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Electoral engineering


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#1 Omega

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Posted 04 January 2017 - 10:56 PM

Since I'm burned out on partisan politics, and since I'm disillusioned with the people of some of my various communities, I've decided to focus on my personal interests instead. One of those is electoral systems. What makes an electoral system good or bad? There are many directions I've seen people suggest our elections need improvement. Can they be quantified and synthesized into an overall approach to good elections?

Naturally, I'm looking at this like an engineer. Engineers design systems to meet specifications. Those specifications often contradict each other, and some balance has to be found. There are two steps in the process of checking a design, equally critical. Verification asks whether the system meets its specifications. (Did you build the thing right?) Validation asks whether the specifications serve the needs of the user.  (Did you build the right thing?)

Posted Image

So when it comes to elections, what are the needs of the user (the people)? From there, we can derive specifications to meet those needs.

I posit that the needs of the people in elections fall into five categories, with "good" usually somewhere on a spectrum between two extremes:
  • Accuracy: Does the outcome accurately reflect the preferences and intent of the constituents? (universal good)
  • Accessibility: Who is allowed to vote? And can all those nominally allowed to vote actually do so? (minimal case is oligarchy, maximal case is rule by uninformed mob of children)
  • Step response: How long does the system take to respond to sudden changes in the preferences of the constituents? (minimal case is mob rule, maximal case is dictatorship)
  • Trust: How much do constituents trust the system to operate according to their needs? (minimal case is social unrest and chaos, maximal case allows no detection of flaws)
  • Cost efficiency: How many resources are spent on elections? (minimal case denies necessary resources, maximal case is wasteful)
I further posit that any election can be divided into seven steps:
  • Define constituency
  • Trigger election
  • Fund election
  • Define ballot
  • Cast votes
  • Count votes
  • Determine outcome
The intersections between the needs and the steps categorize the possible specifications. My list so far is as follows, in no real order or sane categorization:

Define the constituency
Minimize voters without clear preferences (children, the mentally incompetent... others?)
Beyond that, how is the constituency defined? Geographically? By votes cast? By pre-existing groups?
Does the definition of constituency inflict bias on the system? (Gerrymandering)

Step response
How quickly do elections respond to changes in the will of the people? Too slow is a dictatorship. Too fast is instability and chaos.
Compare to control system step response, sampling and aliasing effects.


Funding
Do elections have sufficient funding to function?
How many voting locations is too many?
Avoid recounts wherever possible
Minimize required human labor

Accuracy
Accuracy of preference. Did the voter cast their vote to reflect true preference? Tactical voting considerations. Blackmail considerations, requiring secret ballot.
Accuracy of intent. Was the vote counted as cast? Can this be confirmed by the voter? Breaks secret ballot.
Prevent votes from being created or destroyed.
Check for statistical anomalies, like massive shifts in voting patterns, numbers of votes cast vs. registered voters, or entire precincts favoring one candidate at 100%.


Other issues


Voter relative weight: in some elections not all votes have equal weight, so how wide is the spread?
Maximum unrepresented fraction: in all elections some people are not represented in the outcome, both as a fraction of the constituency and as a fraction of the overall populace. Quantify this fraction. Consider that it changes over time as the constituency changes between elections.
Disability access
Candidate ballot access
Ballot ease of use
Ballot lack of bias; random order per voter
Cost of voting to the constituent

Voter identification
Point-of-voting incorrect admissions/rejections, and balance between them

Ballot confirmation by voter after casting
Vote recording
Translate votes to an outcome, many possible ways
Transparency at all steps
Public oversight of counting
Public recount possibility
Bayesean regret of voting systems

I think the above covers every flaw in voting systems I've ever seen suggested, and then some. I think this defines a framework within which every possible voting system, good and bad, can be defined and quantified, allowing conscious and purposeful selection of tradeoffs between them. I could even imagine that every aspect of the election could be given some numerical score, translating to an overall score of good-ness for the system as a whole.

Edited by Omega, 05 January 2017 - 09:02 AM.


#2 sierraleone

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Posted 05 January 2017 - 08:17 AM

I will need some more time to digest the details (heading to work soon), but I am wondering if something is missing.

Freedom/choice. You see some elections in near/actual dictatorships where the dictator gets some 98/99% of the vote. That hardly seems like  natural human behaviour. Of course this could fall under other categories (accuracy & step-response - it only has the veneer of, trust, whether the other candidate(s) have access to voters/funds/ballots). I could add in the term as well, which may cover them both: representation. Add that to accurate. I mean, when I think about it, it sort of underpins the whole thing actually, that is what democracy is supposed to be, but it is not actually stated like I have is all.

Anyways, got to run.
Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#3 Omega

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Posted 05 January 2017 - 08:58 AM

I'll have to think about it myself, but I think maybe what you're mentioning is covered under what I call accuracy. (I see now I didn't include definitions! I'll edit my post.) The outcome of votes in pseudo-democracies doesn't accurately reflect the preference of the constituents, either because there was only one candidate available to vote for, or because they were threatened into voting a particular way, or because the votes weren't actually counted as cast, or because the ballot boxes were stuffed.

You can also achieve dictatorship through accessibility (just don't let some/most people vote) and through step response (hold elections with extreme infrequency) or through cost efficiency (cut costs so much that most people have no opportunity to vote). You might even be able to get there through trust, by reducing peoples' faith in the elections so much they break the system and choose to have a dictator instead.

The point about the dictator getting 99% of the vote is really interesting, because you can build detection of such into the system! Found this paper a while back:
Posted Image

Edited by Omega, 05 January 2017 - 08:58 AM.


#4 sierraleone

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Posted 05 January 2017 - 10:58 AM

^ Thanks for the edit, I had to guess what step-response was :)

I am wondering if that paper included, or looked at, places with mandatory/compuslary voting (Australia I knew - according to Wikipedia much of Latin America, Zaire, Egypt & Libya for men, Turkey, Greece, Thailand and N Korea, plus a couple others.)

- From phone

Edited by sierraleone, 05 January 2017 - 11:01 AM.

Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#5 sierraleone

sierraleone

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Posted 27 January 2018 - 09:51 PM

Bump! I saw a WaPo article on how it is hard to completely fix gerrymandering (gawd, they are making the perfect any enemy of the good there), and they link to a nifty map-project by 538 showing the nation divided into its 435 seats 8 difference ways (favouring a party, proportional, competitive, compact, etc), with lots of data to compare. You can look at specific states (I looked at North Carolina, Michigan, Texas), and see how badly or not that they are gerrymandered.

https://projects.fiv...stricting-maps/
Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html


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