I Think I’ve Found a Political Windmill Worth Tilting At

I usually try to keep partisan politics to a tolerable minimum on this blog, and I still intend to. But I had a crazy idea that I wanted to share somewhere other than Twitter.

This year, a significant fraction of the country isn’t happy with either major party candidate. But because of the “first past the post” plurality voting method all states use for selecting their electoral college representatives, it makes it extremely hard for there to be more than two major parties at any given time. You see transitions when one parties goes the way of the Federalists or Whigs, but you never see three major parties stably coexist for very long. There is however no requirement that a state use a plurality voting system to select their electors. For many years, many people have been advocating for alternative voting methodologies such as the Instant Runoff/Preference Voting method (my personal favorite alternative voting method).

For those who don’t want to read the Wikipedia link above, the tl;dr version of Preference Voting is that on the ballot, instead of just making one candidate, you get to rank your order of preference. Ballots are tallied, and if no candidate gets at least 50% of the vote based on everyone’s first choices, the candidate with the least votes gets dropped, and the analysis rerun using the 2nd choices of those voters who picked that candidate. The process is continued until one candidate gets at least 50% of the vote.

The process isn’t perfect, it’s provably impossible to construct a perfect voting system, but if you’re unhappy with the two-party status quo, it’s probably the most practical option out there. It’s currently being used in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, India, and many municipalities in the US.

The challenge with enacting any alternative election method has always been that how do you get a two party system to enact a law that deliberately limits the power of their two parties?

One fact that helps is that you don’t actually have to do this on the national level to make a difference. A few states have already passed slight variations on the theme of winner-takes-all plurality voting. Nebraska and Maine both have plurality voting by congressional district, with the plurality winner at the state level getting the remaining two electors. But while the Nebraska and Maine approach does make marginal differences around the edges on how many electoral college votes each major party candidate gets, it still stacks the vote against third parties.

What finally got me thinking about an alternative when when I heard about Maine having a ballot initiative this year on whether or not to switch to a “ranked choice” (aka IRV or preference voting) scheme. Unfortunately for some reason they don’t include the presidential election, just governor, their US congressional representatives/senators, and state legislators, but it’s still a step in the right direction.

The nice thing about a ballot initiative is that this provides a potential end-run around the two-party machine in any given state. Admittedly, there are still tons of ways that political parties can oppose such a ballot initiative, but there have been examples of ballot initiatives passing even when strongly opposed by the two major parties.

So, my windmill tilting idea is that I want to figure out if we can get a similar ballot initiative started in Colorado, but this time with the presidential elections included. Here’s several reasons why I think Colorado might be an ideal state for such an initiative:

  1. Colorado has a track record of third party votes already–Ross Perot got nearly 1/4 of the votes in 1992, for instance, and Gary Johnson is currently polling up in the ~15-16% range in the state, and Jill Stein is up around 7% currently, with ~3% undecided.
  2. Colorado is a purple state, which means neither major party has a clear lock on the state. This means that there’s a chance you could get major party voters to vote for this if they thought that their candidate might benefit from more of the 2nd-place votes from 3rd parties.
  3. Colorado requires signatures from 5% of the people who voted for the Secretary of State’s last election in order to become a ballot initiative, but the secretary of state gets elected in non-presidential election years, so the turnout is typically lower–the 98k signatures requirement for a ballot initiative would only be 3.8% of the 2012 voter turnout, for instance.
  4. Colorado has a track record of passing iconoclastic (or at least leading-edge) ballot initiatives like the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the recent initiative that legalized the use of Marijauna.

Here a few thoughts in response to likely questions:

  1. What good will it do if only one state has an IRV voting process for president? First, I think it will likely lead to other states following suit, especially if the experience works out reasonably well. Second, in extremely close presidential elections, even one state going third party could prevent either major party candidate from securing 270 electoral votes, thus throwing the election to the House of Representatives. In the house, each state delegation only gets one vote, and the vote can only be for the three candidates with the highest electoral vote counts. In the case of a close presidential election, I think this would potentially give a benefit to compromise candidates who can appeal to members of both parties.
  2. Wouldn’t Preference Voting be more confusing for voters? According to the Wikipedia article, “In American elections with IRV, more than 99% of voters typically cast a valid ballot1.” This seems like a solvable problem.
  3. Isn’t it too late to get this on the ballot for 2016? I think so. But in some ways it might be better to start pushing for this in the next election. If this year’s presidential election is close, especially if the margin of victory is less than the third party vote, voters for whichever major party loses in Colorado might be swayed to support this initiative if one can make the plausible argument that their candidate would’ve benefited from being the 2nd choice of third party voters. Frankly if you’re a Democrat that thinks Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election in 2000, isn’t that functionally the same thing as saying you think Al Gore would’ve benefited from a preference voting system? Ralph Nader only cost Al Gore the election if Al Gore was really the second choice of enough Nader voters to have tipped the Florida election to Gore if Nader hadn’t been on the ballot.

It’s still a long-shot, but I think this is a really good idea, especially with the bad taste many people will have in their mouths from this year’s presidential election. I think I’ve found a political windmill well worth tilting at.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
  1. http://politicalreform.newamerica.net/files/irvracememo.pdf
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28 Responses to I Think I’ve Found a Political Windmill Worth Tilting At

  1. Bob Steinke says:

    fairvote.org is the most visible organization I’ve found supporting ranked choice voting. You could check with them if there is anyone working on this in Colorado already.

  2. Paul451 says:

    US voting seems to be a game of keeping the “enemy” from being able to vote, as much as it is winning the vote. Suppressing the vote of demographics that traditionally favour your opponents, and gerrymandering so that the result (number of districts won) differs wildly from the actual state totals.

    Something that might shift things (more than IRV) is compulsory voting. Although, since voting is meant to be anonymous, it’s more “compulsory attendance”, showing up to get your name ticket off. The penalty can be quite small, $20-50, and still result in 90+% turnout. That could be dramatic in mid-term and off-year elections.

    (It also overrides many “soft” voter suppression schemes, since the people most vulnerable to voter suppression are also those most likely to jump through hoops to avoid a monetary loss.)

  3. Paul451 says:

    Aside: The only way to get around gerrymandering (without a major battle in every state or a Constitutional amendment), would be to switch to proportional representation. This eliminates districts entirely and doles out seats based of candidates’ share of the votes. As a side-effect, that also helps independents and third-parties.

    Of course, this only eliminates deliberate “cheating” gerrymandering. There’s still an implicit gerrymandering in the states themselves; the population of districts in small states is vastly lower than large states. Again, the only way to eliminate that would be to have nation-wide single-electorate, proportional representation. But that would require a Constitutional amendment anyway.

  4. Paul451 says:

    While I’m arbitrarily rewriting electoral laws, I might as well add in a system I’ve always had a particular bug for: The Doge of Venice.

    In Renaissance Italy, the various principalities had different systems of choosing/electing/inheriting power. Most of them ended up with the two/three most powerful families feuding over power.

    Venice went a different way. They picked their ruler with a mix of election and lottery. Basically each of the ruling families had a single vote. More than two thirds had to vote on each representative in the next round. (That is, each representative had to have the support of two thirds of the entire assembly.) In the next round, the number of representatives was slashed by random draw. The newly trimmed mini-assembly would then select a larger assembly by, again, two thirds majority for each representative. The new assembly would be again trimmed by lot… and the process would repeat, apparently with much pomp and ceremony in each round. After seven (IIRC) rounds, the final assembly would vote on a Doge (ruler).

    The requirement for 2/3’s support for each representative tended to eliminate very partisan candidates. The random lottery tended to break up power blocks. Repeating the rounds refined the two processes, winnowing out partisans and eliminating power blocks. The process would tend to almost always choose a “wise elder” and completely eliminated the power-feuds between the most powerful families.

    I often wonder if we could use such a system to bypass our own partisan voting systems. The first “assembly” comes from a general election, after that you have seven rounds of selection by random lot alternating with election by 2/3 majority, until the final group elects the President/Governor/Mayor or whatever (again, by 2/3 majority).

  5. DougSpace says:

    A few years back I developed the VoteModerate.com concept. It would work to get the extreme partisanship out of politics without having to overcome the two-party system.

  6. I’ve long been a fan of instant-runoff voting, but I’ve never been able to figure out the dynamics of how it promoted new parties.

    Ideally, if you like one of the third-party candidates, then you put him/her as your first choice, then vote for the major party candidate that disgusts you least as second choice. In the first election, your first-choice candidate almost certainly doesn’t win. However, his/her percentage of the vote is much larger, because people can vote their conscience and still express a preference for the least loathsome alternative.

    But here’s the problem: you need to make sure that the data on how candidates were actually ranked is public, and in a reasonably understandable form. This is effectively the only real advantage to the third parties, because they have bragging rights to having done well in the previous election, which presumably gets them more share-of-mind in subsequent elections, until they can finally reach a majority.

    But there are all kinds of ways to spin this information that are going to be amazingly confusing. The most obvious will be that the major parties will advertise that the majority of voters who put third-party candidate x as their first choice chose major-party candidate y as their second choice. This gives the major parties a mighty big stick to co-opt third-party candidate voters in subsequent elections.

    That’s not all bad, especially if they co-opt those parties by adopting the juicy bits of their platform. But I still have this nagging feeling that it won’t take long for the Big Boys and Girls to develop a playbook for pulling the teeth of upstarts who look to be sneaking ahead of them in IRV.

    No doubt some enterprising game theoretician has analyzed this, but there are an awful lot of imponderables here.

  7. Peterh says:

    I’m a fan of Approval (aka binary ranked range) voting myself, as a good compromise between simple ballot and allowing voters to honestly express their opinion. But instant run-off isn’t a bad option. Plurality voting I’d rate as the worst of the simple and fair methods.

    Mandatory voting is a bad idea, pushing those least inclined to research the candidates and issues to cast a ballot anyway.

    Open primaries combined with plurality voting, like California currently has, are a disaster, pushing the State towards single party dominance.

    On the subject of primaries, a party need not (in a sane case) wait on the State government to implement something better than Plurality voting for selecting its candidates.

  8. Paul451 says:

    Peterh,
    “Mandatory voting is a bad idea, pushing those least inclined to research the candidates and issues to cast a ballot anyway.”

    The idea that voters are more informed than non-voters is a myth. A large proportion of people who vote reliably, do so mindlessly based on party loyalty or name recognition, rather than on genuine candidate research. Many people who don’t vote, make that choice because they are unhappy with the quality of candidates.

    I’ll grant you that people who don’t register to vote probably don’t pay attention to politics, or want to. But people who are registered, but choose to stay home, are not more ignorant than those who vote.

    (And again, because voting is anonymous, it’s better to have “mandatory attendance” rather than “mandatory voting”. Formalising this allows people to turn up, get their name checked off, and then pointedly choose not to vote.)

    Here in Australia, if fewer than two thirds of people cast valid votes (regardless of how many turned up), the whole ballot is struck, candidates dismissed, and the entire process starts again from scratch. In the US, if you got an almost two thirds turn-out, the media would be crowing about the “success” of democracy. In Australia, it would be seen as a political disaster.

    “Open primaries combined with plurality voting, like California currently has, are a disaster, pushing the State towards single party dominance.”

    I suspect that is more due to the performance of the last Republican government.

    TheRadicalModerate,
    “but I’ve never been able to figure out the dynamics of how it promoted new parties. […]
    But here’s the problem: you need to make sure that the data on how candidates were actually ranked is public, and in a reasonably understandable form.”

    In Australia, the percentage counts are published widely after the election.

    However, many voters will vote based on party-loyalty, so the third parties hand out “How To Vote” cards with the party’s preferred ranking of other parties. Third party votes decide the outcome in swing-seats, so for the major parties it’s critical that they are higher-preferenced on third-party H2V cards. The horse-trading involved in “swapping preferences” gives third-parties power long before they win a single seat in their own right, and hence the media speaks about them as important, as king-makers, and raises their public profiles.

    [Additionally (in Australia), the upper house is state-wide multi-seat electorate, so combined with IRV it makes it much easier to win a seat. You might need a “quota” of 10-14% of the state (depending on the state) to win a seat. If your support is distributed evenly, you can’t reach 50%+1 vote in any single-seat electorate, but you might be able to score a Senate seat. Once you do so, your visibility rises dramatically (especially if you hold the balance of power between the two major parties.)]

  9. johnhare John hare says:

    I’m against mandatory voting as I am against many things being mandatory. Forcing people to participate in something they are not all that interested in is a lousy philosophy whether they are more informed or not. I would be in favor of disenfranchising the majority of the uninformed public from voting except for, who decides?

  10. Andrew_W says:

    I’ve had cause recently to revise my opinions on American Conservatism:
    https://books.google.co.nz/books?id=vC2BDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA2&lpg=PA2&dq=#v=onepage&q&f=false

    I think that the first past the post system employed in the US and other countries has lead to a situation in which the voting system has forced people to vote and think in a single dimensional left – right spectrum, the result has been that those of the right have largely become nothing but reactionaries to the “progressivism” of the left, the progressive right (those on the right looking for positive change especially Classical Liberals) have been forced into the anti progress conservative party.

    In New Zealand, which switched from FPP to a proportional voting system in 1994, the National party (NZ’s version of the Republican party) has moved dramatically away from the strict conservative policies it used to have as a result of the threat of losing the previously captured classical liberal right vote.

    To a lot of people outside of the US the Republican party looks positively xenophobic, they always seem to be spouting an “America against the world” mindset, so if a change in the voting system were to lead to a less conservative Republican party, one with a more positive out look, a lot of foreigners would breath easier.

  11. Paul451 says:

    John,

    “I would be in favor of disenfranchising the majority of the uninformed public from voting except for, who decides?”

    Those already in power.

    And that’s the problem with non-mandatory voting. You allow those in power to use “soft” methods to disenfranchise groups they don’t like. Make it easier for their own weak-voters to enrol, attend, identify and vote, make it harder for the other side’s weak-voters to enrol, attend, identify and vote.

    Non-mandatory voting doesn’t uniformly weed out the disinterested/stupid/uninformed voters, hence it can be used to create a systematic bias. By making voting (or at least attendance) mandatory, you remove one more tool from those in power to corrupt the process.

    This knee-jerk reaction to “mandatory” makes you vulnerable to emotional manipulation by those who know damn well that mandatory voting hurts their ability to steal elections.

    The broader and more universal the voting pool, the harder it is to manipulate the process, that’s why you should always be suspicious of any “sensible” rule that disenfranchises a group (even criminals). Because any exemption to universal voting will be (and is being) manipulated.

  12. ken anthony says:

    To focus on how we vote misses the most important point which is that whoever votes should have skin in the game and enough information to make a good choice.

    We need a strong middle class.

    The rich want to avoid competition. The poor (not universally) want welfare.

    We need to encourage the traditional work ethic which is the opposite of Hillary’s call to tax the middle class more.

    How we vote (with all due respect) is the wrong windmill.

  13. Bob Steinke says:

    @ken anthony

    I disagree. I think there are plenty of well informed, thoughtful, skin-in-the-game voters who are discouraged by having to vote for the lesser of two evils.

    Just being able to vote your first choice and have it counted without a spoiler effect to suppress that vote is something, even if your second-choice lesser-of-two-evils candidate actually wins. Having an official tally that the Green party has the support of 20% of the electorate would get people motivated (or constitution party, or whatever). Think of how excited libertarians have gotten at the thought that Gary Johnson might get high enough poll numbers to participate in the debates even though he has no chance of winning the presidency. Think of how much time people spend yammering on political message boards that have no effect on political outcomes just because they want their opinion to be heard.

    I think one of the short term benefits of fixing the voting system will be increased participation in elections by people who aren’t cynically trying to protect some special interest, but rather who want to express their sincere philosophical beliefs. I think we would have several alternative political parties with 10%+ national support if we actually had an effective way of measuring that support.

  14. Andrew_W says:

    They FFP system certainly has the effect of suppressing opinions outside of those supported by the main two parties, an effect I think that can fairly be described as antidemocratic.

  15. ken anthony says:

    Bob, you’re making my point. Getting people enthused is part of the problem. The education we need is more fundamental than knowing candidates positions. We have issues that every voter should know but don’t which allows the demagogues to continue peddling their lies.

    The problem is not the voting system. It’s the hijacked education system. It’s 20 something talking heads that think they are spouting wisdom of the ages.

  16. Peterh says:

    Voters, mislead by a corrupted education system, voting stupidly is definitely part of the problem. But a better election system would force parties and candidates to do more than impress voters how “evil” their opposition is.

  17. ken anthony says:

    Agreed PeteH. I just think we have more fundamental problems. Changing voting systems would only be because we wanted different outcomes. Do we really know those outcomes would be better? I think it would be a lot like an untested algorithm. We think we know what the result would be but it’s greatly more difficult than tracing all the paths in some computer code.

    Remember Kirk saving the life of a woman that would bring peace to the world? The result, Hitler wins WW2. Humans are just not that smart.

    The fundamental problem with elections is that politicians lie. The solution to that used to be a relatively unbiased media. Why are they biased? Tax money and corruption. What the Clinton’s did in Haiti was just a tiny example of what happens every day. We take issue with ACORN so they change their name but not their address. The money continues to be funneled to them.

    Putin is known to deniably kill his opponents. Hillary just has people committing suicide with two different caliber guns. Given that, how we vote has no effect.

  18. Bob Steinke says:

    @ken anthony

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your point because I don’t see how what I said is “making your point”.

    It sounds like you are saying that there are lots of people who don’t have the traditional work ethic or are brainwashed by the hijacked education system and getting them motivated to vote won’t fix anything because they will make bad choices.

    Am I correctly understanding your point? If not please correct me.

    If I am correctly understanding your point then what I’m saying is that I disagree with that. I think there are plenty of intelligent informed voters, and the only reason we keep electing bad politicians is because people are only given two bad politicians to choose from. I’m also saying that I think intelligent informed voters are discouraged by this situation to a proportionately greater degree so removing this discouragement will improve the quality of the electorate.

  19. gbaikie says:

    –Bob Steinke says:
    September 21, 2016 at 11:18 am

    @ken anthony

    I disagree. I think there are plenty of well informed, thoughtful, skin-in-the-game voters who are discouraged by having to vote for the lesser of two evils.–

    I don’t know why thoughtful people are discouraged voting for lessor of two evils.
    As the idea that any politician can be a force for good is not thoughtful.
    Hitler was obviously the greater evil. As was Napoleon, despite some French people
    considering Napoleon as exciting/romantic.
    One should not need a murderer to prove that murdering is a bad thing to do- and that
    was about all that Napoleon did.
    One could want a great president.
    Reagan was a great president- but one should not confuse great with a saint. And a saint would probably be the worst president to elect.
    Who will do the least harm, is difficult. One could make the mistake that someone doing less, would be doing less harm- or why, a saint would probably be the worst president.
    A thoughtful person who voted for Obama, would have to be disappointed, unless they wanted a president who played a lot of golf and constantly divided the nation.
    A thing about Trump is that republicans could wonder [and fear] where is he taking the republican party, but I also imagine thoughtful dems are asking the same question in regards to Hillary.

    I think a point about more choices of a third persons, is, if no candidate get the 270, the Congress picks the President. Does anyone wants that? I doubt the Congress actually wants to do this. I suppose if you hate the Congress enough, you could want them to decide it.
    What seems important is who is elected in Congress- in this election in particular- but also generally speaking. Or third choice will start with third choices in Congress- which is fairly dismal at the present.
    Anyways, Monday, get your booze and/or popcorn.

  20. ImpalerWrG says:

    Note that the traiditonal systems of ranked choice voting are rigged to make sure 3rd parties and particularly moderates never win. Most people don’t realize this and have never realized the process is unfair.

    The problem is in the ‘elimination’ of the candidate with the lowest 1st choice count and the divvying up of their support amoungst the remaining candidates who do not suffer the same fate. That’s not a necessary step to determine a winner in the case that no one has a majority of first choice votes, instead you can simply keep all candidates in consideration and add to every candidates 1st choice count all of the total 2nd choice votes for them regardless of which voter they come from. Then IF any candidate is over 50 percent then the candidate with the highest score wins, if not then go to 3rd and 4th choices until all are considered at which point the leading candidate would win by default, but all candidates remain in contention at all levels of count. This allows a consensus candidate who is the 2nd choice of the majority of voters to be the winner. And it means that minor parties and candidates are not as easily cannibalized by larger parties by the implicit threat of the ‘other side’ winning.

  21. Bob Steinke says:

    @ImpalerWrG

    You are right that once people have voted by ranking their preferences there are multiple methods for calculating the winner (for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condorcet_method), and “eliminate the candidate with the fewest #1 rankings” might not be best. But I would avoid splitting hairs about this for several reasons:

    1) As Jon said, it’s provable that there is no perfect method that has all possible desirable properties.

    2) Any form of ranked choice voting including “eliminate the candidate with the fewest #1 rankings” is way better than first past the post voting.

    3) The differences between the ways of calculating the winner are esoteric details that will confuse and turn off most voters.

    4) There’s no difference between the methods in how the voter interacts with the system. For all of the methods the voter just provides a ranking of all candidates in order of preference. Getting ranked choice ballots in the hands of voters and getting them comfortable with them is way more important than the specific method of calculating the winner. The calculating method can be changed later as a small tweak.

    I think that’s why I’ve noticed that the terminology has shifted away from “instant runoff voting” to “ranked choice voting” over the past few years. “ranked choice voting” merely describes how the voter interacts with the ballot without specifying the specific method for calculating the winner.

  22. ImpalerWrG says:

    You make a good, point and I agree it is a improvement over the status quo, anything would be as First past the post is provably the worst system possible.

    My personal preference is for the multiple selection approval voting discussed by Peterh earlier, it has the advantage of being easier to physically mark the ballot, tabulate it and understand for the voter as well as being immune to manipulating the tabulation process.

  23. ImpalerWrG says:

    While I’m at it I might throw out some legislative fixes too.

    For the lower house I would replace elections with sortition, the system actually used in Athens, elections were the preferred means in Sparta let that sink in. Sortition means picking randomly so this would essentially be jury duty for every citizen, 1 year term with the first 6 months as a non-voting observer and the second as a voting member, continuous rolling membership replacement every day a dozen terms end and another dozen begin, legislation voted on by secret ballot.

    For the upper house direct representatives elected nation wide. No districts all candidates run together, each candidates vote count becomes their votes cast on legislation rather then each having 1 vote, they can handle the math involved. The bodies size is capped at some specific number and the top vote recipient candidates are elected with any candidates below the cut-off able to select one of the winners to transfer their vote count too which is publicly recorded.

    With these 2 legislative branches and the aforementioned approval voting based executive you would have all the structures pushing away from a partisan system rather then towards it.

  24. Peterh says:

    Sortition would tend to solve some partisan corruption problems. But it needs a very large legislative body to even out randomness. Say a few hundred representatives from smaller States. A larger legislative body has other benefits, like making it harder to collude secret deals in legislation.

  25. ImpalerWrG says:

    At the national level I think a thousand is a decent number for a sortition based body, at a state level a few hundred would would suffice and at local levels around 100. Larger size is a barrier to corruption but I would think that the nature of sortition itself would be a far more important barrier as the interest group has to constantly approach new individuals which it has no relationship with, remember that most corruption is done by forming personal connections with the person to be influenced first as a kind of camels nose under the tent, when you personally know is asking you to do something wrong it’s a lot harder to resist. The short term and blank slate nature of a randomly selected individual makes it nearly impossible to slowly corrupt the individual, interest groups would need to resort to out of the blue bribes which are very risky as your bribe target may just immediately turn you in.

  26. Peterh says:

    A problem with a rapidly rotating legislature of novices is that it shifts a lot of power in the direction of legislative aids who know how things work, employed by the legislators. You might get around that with overlapping terms in office and enough legislators that they don’t need aids to keep up.

    As for the number of legislators, a random sample of 1000 gives a roughly 3% error margin. With enough random variation and a rapid rotation the executive may just have to wait for the legislature to momentarily shift in his favor.

  27. Paul451 says:

    Peterh,
    “Sortition would tend to solve some partisan corruption problems. But it needs a very large legislative body to even out randomness. Say a few hundred representatives from smaller States.”

    In the Doge of Venice system, with its unique mix of cycles of sortition and election, you don’t need a large pool in the sortition round. In the original system just 9 members are selected in several of the sortion rounds for the subsequent election rounds. And it worked fairly successfully for over 500 years (compared to the chaos amongst their neighbours.)

    There’s been an analysis of optimal sizes to break voting-blocks, and it’s seven rounds, with rounds 2-7 alternating between 9 and 45 members. (Round 1 is the selection of the full college.) Ie, randomly select 9 who elect 45 (each by a 7 vote supermajority!), from which you randomly select 9, who elect 45, from which you select 9, who elect 45. The final 45 then elect the Doge (or President/etc) with a required majority of 25.

    Ie, n, 9, 45, 9, 45, 9, 45, 1.

    In any election round where the 9-member panel can’t agree on candidates to the next round by supermajority (if there’s a faction of 3 who hold the process hostage unless they get their way), then after a certain time, or by a simple majority vote by the panel, the panel is dismissed and the process degrades back one step to a new sortition round from the previous group.

    The supermajority in the election rounds is a critical part of the system. It protects minority voices, it rewards compromise and horse-trading, it rewards popularity but it punishes divisive populism. Each round of supermajority election tends to exclude both the most divisive and most disagreeable people, each round of sortition tends to break up voting blocks. You gradually chip away at both until you have a dull, mushy, agreeable council of broadly liked, trusted and respected, non-threatening “wise elders”.

    (The actual Venetian system used slightly different numbers, which varied in each round and changed between eras. (n, 30,9,40,12,25,9,45,11,41,1 was the longest lasting version.) It’s thought that the irregularity just suited the mentality of the Venetian oligarchs. Their art/architecture/music around that time was also very ornate. There was reportedly a lot of overly elaborate ritual surrounding each round.)

  28. Paul451 says:

    Aside,

    “But it needs a very large legislative body to even out randomness. Say a few hundred representatives from smaller States.”

    Not related to sortition, but I’ve seen a proposal to reduce the size of electorates close to the minimum allowed in the constitution (30,000?) resulting in 12-13000 representatives. Obviously they couldn’t all meet, but the proposal was that they’d vote on legislation electronically. (I’d suggest they could also elect from amongst their own number a 100 or so super-representatives who would actually work in DC and man the various committees and hands-on processes.)

    (For the first fifty years, the size of each district was less than 50,000. By contrast, the current average size is nearly 700,000.)

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