VoteFair  ranking

Voting ID:

About VoteFair ranking


Q:  In a nutshell, what is VoteFair ranking?

A:  VoteFair ranking uses order-of-preference ballots on which a voter indicates not only a first choice, but a second choice, third choice, and so on. Based on all of this preference information, VoteFair ranking calculates the popularity of all the candidates. This means it reveals not only the most popular candidate, but the second-most popular candidate, the third-most popular candidate, and so on.


Order-of-preference ballots Arrow VoteFair Ranking Arrow VoteFair Ranking Results


Very significantly the results calculated by VoteFair ranking are fair. This fairness is a dramatic contrast to plurality voting and runoff voting, which are the primitive voting methods used in the United States, Europe, and other democratic countries.

VoteFair ranking produces fair results even when there are three or more candidates in a race. In contrast, plurality voting — in which the candidate with the most votes wins — causes unfair results because votes are split among the most similar candidates. This unfairness was demonstrated in the 2000 Presidential election because of the involvement of a somewhat-popular third candidate, Ralph Nader.


Q:  Why not use instant runoff voting instead?

A:  The method of voting called "instant runoff voting" also allows voters to rank candidates, but for several reasons it does not produce fair results.

Most importantly, instant runoff voting does not consider all the preferences of all the voters. To understand this weakness, let's consider an example. Suppose there is an election involving four candidates, and suppose most of the voters are somewhat equally divided among the first three candidates, which means very few voters indicate the fourth candidate as their first choice. In instant runoff voting, that fourth candidate is eliminated in the first simulated round of runoff voting. But suppose all the voters who don't prefer the fourth candidate as their first choice do prefer him or her as their second choice. In VoteFair ranking the widespread popularity of the fourth candidate is recognized and the fourth candidate is correctly revealed as the most popular. By contrast, instant runoff voting not only fails to recognize the fourth candidate as the most popular, but gives the false impression that the fourth candidate is the least popular.

Also consider that VoteFair ranking reveals which candidate is second-most popular, which candidate is third-most popular, and which is least popular. Instant runoff voting doesn't even attempt to determine this additional information.

Another unfairness of instant runoff voting is that a voter is not allowed to indicate an equal preference between two candidates. In such cases the ballot is usually discarded as invalid. At best the ballot is ignored when (and if) that level of preference is reached. By contrast, VoteFair ranking easily accommodates equal preferences on a ballot. This difference is why the term "preference ballot" is used for instant runoff voting and the term "order-of-preference ballot" is used for VoteFair ranking.


Q:  What's wrong with today's methods of voting?

A:  The biggest problem with today's methods of voting is that their weaknesses make election results vulnerable to manipulation in ways that involve money, which of course comes from campaign contributions. Perhaps the best proof of this influence is that wealthy organizations are very careful about how they spend their money and they wouldn't waste their money on campaign contributions if they weren't getting the results they want.

In the United States campaign contributions from the insurance industry and the traditional medical establishment have successfully undermined popular efforts to improve health insurance, and contributions from the petroleum industry have successfully prevented legislation that would lead to improved automobile fuel efficiency. Until public outrage from the organization Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) became prominent, contributions from alcoholic beverage producers successfully minimized the consequences of drunk-driving convictions.


Q:  What else is wrong with today's methods of voting?

A:  Almost every election in nearly every democratic country uses single-mark ballots, on which a voter can mark only a single candidate's name as preferred. This primitive practice forces many voters to choose between voting strategically or sincerely.

In strategic voting you vote for the least objectionable candidate among those who have a good chance of winning, even if you prefer a candidate who is not as popular among the other voters. Sincere voting consists of marking the candidate you prefer most. Unfortunately your sincere vote is wasted if the candidate is not popular enough to win.

In VoteFair ranking strategic voting doesn't work, so you can vote sincerely. Specifically you can rank your favorite candidate first without reducing your influence on the competition between the more popular candidates.


Q:  On an order-of-preference ballot, can I just vote for one candidate in each race?

A:  Yes, but that is equivalent to saying that all the other candidates are tied for second choice. If you have any preference at all among the remaining candidates, then indicating that preference helps your preferred choices and detracts from the less-preferred candidates.


Q:  Does VoteFair ranking have any disadvantages?

A:  The main disadvantage is that voters need to learn to think beyond their first choice. This is a new skill that most voters have not yet learned. This may seem like a trivial skill but, as a comparison, remember that in the early days of answering machines many people hung up when they reached one because they didn't know what to say to an answering machine. Someday thinking beyond the first choice will become just as effortless.

A second disadvantage is that VoteFair ranking requires many thousands of additions and comparisons, but now that computers are readily accessible, this disadvantage is no longer a barrier.

A third disadvantage is that voters must learn how to indicate their order of preference on written ballots. Voting can be done electronically in ways that do not allow invalid votes, but that approach requires the use of computers, which is unacceptable for absentee voting and for use in states where voting is done entirely by mail. Also, the use of computers for voting opens up many possibilities for election results being influenced, even if it "only" amounts to getting early results and using that information to choose which voters in which precincts should be called and encouraged to vote.

Written ballots will at first be confusing to fill out. For example, some voters will try to indicate that a particular candidate is acceptable and all other candidates are unacceptable — even though such a vote simply means that the "unacceptable" choices are tied for second choice. If ballots are poorly designed, such as asking the voter to enter numbers that indicate their preference levels, voters will be even more confused (such as thinking that entering an especially large number will weaken disliked candidates). See the sample ballot near the beginning of this page for a paper-based design that minimizes confusion.


Q:  Some European countries use "proportional representation." Isn't that a better method of voting?

A:  No. In the first place, proportional representation only works in countries that have a Prime Minister (who is elected by a Parliament) and does not work in countries that have a President (who is directly elected by citizens). And to the extent that proportional representation does work, it only works for electing members of a legislature (such as Parliament or Congress) and cannot be used for single-seat offices such as President, Governor, Mayor, etc.

Proportional representation means that if 23 percent of the voters prefer a "green" political party, then 23 percent of the politicians in the legislature are from the "green" political party. This approach matches legislative bodies to political party preferences, but does not allow popular candidates outside the political parties to be elected.

As another unfairness, many forms of proportional representation only allow voters to vote for political parties. This means voters are not allowed to indicate which candidates within a party the voters prefer. In these cases the political parties, not the voters, control the sequence in which their candidates are assigned to legislative seats.

Some versions of proportional representation do allow voters to vote for candidates in addition to voting for political parties. However, the ways such votes are combined to produce winners and losers do not produce fair results. Sometimes only first choices can be indicated. Where second, third, and further choices can be indicated, the results are based on instant-runoff voting which, as already indicated, produces unfair results.

Most importantly, countries that use proportional representation are just as easily influenced by campaign contributions as in the United States.


Q:  In VoteFair ranking, how are all the votes combined into one overall sequence?

A:  The best way to see how the calculations are done is to try it!

Then look at the information on the results page.   That information summarizes how the calculations are done.

VoteFair popularity ranking, which is the foundation of VoteFair ranking, is also explained in the Wikipedia article about the Condorcet-Kemeny method.  If you need a carefully worded description of VoteFair ranking for use in an organization's rules, see the rules for elections, or the rules for decisions, or other pages within the Government Elections section of this website.


Q:  Wouldn't it be easier to do the calculations by assigning the number 1 to the first choice, 2 to the second choice, etc. and finding the sequence with the highest sum?

A:  That's the approach I tried first, but it doesn't produce fair results. I later learned that this approach was suggested many years ago and is widely known to produce unfair results in many cases.

One unfairness of this approach is that minor preference differences among the less popular choices have an influence on the outcome among the more popular choices. Another unfairness is that there are ways for one voter to have more influence than another voter. Also, this approach allows a group of voters to increase their influence by strategically choosing which candidate they rank as highest.


Q:  Does VoteFair ranking work for situations besides electing candidates?

A:  Yes, VoteFair ranking also works for ranking anything of interest. This means, for example, it can be used to rank budget priorities, rank the popularity of design choices (such as logos), and determine the popularity of names being considered for an organization.

The one restriction is that VoteFair ranking should be done in a special way if any of the options is a "do nothing" option. In this case, you should first use VoteFair ranking to determine the most popular option, and then you can use either normal voting or VoteFair ranking to choose between the most popular option and the "do nothing" option. (When there are only two options, normal voting and VoteFair ranking produce the same results.)

Cover of Ending The Hidden Unfairness In U.S. Elections A new book titled Ending The Hidden Unfairness In U.S. Elections clearly describes VoteFair ranking, explains why it produces such fair results, and contains detailed instructions for how to use it.



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