a vote on the government. In this case, the public wanted to give the minority party which called for electoral reform a kicking due to their decision to form a government with the Conservatives. As for previous votes: STV is used in Northern Ireland and in various democracies and organisations around the world. Now, plurality-voting's problem of wasted votes and minority victors..? John Stephenson 02:41, 20 March 2012 (UTC)
=>Anton. Simply asserting, "[a]ny citizen can independently validate from the published ballots that the election committee correctly identified the winners," is insufficient. I think I have some technological expertise, but even I find the following instructions (from the page you cite) somewhat mystifying:
The voting papers, each showing an elector's order of preference for one or more of the candidates, and each representing a single vote, are sorted according to first preferences and counted.
The quota for election is determined. All the transferable papers of any candidate with a surplus above the quota are transferred to other, continuing, candidates in accordance with next available preferences expressed by the electors, the transfer value being determined by sharing the surplus equally between the transferable papers.
Candidates with fewest votes are then excluded in turn and their voting papers are transferred to continuing candidates in accordance with the next available preferences on those papers.
Transfers of surpluses and exclusions continue until the desired number of candidates is elected.
This procedure is filled with ambiguities and incompletely specified actions. For example, what does "[a]ll the transferable papers of any candidate with a surplus above the quota are transferred to other, continuing, candidates in accordance with next available preferences expressed by the electors, the transfer value being determined by sharing the surplus equally between the transferable papers" mean? I have quite a bit of experience implementing algorithms in software, but I will tell you bluntly this description is unsuitable for such a purpose. I suggest someone without experience implementing algorithms would have no idea how to implement this procedure using pencil and paper.
Also, you write, "STV is healthier for democracy than First-past-the-post because far fewer votes are 'wasted' if one's preferred candidate(s) doesn't get elected." This is an assertion without support. How do you define the "health" of a democracy? In what way are votes "wasted" in systems other than STV? Dan Nessett 18:13, 19 March 2012 (UTC)
In FPTP, if "your" candidate doesn't get elected, you have no representation. Above, you say "No citizen can independently validate from the published election results that the election committee correctly identified the winners in an election." - please explain why not, and why that differs from previous elections where the electorate have taken on faith the results declared by Matt and I and verified by the MC? Several people here have stated that they understand and can implement STV. Anton Sweeney 22:30, 19 March 2012 (UTC)
To ensure we retain clarity, we have never used FPTP. In all of our elections, we have always voted for more than one open seat and FPTP is only suitable for single seat elections. We have always used multi-seat plurality voting.
Except for the first election (which had some odd restriction about releasing the votes candidates received), released election results have specified the number of votes received by each candidate. From that data, any citizen could verify who was elected and who was not. The complicated and convoluted explanation given on the page you cite specifying how to run an STV election is so poorly written that I do not think it unfair to conclude very few citizens could use it to determine who won and who lost the election. In all previous elections, the election committee was trusted to correctly sum the votes for each candidate, but there was no need to trust them to correctly run the win/lose algorithm. With STV voting, citizens would have to trust them to do both.
In regards to the fact that "several people here have stated that they understand and can implement STV," this is a disadvantage, not an advantage. That only a small number of citizens have the capability to run an STV election would force the MC to limit its selection of election committee members to those citizens. This is what I am referring to when I describe the institution of STV as creating a technocratic elite.
In regards to the statement, "if 'your' candidate doesn't get elected, you have no representation," all voting methods have that property. STV, Approval Voting or any other voting method does not change that. It is a property of representative democracy. Dan Nessett 23:18, 19 March 2012 (UTC)

Simple-majority voting

I think we also need to set out the reasons for and against maintaining the current system. The main point in its favour seems to be simplicity. But for me there are three main objections: firstly, candidates can be elected without an absolute majority (over 50%) of votes cast. Secondly, many votes are wasted. An illustration, using the last EC elections:

  • Author candidates: *A 13 votes, *B 13 votes, C 8 votes, D 7 votes, E 6 votes, F 6 votes (total: 53 votes)
  • Editor candidates: *W 17 votes, *X 16 votes, Y 14 votes, Z 7 votes (total: 54 votes)
  • (*) = elected. 27 or 28 voters.

For the Author contest, neither successful candidate received an absolute majority, i.e. 14 out of 27 people declined to support their candidacies. Both Editors received absolute majorities. For the Author vote, 26 out of 53 votes had an influence; the other 27 may as well not have been cast (about 51% of the total). Likewise, 21 votes for unsuccessful Editor candidates were wasted (39%). For the Authors, the majority of votes were wasted.

The third objection is that the system is likely to produce tied votes, especially when there are low numbers of voters and several strong candidates. This has been narrowly avoided up to now, in that there have been ties but only when all candidates concerned experienced the same outcome. The problem is that votes cannot be transferred to break ties, making a run-off election much more likely. John Stephenson 12:55, 3 March 2012 (UTC)

In regards to the advantages of Simple Majority voting (more precisely, Plurality voting), its simplicity supplies it with an important property - understandability. Even the least technical member should have no trouble understanding how it works.
Plurality voting has two further advantages: 1) transparency, and 2) maintenance of secret ballot privacy by making it unnecessary to publish individual ballots in order to provide transparency. The latter property is shared by the AV method and may be shared by the STV method (to determine the latter requires a precise description of the STV vote counting mechanism). Transparency means a citizen may take the published election information and independently determine who was elected.
For completeness, here is how a citizen may compute the results of a vote from published results:
  1. Order the candidates by the number of votes they received (this tally being published by the election committee).
  2. If there are n open seats. select the top n candidates in this list. All candidates receiving more votes than the nth candidate are elected. If the n+1st candidate received less votes than the nth candidate, all n candidates are elected. If the n+1st candidate received the same number of votes as the nth candidate, either 1) hold a runoff election between the candidates receiving the same number of votes as the nth candidate (the current procedure), or 2) choose from those candidates receiving the same number of votes as the nth candidate using a random draw. Dan Nessett 17:24, 3 March 2012 (UTC)
An even simpler version of the Plurality voting algorithm is:
  1. Order the candidates by the number of votes they received (this tally being published by the election committee).
  2. If there are n open seats, compare the votes cast for the nth and n+1st candidate. If the latter is less than the former, the top n candidates are elected. Otherwise, those candidates receiving more votes than the nth candidate are elected and either 1) hold a runoff election between the candidates receiving the same number of votes as the nth candidate for the remaining seats (the current procedure), or 2) for the remaining seats choose from those candidates receiving the same number of votes as the nth candidate using a random draw. Dan Nessett 18:42, 3 March 2012 (UTC)

I don't see any reason why it would be necessary to publish individual ballots if using STV. The results of each count can be published, so people can see where transfers went and how the final result was arrived at, but this does not require the ballots to be published, only the totals at each round. The OpenSTV software allows for this. Anton Sweeney 00:15, 6 March 2012 (UTC)

I don't know that publishing individual ballots would be necessary. But then again, no one has actually provided a precise description of the STV vote counting algorithm, as I provide above for plurality voting, so I don't know what results would have to be published in order for a non-technical member to independently validate an election result. Dan Nessett 00:31, 6 March 2012 (UTC)

I think the problem here is that the simplicity of the system is too costly in terms of wasted votes and minority-backed winners. We are yet to hear of any reasons why either of these are acceptable. John Stephenson 06:03, 19 March 2012 (UTC)

Some references

Forum thread

From The mathematics of voting/Bibliography

  • Keith Devlin, The perplexing mathematics of presidential elections. (November 2000)
in: Devlin's Angle at the Mathematical Association of America
all in: Feature Column. Monthly Essays on Mathematical Topics (Archive at the American Mathematical Society)

--Peter Schmitt 22:06, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

On my referendum

The election rules of the referendum are a simplified version of rules I have proposed User:Peter_Schmitt/Election previously.

  • The approval method proposed is simple -- it only involves counting.
  • Possible ties are not a sufficient reason to prefer STV that has some flaws (as described in the sources). Moreover, other preference systems would be better choices.
    • We should not be afraid of ties. If ties occur they can be resolved by other means (e.g. a preference system, or even by drawing straws).
  • The approval threshold is important -- officials with minimum support should be avoided. (Even if this is difficult with few candidates.)
    • Where to put this this threshold may be a matter for discussion.
  • Reserve members are nothing bad -- on the contrary: They may help to avoid special elections.

--Peter Schmitt 22:05, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

It seems you do not favor STV voting. If you intend to propose another voting method, then you need to provide the same type of information as the STV proponents. In particular:
  1. An explicit description of the voting algorithm you are proposing. This description should be sufficient that a non-technical member can use it with pencil and paper to confirm the results of an election using published election results. Part of the description should explicitly define what information must be published in order to achieve this.
  2. A discussion of the advantages of your proposed voting method. The discussion should define its terms and demonstrate how the method achieves the advantages you claim,
  3. A discussion of the disadvantages of your proposed voting method. Without such discussion, the argument in favor of your proposal looses credibility. Dan Nessett 22:17, 7 March 2012 (UTC)
The referendum describes the process: Each candidate approved (i.e., listed in the ballot) gains a vote. Candidates with the most votes are elected if they reach the threshold (i.e., if they are voted for in at least a quarter of the ballots). (The order in which they are listed is -- if at all -- only used to resolve ties.)
Arguments? It is simple, and it elects those candidates that are trusted by the greatest percentage of the (voting) community.
Further arguments? Instead of repeating the same arguments over and over again it is better to refer to sources written by independent experts (see the previous section).
If the Ombudsman has specific questions then I'll try to answer them. As I see it, the purpose of this page is not to generate a continued discussion but to collect comments (arguments, references) and opinions. --Peter Schmitt 00:45, 8 March 2012 (UTC)
My main objection to this system is that it's much more vulnerable to tactical voting than STV. Voters have to decide where to set their approval threshold. For example, in a real-life political election, if it were held under this system, and I were a voter, I'd have to say that, in an absolute sense, I wouldn't approve of any of the candidates, because I regard government, and all politicians, as a necessary evil. So any approval vote I cast at all would be a tactical vote. I'd have to decide where to set the threshold, which I'd have to do by trying to estimate the practical effects on the result. Peter Jackson 10:43, 8 March 2012 (UTC)


Yes, Peter is right, the main purpose of this page is to collect comments, arguments, references and opinions to try to come up with a solution that is practicable, stable and broadly supported.

It seems to me though that the discussion has yet to engage one important issue.

An election is a way of answering a question - who do we want to represent us in the decision making process? But there is a prior question - what sort of representation is appropriate for our community? The different mechanisms of voting seek answers to questions that are different in important ways. Do we want to represented by those with the broadest support from across the community? Do we want to find representatives that represent the diversity of the community? Or do we want to find representatives with the strongest support, even if they might be divisive? Broadly, approval voting or STV are natural ways of answering the first, proportional voting the second, plurality voting the third.

We are a small community, but do we think we know enough about candidates to feel that we can exercise preferences meaningfully? It's one thing to cast an approval vote - to say that, from what I know of this candidate, I think he or she is likely to be conscientious and sensible - it's quite another to say I know enough to think that candidate A will be better than candidate B. If we don't know enough to state a preference, but are forced to declare a preference, that preference will be a random choice. I guess this is an argument in favour of approval voting if we think that probably preferences between candidates we think would be appropriate are mostly subtle at best.

There is in approval voting, a natural tendency to favour candidtaes most widely known. Preference voting, or plurality systems, rectify this by allowing less well known candidates who have impressed some to advance more quickly even if they are less widely known. Gareth Leng 09:48, 20 March 2012 (UTC)

These are very good questions, Gareth. Thank you for raising them.
After a bit of reflection, I think I will retire from this discussion and let others contribute. I will have a chance to provide my views when your report is received by the MC and we debate the question internally. Given the amount of time we have already spent on this discussion, I think we need to give the MC sufficient time to explore the issues. Furthermore, I would expect our internal debate will motivate others to provide comments to us and this will necessarily lengthen the time we take to come to a decision. Consequently, I wonder if you could provide your report to the MC by, say, April 15? Dan Nessett 17:10, 20 March 2012 (UTC)