Draft Proposal for 10/30- Politics and Electoral Reform

Posted by & filed under Assemblies, Past Proposals.

Voting Experiment

A Project of the Political and Electoral Reform Working Group

Request for Funds from the General Assembly: $538

Project Spokespersons for Questions and Updates:

Kay @kaay

Tim @timtpi

Stefan Agapie @stefan

Political and Electoral Reform Working Group Proposal for Alternative Voting Experiment

The PERWG is devoted to investigating and exploring reforms that would lead to a more direct democracy and a more representative government. Among these potential reforms are recommendations to states and localities to experiment with alternative voting methods such as ranked choice voting, range voting and approval voting. There are not very many concrete experiments that have been conducted comparing and contrasting these voting systems and methods with plurality voting, the most common method employed in the United States.

We have therefore begun preliminary work for an experiment that would allow our working group to collect data on how different voting methods and systems affect the outcome of votes on a variety of issues. This would require participants in the GA and the people of Liberty Plaza to cast votes at their leisure in a series of mock ballots on a variety of issues, that our group will organize and set up in the square. We seek a consensus of the GA in support of our experiment to ensure that we there will be enough individuals who participate and enough data collected to be able to draw reasonably scientific conclusions from the results.

Background

There has been long-standing consensus among experts that “first-past-the-post” voting used in US public elections mathematically favors a two-party system, and that other voting structures (ranked voting, instant runoff, and approval voting are just a couple of the examples) actually allow for minority voices to influence election results in a way that is far more democratic.

Each of the different voting models currently have their own supporters, however no one has ever done the types of large scale mock election experiments that would actually show these theoretical models in action. That’s the challenge – stop bickering about which model is better and SHOW which model is better!

Detailed Project Specifications

The PERWG has employed the expertise of a programmer, a database expert, and an expert in voting system design to develop this voting experiment. The programming was done in objective-c and using the cocoa touch framework to create the user interface. The data will initially be stored as binary code, concurrently the data will also be stored as pure text in Unicode. The data will eventually be stored in a SQL database to allow for easy data handling and analysis.

Our needs

An iPad (retail value $499, total $538 with tax)

The iPad will be programmed specifically to function as a mobile “voting booth” which will run the voting experiment and collect votes. Vote collection will be done by PERWG volunteers on-site at Zucotti Park on a regular to daily basis, with detailed data and analysis published on our website. An administrative protocol will be devised by volunteers to ensure that members of the public do not vote more than once.

As the main programming and development for the project is well underway, the PERWG will be able to begin testing the Voting Experiment within 2-3 days of obtaining a suitable iPad.

All members of the GA will be invited to participate in and follow the results of the experiment. The PERWG would like to continue experimenting with voting methods on an ongoing basis and eventually become an in-house mobile polling center for #OWS.

17 Responses to “Draft Proposal for 10/30- Politics and Electoral Reform”

  1. Evan Stover

    I was wondering whether those of you in the Political and Electoral Reform working group are familiar with the Proportional Representation model? If you would like to check it out, you may go to this website:

    http://www.fairvote.org/

    …. just to be clear, I have no ‘axe to grind’ here, no particular connection with these folks; only interested (very!) in the attempt to build a new paradigm of electoral politics which as closely as possible represents the admirable template of the GA assembly form of participation and action while scaling up to much, much larger numbers of people over much larger areas.

    There is a gentleman here in the Mid-Hudson Valley area who I’m willing to bet would be willing to come down to NY to speak about this approach in person with you (I haven’t asked him, but he’s been following the OWS movement with great interest). My email is stover@hvc.rr.com.

    Just as equally beneficial actions and decisions cannot be taken done without input, that input cannot be achieved without a way for it to be invited, heard, recorded, assessed and disseminated. Your efforts are so critically important in terms of helping to facilitate a transition from a square in NYC to the national – and even international – stage, and I wish you well!

    • Therese Ballot

      The global use of sign language, to be invited, heard, recorded, assessed and disseminated! That paradigm might run into questions of legitimacy.

  2. Jeffrey L

    This is a fantastic idea. My only concern is that the expertise of a social scientist who is familiar with how to set up experiments such as these is consulted. Steps need to be taken so that the resultant data is statistically acceptable. Moreover, certain questions and procedure should be included in order to produce data elements which can be used to control for intervening variables.

  3. Matthew Johnson

    The problems run much deeper than just voting systems. Why should we continue with a monolithic (one person representing us in a given body), geographic (representation based on residence rather than values, beliefs, and policy positions) system of representation? If we’re going to reform the system let’s break with all prior assumptions and think deeply about what kind of system can really allow all voices to be heard.

    My instinct is that we need to elect one representative per issue or policy area and the body for each must have proportional representation as an outcome of the election, and finally there must be some kind of binding mechanism for campaign promises.

    Rather than one congress, we could have multiple legislative bodies each with jurisdiction over particular policy areas. This solves many problem, not the least of which that if my representative is not in a leadership position on a relevant committee right now I am not really represented at all in that policy area.

    Currently I am currently required to prioritize issues when selecting a candidate as I am certain to never agree with any candidate on all issues. Under my proposed system I can also choose to be represented by somebody who I not only agree with, but is also well informed on each policy area. Nobody can be well informed about all policy areas. The current system guarantees my representative is relatively ignorant about many policy decisions.

    Think big! We’re only going to get one chance at this, if we get one at all.

  4. Jeffrey L

    Matthew, a binding mechanism for campaign promises is something that the designers of representative government have always avoided for very good reasons. Simply put, circumstances can always change and new information can always come to light between when a representative is campaigning and when he or she has to make a decision once elected, and such changes might make a campaign promise no longer appropriate. It is essential that representatives are able to respond and adapt to the changing facts on the ground, which means not being hamstrung by specific promises made on the campaign trail. Recently, the entire world has watched as the Tea-Party candidates were forced to pursue an agenda that is obviously destructive, stupid, and and fundamentally misaligned with the current economic situation, all because they were constrained by a no new taxes promise they made while running for office. This is not to suggest that representatives should not be held accountable for acting in a manner contrary to how they portrayed themselves on the campaign trail, but only to point out that the mechanism you propose is deeply problematic.

    • Matthew Johnson

      I understand all the reasons for this and the binding mechanism would need to take them into account. However, there can be no greater flaw than our current system where there is no need for the campaign to bear even remote relevance to policy after the election (Obama being the prime example). If we can’t find a mechanism that includes a binding mechanism and possibly requires politicians to return to the public when they wish to change position then maybe no system of representation can work and we need to find a way to make direct democracy work. I have absolutely no faith in our current system of representation anymore.

  5. Enrico Petrucco

    I think anyone will find that there are already various countries sound the world that have different voting systems than “1st passed the post”, Australia is one. In some of these countries the study in question has already been conducted. Feel free to repeat if you think it will help, but the experiment will not be valid unless it satisfies stringent criteria ensuring unbiased results. It is too easy to design this experiment to yield the answer that one is seeking.
    I propose that it should be a duplicated experiment: one trial of voting based on various bread options (ie: rye, wheat, corn) another trial based on breakfast options (ie: eggs w/bacon, eggs alone, cereal)
    The point is that some choices will matter more to some and less to others yet can we accept a solution that means the majority is “not happy, merely OK”?

  6. William Gilbert

    Our antiquated Plurality voting system was not designed for more than 2 candidates. In a 3-way race, a candidate may win with 34% of the vote. Spoilers may upset turn out.

    Instant Run-off Voting, IRV, or Rank voting, guarantees majority winners of 50% +, eliminates spoilers and wasted votes, and eliminates expensive run-offs.
    When there are more than 2 candidates, the voter may rank candidates by preference, 1st, 2nd, 3rd. If there is a majority winner at the count, she is the winner. If there is no majority winner, the lowest candidate’s ballots are recounted for the voter’s 2nd choices and redistributed to the remaining candidates until a majority winner emerges. Voila, Instant Run-off . Easy to understand, works on present equipment with a software upgrade, easy enough to hand count, one person/one vote Constitutional, Non-partisan, non-profit, used in the US in many cities, countries around the world voters like it, Obama, McCain, Ron Paul, Nader endorse IRV.
    FairVote.org

  7. Matthew Johnson

    We need a long term goal to move to either a direct democracy or a dramatically different system of representation. Why should we continue with a monolithic (one person representing us in a given body), geographic (representation based on residence rather than values, beliefs, and policy positions) system of representation? If we’re going to reform the system let’s break with all prior assumptions and think deeply about what kind of system can really allow all voices to be heard.

    Elected leaders can make whatever campaign promises they want without fear of any repercussions if they do not act on them. They can change their mind in any way they wish after the election. Furthermore, we rarely agree with them on all issues. Why shouldn’t our voices be heard on *every* issue? If we must have representation it must be issue based, it must proportionally reflect the opinions of society (not be first past the post / winner take all), and it must involve binding campaign promises of some kind. Any other form of representation is a sham.

    My instinct is that we need to elect one representative per issue or policy area and the body for each must have proportional representation as an outcome of the election, and finally there must be some kind of binding mechanism for campaign promises.

    Rather than one congress, we could have multiple legislative bodies each with jurisdiction over particular policy areas. This solves many problem, not the least of which that if my representative is not in a leadership position on a relevant committee right now I am not really represented at all in that policy area.

    Currently I am currently required to prioritize issues when selecting a candidate as I am certain to never agree with any candidate on all issues. Under my proposed system I can also choose to be represented by somebody who I not only agree with, but is also well informed on each policy area. Nobody can be well informed about all policy areas. The current system guarantees my representative is relatively ignorant about many policy decisions.

    Think big! We’re only going to get one chance at this, if we get one at all.

    • Enrico Petrucco

      This seems like a good idea in theory. I would like to see this idea fleshed out in better detail. The main complexity may involve how interconnected many of the different areas are: what can we really consider in isolation? How many representatives working on health, how many on employment, who decides how big one sector is?

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  9. Marty Leon

    as a member of the internet working group, and a long time open source supporter, I will always disagree whenever apple products are suggested for use. Especially ipod/pad/phone/touch.

    They are very closed and run by a company that has a long history of supressing free speech in their own realm, and they are the most closed of platform the company offers.

    Which is funny because much of the code comes from open source projects.

    programing is easier on open source platforms, and I think it fits out idealogy much better. I recommend a netbook running debian, with said finger printing reader as mentioned earlier.
    http://www.debian.org/social_contract
    They’ve been doing democratic computing since 1994. I think we need to show them more support than capitalist consumer based solutions.

    • kay

      @Marty Leon The only reason we were looking at iPads is that the programmer we worked with only knew how to program those. Your recommendations are duly noted, though, as we move forward. Thanks!

  10. Matt Lepacek

    I 100% agree. Let’s stop talking about the models and have a duel! :)

    Monday @ 2:30pm @ 50 broadway (currently) we will be receiving a demo kit from Reply Systems as well as a demo presentation of a 2.4ghz handheld voting platform. They are giving us 20 units of their “Plus” (Sms texting model) and 20 of their 10-button multiple choice “Mini+” model wireless voting handsets. It is my understanding that we will be able to keep the demo kit for a period of 30 days while we evaluate it, sharing it with everyone and every group that wants a taste.

    We will be receiving demo kits from Powervote.com and Reply-ARS.com as well in the coming week.

    • kay

      @Matt Lepacek I missed this post when it was first proposed and only found it now. Do you still have the equipment? Have you used it? Results?

  11. kay

    Everyone who so thoughtfully posted here: I’d like to ask for help in brainstorming ideas for a first mock election to run. We’d like to design an election where people vote on “candidates” in a way that models voting for real candidates, but perhaps with a whimsical twist. We’d like to find something that people vote on, no matter how silly, that kind of captures the popular imagination.

    For example, @Enrico Petrucco’s suggestion above to vote on types of bread (rye, whole wheat, etc) because everyone has an opinion and a level of preference for the “candidates” and this therefore models a real election pretty well.

    Any other suggestions come to mind? Let me know!