New Year, New Voting System?
by Ukamaka Ezimora
JAN. 15, 2021 | 6:14 PM
What’s your new years’ resolution? State legislatures’ resolution is to start 2021 with focus on election procedures.
The predominant philosophy around voting within the United States (and the Western world) is plurality voting, the ‘one person’, ‘one vote’ methodology. Controversial elections such as last term’s and this terms’ have left voters on both sides feeling like their voice wasn’t heard. Though some see plurality as the common-sense approach, many people see it as the source of much unfairness in election results. As these concerns compound with the coronavirus pandemic and upheaval over racial inequality, the United States must seek to address its problems by empowering people to have a stake in the electoral process. This can be accomplished through reform. 2020 has the opportunity to stimulate massive improvements in the American electoral system. The most common issue with plurality voting is the matter of vote splitting, in which multiple candidates run on similar platforms and each gets a share of (thereby "splitting") the same electorate. When this happens, a candidate disliked by the majority can still win a race since the vote against them is split.
Within the US, the most common form of vote splitting is the spoiler impact, in which a third candidate draws a significant share of the votes from either the Democrat or the Republican that would have otherwise won. The 1992 triumph of Charge Clinton over George H.W. Bush was the result of (Republican) vote splitting by the spoiler candidate Ross Perot. The 2000 triumph of George W. Bush over Al Gut was the result of (Democrat) vote splitting by spoiler candidate Ralph Nader.
Vote splitting can be successfully avoided by changing the voting strategy. There are different approaches to this conclusion, each with its pros and cons. Many of them depend on the use of ranked ballots. Ranked choice voting allows voters the option to rank candidates in order of preference: one, two, three, and so forth. If your vote cannot help your top choice win, your vote counts for your next choice. Once voting is conducted in this way, there are various approaches to decide which candidate wins.
A survey (512 participants) was conducted by my professor, Alejandro Gutierrez, who asked students to rank their favorite superheroes from 1-12, with 1 being the best.
Each column is a single voter’s “ballot” or survey entry. Every row shows the frequency of which that superhero received that rank. This "ballot data" has been processed through the four voting methods described above.
What do the results show?
In this presidential race (Batman took that term quite literally) Iron Man always won. Though this result wasn’t intentional, and was purely due to the nature of the data (everyone loves Iron Man), it goes to show that no voting system is perfect. Read about the flaws of each here. Though voting reform could make a difference is who’s in government, this mock election showed the alternate reality wherein which it made absolutely no change. Making a change in government is a mix of efforts. If you want to make a difference, you may need to seek change in not only the system, but the people. So educate yourself about the changes being made in your city, because as shown above, sometimes it’s not the big things, but the little things that count.
Press Play. If the window is too small, click the red link to resize.
On a scale of 1-12 (1 being the highest), cast your rankings.
Based on what you learned about the voting types above, guess who you think will win. Select that candidate with the yellow dropdown.
Click a button to simulate that voting method.
To go more into depth about voting paradoxes, how to compare voting methods, general voting theory, and other voting methods that weren’t covered, read more from these sources:
More on the benefits of Ranked Choice Voting: