Voting in Elections by T-Bone

I’ve always thought the primary system only really makes sense in an era when the primary modes of transportation are walking and riding horses and when acces to newspapers and magazines (not to mention the internet) is very limited.

The post below is by reader T-Bone.


The current US voting system seems rather inefficient in selecting candidate the “majority” really wants. The primaries usually end up selecting a more extreme candidate (very liberal for democrats, very conservative for republicans), and making those 2 candidates the only 2 worth voting for, since no other candidate has a chance. Currently, 3rd party candidates or a candidate who loses the primary but continues to run can split votes. Even though the majority of voters might have wanted either of those 2 candidates to win, they only get to choose one of them. This could allow an opposition opponent to win with a minority of the vote.

For example, Ralph Nader is commonly blamed for acquiring votes that would probably otherwise go to the democrat Al Gore, helping him to win a close presidential race. If your preferred candidate isn’t going to win, do you vote for him/her just on principle, or do you select between only the 2 major contenders. What I suggest is a system where you don’t need make that choice, a system where you can place an order-of-preference vote.

I think it would be a relatively simple and effective solution to have a system where each candidate’s votes are compared to another candidate’s votes individually. If in the 2000 election you select Nader as your #1 choice, and Al Gore as your 2nd choice, the system would take that into account. It might first do an analysis of Nader. It might compare Nader to Bush, seeing how many people Bush ranked higher than Nader. If you your order of preference goes Gore-Nader-Bush, or Nader-Bush-Gore, or Nader-Gore-Bush, then that adds to the vote count for Nader in this comparison. Likewise, having Bush’s name coming before Nader’s name in your preferences, It counts as a vote for Bush in this comparison. The system does the same for Nader vs Gore, and Gore vs Bush, etc. The winner will be the candidate that beats all other candidates in head-to-head comparisons, finding themselves ranked higher than the opposing candidate in order of preference.

Imagine 3 candidates, L (Liberal), M (Moderate), and C (Conservative). Now allow voters to rank the candidates in order of preference. Starting with 2 voters (1 liberal, 1 conservative), their order of preference might look like the following:

Voter 1: L > M > C (voter prefers Liberal, then moderate, and lastly conservative)
Voter 2: C > M > L

You might have thought this would have resulted in the moderate candidate winning, but it’s actual a 3-way tie. Evaluating candidate L, he has the vote of voter #1, but voter # 2 makes him tied versus both candidates M and C (since voter #2 prefers either of those 2 over candidate L). And vice-versa for candidate C.

Now if you add in a 3rd voter, a moderate, with voting preferences like this:
M > L > C

You get results:
L vs C = 2 votes to 1
M vs L = 2 to 1
M vs C = 2 to 1

Candidate M has beaten both opponents and wins this election.
How about this one:

L > M > C
C > M > L
C > M > L
M > L > C

L > M > C
C > M > L
C > M > L
M > L > C

Results are:
C vs L = 2-2
C vs M = 2-2
M vs L = 3-1

This one is a tie between C and M. But L has lost because more voters favor M over L. You need to beat everyone to win. But it’s very unlikely that there would be an unclear result, just as in our current system (but of course, with only 4 voters in the example, ties and such are much more likely).

Also, there is no need for every voter to rank every candidate. People can still vote for just one candidate, or just rank 2 of them etc. Their vote will still be just as effective. But they will just not influence comparisons between 2 candidates they did not rank.

This could make primaries obsolete. Politicians will need to appeal to all people. Even if the majority of Americans wanted to vote democratic, the democratic candidates would have to appeal to as many people as possible, even conservatives, so that they are more often ranked higher than their competitors. Even if the democrats are assured of victory over conservatives, then which democrat gets elected depends on which one appeals most to the republicans.

Likewise, in the 2004 election, a popular slogan was “Anybody but Bush”. If Republicans still won, but Bush had to face a Republican, Bush would probably need all of the conservatives to rank him higher than his fellow Republican competitor, because I’m sure most liberals would rate that Republican competitor higher than Bush. But even better, imagine that you can have a 2nd Republican being a viable choice and not simple resigned to defeat after losing the party ticket… now you’d have a Republican pointing out the faults of Bush, forcing Bush to try to appeal to the center (but more likely failing and being replaced with a more moderate candidate). Of course, it works on both sides of the aisle… Democrats will have the same challenge to face.