APPENDIX 3: FRIEDMAN'S ONLY ONE-THIRD RIGHT

 

 

                                                     APPENDIX  3

 

                                   FRIEDMAN'S ONLY ONE-THIRD RIGHT

 

                                          April 20, 2010

 

Given that the Independence party has posted on its website a link to Thomas Friedman's March 23, 2010 column on "A Tea Party Without Nuts", I would like to bring your attention to my unpublished reply to The New York Times on his piece.  Along with that, I am including the text of an observation I received from Warren Smith, an advocate of range voting, on IRV.  In addition, I also attach an op-ed I wrote that summarizes my January 12, 2010 memo to Nick Clegg, the leader of the UK Liberal Democrats.

 

I would greatly appreciate your sharing this with anyone who might find it of interest.  Thank you.

 

                                          John Howard Wilhelm, Ph.D.,

                                          Economics

 

                                          March 26, 2010

 

 

letters@nytimes.com

The New York Times

229 West 43rd St.

New York, New York  10036-3959

 

To the Editor:

 

Given that for a decade and a half I have been pushing for voting reform to open up our political processes to third parties, I was pleased to see Thomas Friedman dealing with this issue in his column (NYT March 24).  Unfortunately, I was greatly appalled by his advocacy of alternative voting, instant runoff voting (IRV),

 

As I told Nick Clegg, the leader of the UK Liberal Democrats, in my January 12, 2010 memo to him, alternative voting, or IRV, has very serious flaws as the technical literature clearly demonstrates.  These

are: 1) The problem of its opacity, 2) The complexity it entails for the existing voting structure and 3) The fact that it does a poor job in reflecting voters' preferences in the outcome.

 

Approval voting does not encounter these difficulties.  Under approval voting, voters are allowed to give one vote each to that candidate or candidates of whom they approve with the candidate having the most votes winning.  It has the advantage of getting rid of the wasted vote and as such can open up our political processes to third parties.

 

Given the requirements of the Constitution and the precedent in Oregon v. Mitchell (1970), it is clear that approval voting can be mandated in federal elections by a simple federal statutory act.  On this score, those of us seeking the type of changes Friedman advocates would be better served by petitioning Congress to institute such a change rather than trying to work through 50 state jurisdictions.

 

                                          Sincerely yours,

 

                                          John Howard Wilhelm, Ph.D.,

                                          Economics

 

 

After I shared a copy of my memo to Nick Clegg with Warren Smith, an advocate of range voting who has done a lot of work on voting systems, I received the following observation from Smith which makes a point that was in my memo to Clegg, but is not a part of the op-ed text below.

 

    IRV still leads to massive 2-party domination (has in every

    country it has been tried in at a national level) in IRV seats and

    still would, I have no doubt, in the USA.

 

 

The Liberal Democrats are right to advocate voting reform. Unfortunately the voting system they favor--the alternative vote (AV)--has serious weaknesses. AV, which involves ranking candidates by order of preference, is opaque, potentially complex and does a poor job of reflecting voters' preferences. It can exclude the candidate preferred to every other candidate by a majority of voters early on in the runoff process. Worse, a candidate who would have won can wind up losing if he or she garners more first place support in the course of a campaign. This happens because the increased support the candidate receives in a campaign can change the order in which candidates will be dropped and votes reallocated in arriving at a result.  In the technical literature, this is referred to as violating the monotonicity condition-- the idea that if a candidate wins more support, this should not adversely affect his or her prospects.

 

For instance, suppose 21 voters are voting for three candidates:

Alice, Bob and Charlie. Eight voters rank the candidates Alice 1, Bob 2, Charlie 3; two rank them Bob 1, Alice 2, Charlie 3; five rank them Bob 1, Charlie 2, Alice 3; and six rank them Charlie 1, Alice 2, Bob 3. Since Charlie has the fewest first-place votes, he is eliminated, and those six votes now have Alice in first place, so she wins 14 to 7.

 

But suppose the vote were slightly different, and the two voters who put Bob first had instead ranked Alice top (Alice 1, Bob 2, Charlie 3).  Now Bob, with only five first-place votes, is eliminated and those five rankings then have Charlie in first place, so Charlie wins

11 to 10. Moving Alice up in a few rankings converts her from a winner to a loser, because in doing so there is a change in which candidate is eliminated.

 

The upshot is that under AV voters cannot know for sure whether a vote for the candidate they favor will help or hurt that candidate.  Even first-past-the-post, with all of its flaws, does not suffer from this problem, since under that system no candidate set to win an election could lose by gaining more support at the expense of other candidates.

 

Approval voting does not encounter these difficulties.  In this system, voters are allowed to give one vote each to those candidates they want to support, with the candidate having the most votes winning.  The main advantage approval voting has for the voter is that it allows a person to vote both sincerely and strategically at the same time to better reflect his or her preferences.  As such, it has the additional advantage of getting rid of the wasted vote and the spoiler role in elections, which is necessary to open up the political process to third parties.

 

Had approval voting been in place in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore surely would have won.  In the British general election, approval voting would probably have yielded a less skewed result in terms of parliamentary seats.  For instance, in those constituencies with a Conservative plurality alongside a majority divided between Labour and Liberal Democrats which did not prefer the Conservative candidate, the majority under approval voting would have been able to reflect this fact in their voting patterns and the outcome.

 

This is why the new government should embrace approval voting in single-member constituencies when the time comes for a referendum on electoral reform. It would be fairer than the current system, and the Lib Dems' presence in government gives it a decent chance of being enacted.