A campaign to make Iowa Democrats and/or Republicans adopt "Range Voting" in their 2008 caucuses.

    Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the Earth. —Archimedes.

(Executive summary)

We want to try to unify all voting reform forces behind a push to get single-digit range voting in at least one main party's Iowa 08 caucus. We summarize ten reasons for that:

  1. Iowa gets a lot of nationwide media attention and has a lot of power but it is a small enough state that we have maybe a hope to affect it. It will be a perfect stage on which to bring this issue to the fore.
  2. Iowa 08 will probably feature about 10 Democrats competing, and about 10 Republicans competing. And it will be rather unclear a priori who among them are the "frontrunners." We know that scenario maximizes the quality advantages of range voting (including its single digit simplified version which we recommend for Iowa 08) versus every other system including approval, plurality, and IRV.
  3. There is a good chance that a substantially better president will be elected if Iowa 08 uses single digit range, than if it stays as is. If that happens then quite likely all will see that it happened, and consequently it will become clear to a very large number of people that range voting is a big win. That would be a very good development. It is important to optimize it.
  4. There is a smaller chance of this good development if Iowa 08 uses approval voting. We cannot afford to frivolously sacrifice 50% or so of this chance. (See table below for details.)
  5. Because Iowa 08 Caucuses use pen & paper voting and hand calculators, and that can handle single digit range voting just as simply as approval or plurality voting (see demo), there is no reason we need to insist on approval. (And because of Jan Kok's approach, any plurality voting machine can be used to handle single digit range voting, so in many US states it would be ok to go directly to it.) Since range voting is a better ultimate goal than approval voting, it is best to draw media attention to it, as opposed to trying to distort things to create the false impression AV is better and RV does not exist, and then plan later to change the stance and say that now range is better, we just conveniently forgot to say it before. By pushing for range in Iowa 08 there will automatically be media discussion of both AV and RV. This is good. More discussion and more intelligent discussion is better. Less, and less intelligent, discussion is worse.
  6. If Iowa 08 were to use IRV, there is a small chance there would be a huge screw-up in a close election held with manual counting. If that happened it would be a giant blow against voting-reform advocates which might destroy the movement. Also, it would make whatever party leaders & etc who had enacted this reform, look stupid. It is foolish to take that risk. Essentially, the only downside for the major parties and advocates who push for better voting system in Iowa 08, is that there could be an enormous Florida-2000-style screw-up involving lawsuts, chads, etc. Everything else (free publicity, quality of winner, ability of voters to express their opinion) is upside. If IRV is used, then this sole downside risk is amplified considerably because there are many IRV rounds, each one of which could be such a near-tie disaster. But with range voting this risk (versus either plurality or approval voting) is actually diminished! That means there is no downside whatever!
  7. Many believe Iowa screwed up the 2004 election by pushing the bad choice Kerry to the fore. If the USA had used better election systems then it is plausible a better result would have happened. (For example, perhaps you believe Dean would have been a better choice. It is possible that Iowans, if they had been able to award nonzero scores to all candidates, not just one, would have by means of their scores for 2nd and 3rd choice candidates, chosen a different winner with more overall support, who would then perhaps have beaten Bush in the main election. Many Iowans may feel that way. If so, that gives voting reform a chance.
  8. Iowa State law need not be changed, as far as I know, only the individual policies of the Democrat and Republican parties about how they run their caucuses (and these policies already differ). That makes our job easier.
  9. If it is your belief that 2-party domination is bad and/or that one or more third parties deserve more support, then range voting should be supported by you because my research indicates that RV is more effective than AV at breaking the stranglehold and supporting 3rd parties. Third parties experimentally got lots more votes under RV than AV in 2004 RV and AV pseudoelections held with real voters (see table).
  10. In most situations, some Democrats and Republican party leaders would have some greedy personal motivations to be against approval or range voting because it encourages 3rd parties (especially RV does) and because they got elected with plurality and do not want to change it. That motivation means we will generally always lose in our struggle. (An ant cannot win a battle with a donkey and an elephant.)

    But, Iowa 08 is a near-unique situation in which the Democrats and Republicans are both totally motivated to want range voting! (The ant merely has to make them aware if that!)

    We cannot afford to miss out on this excellent alignment of the planets. We must unify behind Iowa 08 and range voting. This opportunity likely will not re-arise for another 8 years.

In fact, essentially every player involved in Iowa 08 is motivated to want range voting. Let us check the list:

  1. Both parties are strongly motivated to want to choose the best presidential candidate. Range voting is the best method, expected-quality-wise, among the feasible options. If they use it in Iowa 08 it will not directly hurt the other Democrat and Republican politicians who all want to stay ossified with plurality (since that is the system that elected them) – but having Iowa give them a better presidential candidate will help them all quite directly.
  2. Both major parties are strongly motivated to get free publicity. If one party but not the other in Iowa 08 switches to range voting, then they will get a lot of free publicity at no cost to them, and also benefiting our voting reform cause. They want that and we especially want that.
  3. Both parties want to act like they are on the side of reform and kicking out the "ossified corrupt insiders" although, cynics might feel they prefer to sound that way without actually doing it. (Cynics could point to, say, GOP leader Tom DeLay, whom Republicans have left in charge despite numerous reprimands by the House Ethics Committee and rumors he is soon to be indicted. Indeed, in a show of brute power the GOP reacted by actually shutting down the ethics committee!) My point is Iowa 08 is a rare occasion where reform might actually not be blocked by the likes of DeLay, but instead actually supported by all, including him, because it benefits his side. That would give the parties (or whichever one did it) a rare opportunity to crow about standing behind genuine reform, with no downside for them. (In contrast: if the GOP had kicked out DeLay, that would have given them the opportunity to crow about reform, but also would have involved a downside. What we are suggesting is reform with no downside.)
  4. Let's work through the players in order. From the view of Democratic national party leaders: They get a better presidential candidate out of Iowa, leading to a better chance of winning the presidency. And it costs them nothing, in fact they get good free publicity as "voting system reformers" and get to lord it over the Republicans if the Ds do it but the Rs do not. They will also likely pick up a lot of the 3rd-party voters for their side, if they do voting system reform but the Rs do not, and that alone could swing the election their way because
    1. Third party voters were 1% of plurality voters in 2004 – enough to swing a close election,
    2. More importantly, 1% is a vast under-estimate of the true counts of third-party sympathizers. As our polls in 2004 showed, if a non-distortionary voting system (Range) had been used instead of plurality, then third-party supporters would have been vastly more numerous, indeed as high as 49% (depending on what you count). That means the Ds and Rs by doing this may get a vast boost, easily enough to swing the election. And it sure can't hurt.
  5. Republican national party leaders. (Exact same thinking as above for Democrat leaders.)
  6. Democratic rank-and-file members nationwide. (Ditto.)
  7. Republican rank-and-file members nationwide. (Ditto.)
  8. USA "third" parties, who are being unfairly crucified by defects of the plurality system, should welcome any step toward getting an improved voting system with open arms. Third parties need Range Voting and would be suicidally stupid to want IRV, Approval, or Plurality, so they should welcome range in Iowa 08.
  9. Democratic Iowan party leaders: In addition to all the reasons we gave above for Democrats: They will cause Iowans to have a greater and more accurate say about whatever they want to say, by switching to range voting, thus becoming more popular with Iowans and gaining national stature and publicity by making the right move to lead the way in reforming US democracy. For them that is a win-win scenario with no downside.
  10. Republican Iowan party leaders. (Ditto.)
  11. Iowan voters: Get more accurate say in affecting history. Less chance of making a historic mistake caused by strategic distortions and plurality votes' inability to express any opinion about more than one candidate; get more chance of electing somebody better for all of Iowa and USA; get to participate in historic reform and lord it over the democratically-backward rest of the USA.

Details re advantages of range over approval in Iowa 08:

I attempted to resuscitate my old sim software to run it on an as-Iowa-08-like scenario as possible. Specifically, I did 9 candidates, 101 voters, and 9999 runs (i.e. all results are averaged over 9999 randomized elections) where the utilities are generated based on I "issues" each voter feels randomly about, plus a random perturbation.

Iowa Simulation Results:
Voting system Regret (0 issues) Regret (3 issues)
strategic range = approval 0.84 0.39
strategic plurality = strategic IRV 2.99 1.01
honest range 0.04 0.05
honest approval 0.59 0.28
honest plurality 1.94 0.76
honest IRV 0.94 0.45
random winner 4.36 1.48

(Errors in regret values are of order +-0.06 or less in first column, 0.03 in second.)

so as you can see in the Iowa-08-like scenario, it really really is a big win to use range voting. It wins a factor of 6 to 15 in terms of reduced regret versus approval, if voters are "honest." Based on my previous real world polling experience I think a rough estimate is 50-50 honest-strategic voter mix. (In reality a lot fewer than 50% are fully strategic but a lot of the nonstrategic ones appear to be partially strategic so I think 50-50 mixture is a decent approximate model.) In that case I estimate the regret with range will be about half the regret with approval (i.e. 50-50 mixture of "same" and "way less").

(What the numbers mean: "Bayesian regret" is explained "for dummies" here.)

The source of this really really big win is: approval tends to look less good if there are many candidates (here 9) and if a reasonable fraction of the voters are honest. (Indeed, with honest voters, approval is worse than Borda with 5 or more candidates.) Range voting allows taking advantage of honesty while not suffering from strategy. In Iowa we expect voters to be more honest than in most elections since they simply do not know who the "frontrunners" are, preventing them from being as strategic as most voters in most elections can be.

You can try to translate this all yourself into estimated probabilities that approval or range will select a different and clearly better candidate than plurality in Iowa 08, thus providing a huge boost for voting reform and a huge boost for whatever party was smart enough to use range voting in Iowa 08. Or, forget trying to do that yourself – simply consult our simulations that directly estimate the probability that the Range and Approval winners will differ (we find about 31% chance for an Iowa-like situation; or see our more general tables), and the probabilities that the Range winner will differ from the Plurality winner (we find over 80% chance of difference, in a random-election model).

Obviously the chances of that huge boost, are far better if we go with range voting, not approval. It is insane to sacrifice the opportunity for such a huge win for our team, and for the USA and world, (by "sacrifice" I mean "reduce chances by a factor of about 2") purely because of some kind of misplaced psychological confusion about approval and distractions. That stuff does not add up to a hill of beans versus reducing the expected regret of the entire USA by this much.

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