An Assembly of Pieces

James Anderson Merritt's piecemeal thoughts and observations, and the occasional attempt to put some of the pieces together.
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All material except cited quotations Copyright (C) 2004-2008 by James Anderson Merritt. All rights reserved.
Saturday, July 17, 2004
I've never been a fan of US-style plurality voting: the one-vote-per-person, winner take all system that we tend to use in electing candidates to government office here. Over the years, I have taken a look at various alternative methodologies. The ones I like best, Condorcet method and Approval Voting, have been impractical until fairly recently, because they require fairly complicated balloting and/or tallying. Today, however, computers are cheap, and the net is everywhere. It is fairly easy to use the internet to implement experimental "voting machines" that incorporate sophisticated methodologies, while also being easy to use; serious thought and effort could produce net-based "machines" that combined sophisticated methodology, ease-of-use, and sufficient security to inspire voter confidence in the integrity of elections, but that's a topic for another day.
Today, I would like to invite you to cast your vote in the 2004 US Presidential election simulation that I have put online, thanks to the Condorcet Internet Voting Service (a project of a talented and civic-minded Cornell University computer science student). Voting in the election simulation is completely anonymous, though CIVS does make a crude attempt to prevent stuffing the ballot box, which may allow only one of the users who share a machine to register a vote. If you're the only user of your machine, or the first to access the voting page, you should have no difficulty.
Marking a Condorcet-style ballot is simply a matter of ranking the candidates (or options). In my simulation, I list the six candidates for US President, who will appear on ballots in enough states to have a mathematical chance of winning in the Electoral College. (To be honest, I'm not sure that a couple of the candidates will clear that particular hurdle before election time, but even they will at least appear on enough ballots to cause major havoc in the election, if they take more than a handful of states.) All you have to do is rank the candidates from most favorite (1) to least favorite (6). The website allows you the examine the results so far at several levels of detail.
The Condorcet tallying process involves a large number simulated contests between the candidates, taken two at a time. Winners are based on the preference data supplied by voters. In any contest, for any particular voter, the candidate who wins is the one whose preference ranking with that voter is higher than that of the rival candidate. The candidates who beat more other candidates more often in the mini-contests are seen as strongest; those who consistently lose to others are seen as weakest. The strongest "champion" in the overall tournament wins the election. This CIVS implementation of Condorcet also includes tiebreaker rules: you'll find more information on the details of the mechanism at the website.
One of the best things about CIVS is that you can create your own elections for any purpose, whether to simulate a political election, as I have done, or to hold an actual election to make a real decision. Give it a try, but please vote in my simulation first!


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