Worried about the complexity of range voting?

It is astonishing to see government officials who are perfectly fine with making every citizen fill out complicated tax forms which can exceed 100 pages, tell us, "oh no, for your own good I have to protect you from the horrifying prospect of a 'complicated' voting system like Range Voting. You poor thing, you might not be able to handle the concept of scoring every candidate 0-to-99."

Get back to reality.

Australia and Ireland have both been successfully using STV voting since the 1910s and 1920s, and Australia for their elections for senators switched to reweighted STV in 1949 – which Ireland had been using all along.

Think about that. This was before the days of calculators and computers. In Australia, voting is compulsory (you get fined if you do not vote) and a full rank ordering of all the candidates is required on each ballot. That is harder for voters than range voting, with blanks (Xs) permitted, would be.

Then, after the votes have been collected, the counting proceeds. In reweighted STV, we first count all the top-rank votes, then find the candidate with the fewest and eliminate him. Steps of this nature (and another nature – declaring "winners" those candidates with above the "Droop quota" of top-rank votes) are repeated – and between these steps each vote is reweighted depending on how it voted for previous winners. Each cycle we redo the whole process with all the previous winner and loser candidates eliminated from all votes. In one Australian election there were 72 candidates and hence there were 71 such cycles to be performed, and each voter had to rank all 72 candidates in order.

That is a pretty complicated process. What really makes it tricky is that each vote has its own individual weight, which keeps changing throughout the process according to a formula involving multiplication, subtraction, division, and truncation to integers, and depending on the individual characteristics of that vote and what the set of previous winners is.

And all this has been going on, successfully, since the 1920s in the days before without calculators or computers, in Ireland and Australia.

Honeybees and ants have used range voting for millions of years. They appear to have considered Range Voting's quality advantages worth its so-called complexity. We ask our critics: are you, or are you not, smarter than a honeybee or ant?

So don't complain to us that range voting is complicated. It isn't. You just add up numbers to find sums – and if blanks are allowed you have to divide by the number of nonblank votes at the end to get averages. There is no vote reweighting or re-sorting. There are hardly any divisions or multiplications. Voters are allowed to leave lots of entries intentionally blank (i.e. fill them with an "X") or give them all zero scores. If the Australians and Irish could handle a much more complicated procedure – more complicated both for the voter and for the counters – than this in the 1920s and 1940s (and they like it – e.g. the Irish have been asked twice in referenda if they wanted to drop their voting system and return to the simpler plurality system, and both times they voted to keep it), then now, in the age of computers and calculators, we can handle a simpler procedure: range voting.

And not only that, range voting can be handled by today's plurality machines even without modification. (Try demo!) That instantly makes us better off than the Australians and Irish, who, in order to use voting machines, had to get special machines specially designed just for their kind of voting. That means the switch from plurality to range can be made comparatively painless.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. – Albert Einstein

And here's the bottom line: experimental fact. We point out that range voting has smaller spoilage-inducing error rates than either plurality or IRV voting. Experimentally. In other words, voters – at least in this respect – regard range voting as simpler than the present plurality voting system! So the thinking that range voting is "more complicated" is misleading: that complexity actually works in such a way as to reduce ballot-spoiling errors.

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