What Matters is a guest opinion column written by a different MIT alumnus or alumna each month. The views expressed in What Matters are entirely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Association or of MIT. For previous columns, please see the archives.
Range Voting: The Best Way to Select a Leader?
by Warren D. Smith '84
The CRV's shortest splitline algorithm eliminates gerrymandering. Basically: find the shortest line that splits the state into two parts with the right population ratios, then continue recursively. This produces better district maps for less cost than present methods and is completely unbiased. Above: The blue map shows Massachusetts as gerrymandered to have 100 percent Democratic congressmen (courtesy Adam Carr, based on US census data), versus the districts that would have been produced by the CRV's method.
The world is approaching major crises, such as the end of cheap oil, the exhaustion of important fossil water reserves, climate change, overpopulation, and nuclear and bioweapon proliferation. So it is more important than ever that the world make the right decisions. But what is the decision-making algorithm for the world? With the US now the sole superpower, the closest simple approximation to the answer unfortunately is our country's appalling voting system. It features:
How can we change this system? What should we change it to? There are many obvious improvements, such as eliminating gerrymandering, not allowing partisan top election officials, and doing away with the electoral college, but unfortunately, these changes are unlikely.
In 2005, I founded the Center for Range Voting, which is currently suggesting a new voting solution. With range voting (RV), voters rate every candidate on an 0-9 scale (e.g. Gore=9, Nader=9, Browne=5, Bush=0, Phillips=X) or intentionally leave a candidate's score blank (the "X"). The candidate with the greatest average score wins. Blanks are not incorporated into the averaging, and hence do not affect outcomes.
Here are some properties of range voting:
If RV is enacted, then many problems, such as two-party domination, gerrymandering, 98 percent predictability, and media blackout of minor-party views will cure themselves over time. With RV, your vote says and does more, making voting more worthwhile. More than two candidates can have a chance, making it more likely one will appeal to you. Since people vote more often when they don't know the outcome, when they think their vote can have an impact, and when there are appealing candidates, RV should yield higher turnouts.
The Wisdom of Bees
Computer simulation studies give strong evidence that RV is the best among commonly proposed single-winner voting systems. A statistical yardstick called Bayesian Regret (BR) valuates voting systems by performing Monte Carlo computer simulations of an unlimited number of elections with artificial voters and candidates. The BR of a voting system depends not only on what voting system it is, but also on the number of voters and candidates, how the simulation makes each voter feel about each candidate, how ignorant voters are, how strategic they are versus how honest, etc.—there are many knobs on the side of the simulator you can turn. I performed a comprehensive study of all the most common voting system proposals, measuring the BR of each with 720 different knob settings. Range voting had a BR as good or better than every competitor at every one of the 720 settings. Six years later, I conducted a new simulation of three-candidate, left-middle-right scenarios and again RV clearly came out superior to all commonly proposed competitors.
Democrats and Republicans should enact RV in their primaries, especially the Iowa 2008 presidential-nomination caucuses. RV will tend to produce better presidential nominees versus plurality, benefiting that party's chances in the real election, without hurting them in any way. It will make them look like reformers and generate free publicity for them, voting reform, and the Iowa politicians who push for it. Iowan voters, as well, would appreciate RV's increased expressivity. And all it takes is a party's internal rule change, not even a new law. That means RV can really happen.
Visit the CRV Web site for more information, to post to the RV bulletin board, or to email CRV members.
About the Author
Published August 2006
What Matters is a guest opinion column written by a different
MIT alumnus or alumna each month. The views expressed in What Matters are
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of the Association or of MIT. For previous columns, please see the archives.
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