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New Zealand's Mixed Member Proportional electoral system

By enterfornone in Op-Ed
Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 09:21:51 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)
Politics

It is often argued that governments do a poor job of representing all of the people in a particular nation. In countries such as the USA, the UK and Australia, politics is dominated by two major parties, and anyone who's view falls outside of the two major players is not represented in the system. This generally results in a "tyranny of the majority" where the policies of the dominant party are implemented without question.

The major cause of this is the electoral system employed in these countries. This article points out the reason why the systems employed by the above three countries have failed and why New Zealand's Mixed Member Proportional electoral system is a significantly better alternative.


First lets examine the systems employed by the US, UK and Australia. Like most governments, the systems in these countries are considered to be divided into three branches, the legislative, the executive and the judicial. The judicial branch is appointed in such a way as to be (in theory at least)politically neutral, while the other two branches are elected.

One of the main features of the US system is a complete separation of the legislative and executive branches of government. The result of this is that the President, who in the case of George W. Bush was elected with a popular vote of only 47.87%, is in complete control of the Executive, accountable to no one.

The most common complaint about the US presidential electoral system is the concept of the Electoral College. It was due to the Electoral College that Bush was able to win the election despite gaining fewer votes in total than the runner-up Al Gore. However another major flaw in the US system is the first-past-the-post system, which guarantees that a vote for a candidate not endorsed by one of the two major parties will be a wasted vote. The minute number of people voting for a minor party candidate in the 2000 presidential election testifies to this fact.

The system employed in the UK improves on this system in one important respect. Instead of the executive branch being voted for separately, the executive is formed by the majority party in the lower house of parliament, and is accountable to it. At least that's the theory. In practice however, the party that controls the Executive generally has a complete majority in the lower house and as such the lower house acts as little more than a rubber-stamp for the decisions of the executive branch. Again this is due to the winner-takes-all nature of the first-past-the-post system. The UK also has an unelected upper house, made up of appointees and hereditary peers, however their powers are minimal.

Australia has managed to make some improvements to the above systems. Like the UK, Australia's Executive government is formed out of the majority party in Parliament. However there are two important differences.

The first is that the lower house in Australia's parliament is voted by a preferential system (also known as instant runnoff). This means that instead of merely ticking the candidate you support on you ballot, you number each candidate to indicate your first, then second, then third preference and so on. The result is that you can vote for a minor party without your vote being wasted - your vote will flow through to your preferred major party if the minor party candidate does not succeed. However in practice the majority of lower house seats go to major party candidates in far greater proportions to the votes they actually receive.

The second difference, which helps to offset the two party system in the lower house, is that Australia's upper house employs a system known as proportional representation. Proportional representation is based on the idea that if your party gets 5% of the vote, then it should get 5% of the seats. While the Australian implementation (which has an equal number of senators per state) does not completely achieve this result, it comes close.

There is one major disadvantage to this system however. That is, it is possible that the lower house and upper house will be controlled by two different parties. This was a problem for Gough Whitlam's government in 1975, where the Senate refused to pass a Supply Bill to fund the activities of the Executive branch. This eventually resulted in the dismissal of the Whitlam government.

Noting the above disadvantage, one might argue that it would be a good idea to have a system with a single house based on a proportional representation system. However there is one disadvantage to such a system. Despite its flaws, the House of Representatives does serve a useful function: it gives each local area access to their own member of parliament who is responsible for representing the people of their electorate. Under a system of proportional representation, each member of parliament would be a part representative of (in the case of the current system) their state, meaning that local issues would rarely get looked at.

The system employed in New Zealand provides a solution for that. Like Australia and the UK, the New Zealand Executive is formed out of members of parliament. However unlike the UK and Australian system there is a single house, elected via a method known as the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system.

Under the New Zealand system, each person casts two votes. One vote decides their local member, the other decides which party they would like to represent them federally. There is a 120 seat parliament, with 62 seats coming from local electorates, 7 from Maori electorates, and the balance appointed based on the proportion voted in the party ballot. This gives the advantages of both the local representative system and the proportional representation system, without the risk of the deadlocks that can occur in a two house parliament.

There are some ways that the New Zealand system could be improved, most notably the first-past-the-post system used for the electorate votes poses the same problems as elsewhere. However overall it would appear to work well, as can be seen from the 2002 election results.

As these results show, seats are awarded in roughly the same proportion as votes received. This means that the party with the most votes still has to negotiate with other parties in order to have policies implemented. And more importantly, it means that minority parties, even if they have no real power, are still able to voice their opinion in parliament.

The concept of "one man, one vote" is fundamental to the system of representative democracy. Likewise it should be fundamental that parties should be given power in proportion to the number of people who vote for them. 40% of people should not have 100% of the power. New Zealand's Mixed Member Proportional electoral system achieves this goal and it is a system well worth looking at by those proposing electoral reforms in other countries.

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New Zealand's Mixed Member Proportional electoral system | 198 comments (155 topical, 43 editorial, 0 hidden)
Party lists are bad (5.00 / 5) (#1)
by Stephen Turner on Sat Mar 15, 2003 at 02:20:13 PM EST

I agree with you about the deficiencies of the US and UK systems. But any system with party lists is bad, because it puts too much power in the hands of the central party machine. Parties can place a politician who is very unpopular with the electorate, but in favour with the party leadership, at the top of the list, and (in practice) nothing can keep him out of parliament. Conversely, they can quietly lose a slightly rebellious politician.

Of course, in other systems a party can attempt to place an unpopular politician in a safe area of the country. But even in safe seats, the electorate do sometimes manage to vote out someone unpopular.

Not as much in the US (5.00 / 2) (#17)
by leviramsey on Sat Mar 15, 2003 at 10:16:17 PM EST

Of course, in other systems a party can attempt to place an unpopular politician in a safe area of the country. But even in safe seats, the electorate do sometimes manage to vote out someone unpopular.

The US places a limitation on this in that the Constitution requires that a Representative be a resident of the state which he represents. In addition, the primary system (whereby those who are enrolled in that party (which is not necessarily the same thing as being a member of that party)) allows a candidate who is unpopular within his party to fend off attempts from his party to prevent that party from taking him off the ballot. Ron Paul in Texas has had to fight his way through the primaries a few times against his party's preferred candidate and won each time.



[ Parent ]
But can't you just... (5.00 / 1) (#30)
by enterfornone on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 02:15:07 AM EST

...rent an apartment in whatever state you want to represent. Isn't this what Hillary Clinton did?

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
and Cheney? (nt) (5.00 / 3) (#41)
by mister slim on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 03:57:07 AM EST


__

"Fucking sheep, the lot of you. Yeah, and your little dogs too." -Rogerborg
[ Parent ]

Carpetbagging (5.00 / 3) (#42)
by talboito on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 04:23:50 AM EST

Usually a candidate has to do is meet some minimum residency requirement.

But doing what Hillary did is not the best path to getting elected. Doing so usually invites being called a carpetbagger.

I remember Giuliani saying something at the beginning of the campaign about how was supposed to be considered too much of an outsider upstate, but thanks to Hillary that wouldn't be a problem. Of course she proved to be immune to that line of attack thanks to various other factors (I hesitate to say popularity because there are so many who positively loath every fiber of her being).

A more representative example of what happens to these kinds of candidates would be Michael Huffington's campaign against Diane Feinstein in California. Huffingtion is better known these days as the ex-husband of liberal pundit Ariana Huffington. Back then, he was a rich Texas oilman who decided to run what was, at the time, the single most expensive campaign for Senate ever. Needless to say he lost, Ariana divorced him and I don't believe he has been politically active since.

"Never believe an idea you have not first tested yourself" -- Franz K.
[ Parent ]
You could always... (none / 0) (#19)
by enterfornone on Sat Mar 15, 2003 at 10:56:20 PM EST

...not vote for a party that does that.

The problem with the system in Australia, and as I see it with the UK and US as well, is that it doesn't take into account the fact that parties exist. Australia's system was designed on the assumption that all house of reps members would be independant and therefore everyone would keep everyone else in line.

New Zealand's system recognises that parties exist and spreads power among them.

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]

Excellent point (none / 0) (#95)
by daani on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 02:18:49 AM EST

The Australian system does indeed assume that all representatives would be somewhat independant. Debates over national policy and law are supposed to be held in parliment and the various positions taken and outcomes decided a matter for public record.

Instead, we have "political parties". Any real debates are held in secret, before an acceptable "party position" is arrived upon, along with some fabricated reasoning to justify the position. The key is that we never really know how these positions are reached. Then, if a representative breaks ranks in public, the party just kicks him out. If the party holds a majority, then these decisions become law.

Throw in parties within parties (factions), and the problem becomes worse. At the end of the day, it becomes more of a big power game, with a democratic break every 3 years where you try to prove you're not as bad as the other lot, than a democracy.

The poor sod on the street has no idea what or who they're voting for.

[ Parent ]

"Party-hopping" (5.00 / 1) (#75)
by Repton on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 10:54:05 PM EST

But any system with party lists is bad, because it puts too much power in the hands of the central party machine.

In the previous term, or maybe the term before (a parliamentary term in NZ politics lasts three years), there was a party called the Alliance, which was the junior partner in coalition government with Labour.

It was party policy that Alliance MPs had to sign something saying, in effect, that if they left the party, they would resign from parliament. During that term, one of their MPs had a falling out with the party, and did leave it. Party leader Jim Anderton invoked the resignation clause, but the guy refused, and it was decided that there was no legal way to force him to resign.

Anderton was quite annoyed about this, because his party now had one fewer vote, and possibly lost funding aswell.

(if the MP --- a list MP --- had resigned, the Alliance would have been given another MP from their list. But as he was still in parliament, they weren't. And I'm not sure of the specifics, but parties do get funding, and that funding is proportional to the number of MPs that they have)

So Anderton sponsored a "party-hopping" bill, which basically said: If you're a list MP, and you leave your party, you gotta resign.

The bill passed. It was kinda controversial: The arguments basically went that, on the one hand, list MPs are unelected. People voted for the party, and so list MPs should be subserviant to the party. On the other hand, MPs have brains (apparently), and they ought to be able to stand up for their own convictions, not simply be there to vote how their party leader tells them to vote.

(there was also some residual bad feeling over other MPs who had left parties in the past and caused problems)

Personally, I think it's a silly law. But it's on the books ...

(and, in a last ironic twist, Anderton himself fell out with his party towards the end of the last term. He wanted to leave and found a new party --- but he couldn't without falling foul of his own legistlation. So he hung on until the election, and then split...)

I guess the moral is that politicians are politicians, no matter how good the system is...


--
Repton.
They say that only an experienced wizard can do the tengu shuffle..
[ Parent ]

I liked the article (5.00 / 1) (#11)
by nomoreh1b on Sat Mar 15, 2003 at 05:27:06 PM EST

I would include more links and more stuff on why the system in NZ is good-and how it has actually worked in practice. I'm kind of inclined to agree with the previous poster that a degree of deadlock is good in government to keep the politicians from trampling on the public.

accountability (4.75 / 4) (#43)
by iba on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 04:27:40 AM EST

the Executive, accountable to no one.

The President of the United States is as accountable as any member of Congress: he's accountable to the people who elected him.

The system employed in the UK improves on this system in one important respect. Instead of the executive branch being voted for separately, the executive is formed by the majority party in the lower house of parliament, and is accountable to it.

I don't see how you could consider one branch of government being accountable to another as being an improvement. As you said, it just results in one branch becoming a rubber stamp for the other, because the party that controls the legislature will naturally have the power to control the executive branch too, and there will be no motivation for the two to act independently of one another.

There is one major disadvantage to this system however. That is, it is possible that the lower house and upper house will be controlled by two different parties. This was a problem for Gough Whitlam's government in 1975, where the Senate refused to pass a Supply Bill to fund the activities of the Executive branch. This eventually resulted in the dismissal of the Whitlam government.

If the usual situation is one party controlling all elected branches of government, then perhaps the problems Australia encountered can be explained by a political culture that lacks a tradition of compromise. If each party is used to being able to implement its agenda unopposed when it is in power, then I'd imagine that they'd be less likely to give any ground if the do encounter an obstacle.

accountability (none / 0) (#44)
by enterfornone on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 04:43:53 AM EST

The President of the United States is as accountable as any member of Congress: he's accountable to the people who elected him.
Not always. Clinton knew that he was never going to be re-elected, so he didn't have to please anyone.

OTOH, when the executive is formed out of the legislature, it means that people have to work their way up and prove themselves before they get to the top.

I don't see how you could consider one branch of government being accountable to another as being an improvement. As you said, it just results in one branch becoming a rubber stamp for the other, because the party that controls the legislature will naturally have the power to control the executive branch too, and there will be no motivation for the two to act independently of one another.
This only occurs when one party controls the legislative branch - something that the NZ system prevents.
If the usual situation is one party controlling all elected branches of government, then perhaps the problems Australia encountered can be explained by a political culture that lacks a tradition of compromise. If each party is used to being able to implement its agenda unopposed when it is in power, then I'd imagine that they'd be less likely to give any ground if the do encounter an obstacle.
An ironic comment coming from someone who appears to support the US system.

The problem with the two house deadlock is that each house believes they are the one with the mandate to rule. In the NZ system parties are forced to copromise all the time, but no party has the ability to claim that they have the mandate for absolute power.

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]

Re: Accountability (5.00 / 2) (#47)
by schwong on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 05:13:11 AM EST

OTOH, when the executive is formed out of the legislature, it means that people have to work their way up and prove themselves before they get to the top.

I think when most people think of accountability they think of who the President has to answer to, and in this case it would be congress. That's why members of the executive sit before congressional committees, the President gives the state of the union address to congress, and every so often congress impeaches him and removes him from office.

That's a far cry from being accountable to nobody, even without taking the whole re-election issue into account.

Other than that, I enjoyed the article immensely.

[ Parent ]

Yeah I should have explained my POV better (none / 0) (#49)
by enterfornone on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 05:35:15 AM EST

I never really bothered going too much into that as it wasn't really the point of the article to compare the US and Westminster systems. The main thing was the NZ proportional system compared to everything else.

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
Conventions in the Washminster system (5.00 / 1) (#53)
by cam on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 09:26:18 AM EST

perhaps the problems Australia encountered can be explained by a political culture that lacks a tradition of compromise.

The Whitlam dismissal that was mentioned in the article was predominantly caused because the Westminster system is largely implied through conventions and the principle of "responsible government". Many of the conventions of the system were not adhered to at the State and Federal level leading up to "The Dismissal" which led to the supply bill being blocked.

The reason Whitlams Labor party did not have the numbers in the Senate in 1975 was because NSW and Queensland broke convention and didnt replace departed Labor Senators with other Labor Senators. The two departing Senators were for non electoral reasons, one was appointed to the High Court, the other died. The NSW and Queensland Premiers both appointed independants to the Senate which ultimately sided with the Liberals.

Ironically Malcolm Fraser who got the Prime Ministership from the dismissed Gough Whitlam through the Governor General dismissing the Whitlam Labor Government, made that convention explicit through legislation soon after he became PM. The States now have to appoint a Senator of the same party as the departing Senator.

There were a lot more issues around the dismissal but at its heart was a fiat of dubious constitutionalaity to replace a democratically elected government by the Governor General and Opposition.

cam
Freedom, Liberty, Equity and an Australian Republic
[ Parent ]

Keep in mind.. (5.00 / 2) (#58)
by enterfornone on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 03:29:02 PM EST

People who complain about what Kerr did seem to forget that there was an election held right after he did it.

If Whitlam had the support of the people you would have expected the backlash from the dismissal to result in a landslide victory, since he lost the election he obviously didn't.

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]

His Term was still cut short (none / 0) (#128)
by cam on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 12:44:50 PM EST

People who complain about what Kerr did seem to forget that there was an election held right after he did it.

The same thing happened to the Labor Government in NSW after Lang was dismissed. It still doesnt negate that those who elected Whitlam did so expecting he would serve the complete term.

If Whitlam had the support of the people you would have expected the backlash from the dismissal to result in a landslide victory, since he lost the election he obviously didn't.

One of the interesting aspects of the elections prior-to and post-dismissal was the Murdoch papers backed Whitlam in the former and Fraser in the latter. Whitlam did win power from the remnants of the Menzies Government in the form of Holt and Gorton. Parties in the Australian system tend to stay in power so long that changeover elections often become "Drovers Dogs" elections.

cam
Freedom, Liberty, Equity and an Australian Republic
[ Parent ]

exactly... (none / 0) (#74)
by modmans2ndcoming on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 10:49:48 PM EST

how in a system that elects their own man to the executive branch do you avoit a tyranical political party from taking over? in the US, our branches are totaly seperate from each other and the president is accountable to the congress and the courts are also accountable to the congress. so we have a system where impeachment is still hard to do based on the rules but not impossable.

[ Parent ]
US branches totally seperate from each other? (none / 0) (#114)
by IEFBR14 on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 08:34:22 AM EST

It's a political thing. While the US has legally enshrined the seperation of executive and legislative powers, the party system negates this to a certain extent.

For a Tyrannical Political Party to take over it must first amass sufficient popular support to get elected. Assuming it can do this, then it could claim a majority and form a government under the UK / Aus / etc system. No argument there.

However, party politics being what they are, it's reasonable to assume that the Tyrannical Party, with sufficient popular support in the US, could win both the presidency and a majority in congress. In that instance, while impeachment would remain a legal possibility, there wouldn't be the political will to pursue it.

[ Parent ]

this is true, BUT (none / 0) (#168)
by modmans2ndcoming on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 10:38:35 PM EST

the opposition party can and does take the party in power to the supreme court to keep them from doing something that is or is not legal. (success in that endever is a totaly diffrent disscussion though)

[ Parent ]
Agreed, but ... (none / 0) (#179)
by IEFBR14 on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 05:41:25 AM EST

... that just underlines the fact that effective opposition is as important to the democratic process as effective government.

Unfortunately, the one thing for which you can never legislate is the stupidity of the electorate.

[ Parent ]

and the signal that a party is dying is.... (none / 0) (#184)
by modmans2ndcoming on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 12:46:28 PM EST

when it has no message, no effective opposition, and has no alternatives to offer up.

I see the demicratic party either dying or being taken over by the new socialists in the left wing of the party.

[ Parent ]

This is used within Australia too (5.00 / 1) (#45)
by srn on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 04:44:55 AM EST

Tasmania uses the same system at the state level, I think. That's why the Greens and other "minor" parties manage to get lower house seats there.

Not sure about Tas (none / 0) (#48)
by enterfornone on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 05:32:00 AM EST

The ACT system has three candidates per electorate and has PR within that. Not quite the same as NZ tho.

I though the success of minor parties in Tas had a lot to do with people there having views that differ significantly from the mainland. There is a strong anti-homosexual lobby there (which support Harradine) and a strong enviroment lobby there (which obviously support the greens).

Sort of the same way Northern Irish minor parties manage to get seats in Westminster, the issues they feel are important over there differ quite a bit from the issues supported by the English parties.

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]

What the devil part 2! (none / 0) (#80)
by drizzy on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:29:46 PM EST

Umm, strong anti-homosexual lobby? Can't say I've noticed that here (Hobart). Maybe I don't read the paper or watch the news enough.

[ Parent ]
Well.. (none / 0) (#86)
by enterfornone on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:57:42 PM EST

I think I was just trying to defame Harradine supporters, but wasn't sodomy illegal until a few years back.

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
Yeah (none / 0) (#87)
by drizzy on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 12:10:47 AM EST

Yeah it was, I can't remember when it was changed though. Maybe 10 years ago? Maybe less than that. Somewhere between 5 and 10 I think. Either way, I was probably too young to care and it doesn't/didn't affect me anyway.

Dunno about an anti-gay lobby group though. There might have been back then but I don't think there is now. Either way it doesn't really matter :)

[ Parent ]

For Presidential Elections, Condorcet Voting Rules (5.00 / 2) (#51)
by Kuranes on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 06:11:26 AM EST

Check it out here.


Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don't let that fool you: he really is an idiot.
huh? (4.00 / 3) (#56)
by /dev/trash on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:42:42 AM EST

The result of this is that the President, who in the case of George W. Bush was elected with a popular vote of only 47.87%, is in complete control of the Executive, accountable to no one.

I think Watergate proves that the President is held accountable.


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Updated 02/20/2004
New Site

Watergate (none / 0) (#59)
by enterfornone on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 03:31:42 PM EST

well since Nixon resigned, I guess we can say he was accountable to himself.

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
resugned. (5.00 / 1) (#65)
by /dev/trash on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 06:21:40 PM EST

He was going to be impeached.

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Updated 02/20/2004
New Site
[ Parent ]
He was accountable to Gerald Ford (none / 0) (#131)
by ethereal on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 01:41:05 PM EST

Unfortunately, Ford turned out to not be accountable to anyone, at least on the important issue of the day. So Nixon ended up not being accountable either.

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

Only in the case (5.00 / 1) (#60)
by gyan on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 03:42:04 PM EST

of extensive and increasing pressure.

Take Dubya's case. It appears that Mar 17 has been set as the deadline for the Iraq showdown. If a Mar 17 scientific poll shows that the majority oppose use of a military force, is there any mechanism to enforce that will, before the conflict begins or gets seriously underway?

********************************

[ Parent ]

A Poll? (5.00 / 1) (#66)
by /dev/trash on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 06:23:32 PM EST

Contact your Congressperson.  Why waste time with an ABC/NYTIMES/Gallop whatever poll, that for some reason never asks me how I feel.


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Updated 02/20/2004
New Site
[ Parent ]
Of course not (3.40 / 5) (#120)
by Grognard on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 10:30:27 AM EST

What seems to get lost here is that the "will of the people", while important in the long term, can be extremely destructive in the short term.  This is why the US system of government is designed to deliberately impede the speed of change.

Suppose the "will of the people" on September 12, 2001 was to imprison and ultimately deport everyone of arabic ethnicity, regardless of immigration or even citizenship status.  Would it have been right by virtue of being the "will of the people"?

At present, the people of the US (and the world, for that matter) have insufficient information to form a valid opinion on the war. How can anyone suggest that acting on insufficient information is a good idea (no matter how popular)?

Sometimes the exercise of leadership involves pursuing unpopular courses that in the long run are seen to be necessary.

[ Parent ]

Suppose gravity suddenly vanished (3.00 / 2) (#198)
by rmn on Tue Mar 25, 2003 at 02:57:53 PM EST

Suppose the "will of the people" on September 12, 2001 was to imprison and ultimately deport everyone of arabic ethnicity

It wasn't, though, was it? Amazing as this may seem (and unfortunately), you are part of "the people". Unlike what some people (who believe they are part of some intellectual elite, or just natural born geniuses) keep saying, "the people" are not completely mad or stupid.

There is no point in "supposing the will of the people was to kill / deport / arrest all arabs / blacks / asians / communists / whatever", because "the people" as a whole would never suddenly wish for that. Just as they would not suddenly paint their faces blue or grow wings.

The only way you can get "the people" (or a large number of people) to hate a particular group, and act in irrational, racist ways, is to hammer them non-stop with propaganda and make them feel that, if they disagree, they are being "unpatriotic", or "immoral", and don't fit in their society.

Hm... now who is doing exactly that...?


[ Parent ]

Not to bad, but we've done this topic to death (3.42 / 7) (#57)
by RyoCokey on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 12:57:59 PM EST

Especially in the wake of the 2000 elections. Plus, this particular article sounds more like "Holy shit, a Republican got elected, have to fix the system to make sure that doesn't happen again."



Pacifism in this poor world in which we live -- this lost world -- means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.
-- Francis Schaeffer,
Done to death (4.00 / 4) (#61)
by enterfornone on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 04:08:48 PM EST

So it was done to death two years ago? There are a lot of people here who haven't been around K5 that long.

Would you prefer I post another Iraq article?

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]

Yes! :D (5.00 / 1) (#62)
by RyoCokey on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 05:03:06 PM EST

Extra points if you propose a better voting system as a solution instead of war.



Pacifism in this poor world in which we live -- this lost world -- means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.
-- Francis Schaeffer,
[ Parent ]
Saddam got 100% of the vote (none / 0) (#94)
by ajf on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 01:52:16 AM EST

why shouldn't he have 100% of the power?

"I have no idea if it is true or not, but given what you read on the Web, it seems to be a valid concern." -jjayson
[ Parent ]
he does [nt] (none / 0) (#105)
by enterfornone on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 04:07:54 AM EST



--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
Small point (4.66 / 3) (#64)
by andrewm on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 06:01:40 PM EST

If the republicans are widely liked in the US, then MMP will ensure they have the representation that they deserve, even when FPP anomalies would allow Democrats to sneak extra people into the government.

An interesting point I noted in one article about the problems in Florida was that in the previous election, the exact same problem with the ballot paper benefitted the Democrat party.

The system being broken doesn't mean that the benefits won't be shared around.

[ Parent ]

Chicken and egg? (4.50 / 2) (#63)
by srn on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 05:18:33 PM EST

It's hard to know which causes which. Do people vote for the minor parties because the know they can get seats and this makes them more aware of other issues or the opposite?

Tasmania is a funny place, though - a good portion is very concerned about "modern" issues, like the environment, but another larget portion are very socially conservative. Makes a fairly explosive mix at times.

For example, I used to work with a guy who was punched in a pub for "looking like a Greenie" by a logger. He wasn't a Greenie, and to me he just looked normal. I guess there was a lot of tension.

What the devil! (none / 0) (#79)
by drizzy on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:27:41 PM EST

Never seen any of that sort of stuff in Hobart. Maybe I'm not going to the right pubs :)

[ Parent ]
You can't conclude anything (none / 0) (#89)
by bjlhct on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 12:58:57 AM EST

from people being punched in pubs, except that alcohol was involved.

*
[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
Wrong Conclusion (5.00 / 2) (#68)
by duncan bayne on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 07:24:51 PM EST

The concept of "one man, one vote" is fundamental to the system of representative democracy. Likewise it should be fundamental that parties should be given power in proportion to the number of people who vote for them. 40% of people should not have 100% of the power. New Zealand's Mixed Member Proportional electoral system achieves this goal and it is a system well worth looking at by those proposing electoral reforms in other countries.

It's only achieved these goals in the last election. Prior to that, minority parties (NZ First, Alliance, Greens) had far more power than their share of votes would suggest. Also, there's no evidence to suggest that the next election won't revert back to the old king-maker scenario, with one minor party holding sway - I suspect the last election was something of a fluke.



Government vs Opposition (none / 0) (#77)
by Repton on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:06:26 PM EST

The problem is that it's still a significant "win" if you can be in Government. You get to call all the shots, in terms of the budget, ministries, policy, et cetera. As such, the parties with a big share of the vote are willing to make major concessions to minor parties in order to win that prize.

I'm not sure what the solution to this is ... Maybe the big parties need to hold to their principles a bit more :-)

(this is not quite as silly as it sounds ... Remember when the National / NZ First government was running at 90% dissapproval? That might not have happened if National hadn't looked so willing to sell off any policy they had just to get their hands on the reins of power. And then maybe they'd still be relevant today)


--
Repton.
They say that only an experienced wizard can do the tengu shuffle..
[ Parent ]

That guy before GW Bush... (1.00 / 2) (#69)
by mmsmatt on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 09:44:12 PM EST

The result of this is that the President, who in the case of George W. Bush was elected with a popular vote of only 47.87%, is in complete control of the Executive, accountable to no one.

Ah, what's his name again? Ya know, the Pres who was almost impeached, and all his mistakes are blamed on the currect CINC...? I don't remember, but anyways he didn't get half the country to vote for him.

all his mistakes are blamed on the currect CINC (none / 0) (#71)
by enterfornone on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 10:22:59 PM EST

I knew it was Bush giving Clinton head!

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
who cares? (none / 0) (#73)
by modmans2ndcoming on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 10:43:22 PM EST

the popular vote is not even relivent in our country! we have a system that gives proportional representation in the election of a president so that we do not have the most populus states deciding presidential elections. the east and west coast have more people than the middle of the country, and as such would get all the attention of the candidates and would also have very little chance of getting their voice heard in the executive branch. the president represents all the people and as such should need to worry about all the states rather than 10-15 of them.

[ Parent ]
On the contrary (3.00 / 2) (#90)
by bjlhct on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 01:01:28 AM EST

smaller states get more power than they should population wise.

But you're right in that it leads to an all or nothing approach in campaigning.

*
[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]

Right (none / 0) (#92)
by Skywise on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 01:10:19 AM EST

No US election has ever ended up in a tie..

Why bother?

[ Parent ]

small states don't get more power than they should (none / 0) (#167)
by modmans2ndcoming on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 10:34:34 PM EST

their electoral votes are based on their population. a vaery small state will have 3 (2 senators, 1 rep). it is realy pretty proportional to their population.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, check out just how proportional it is: (5.00 / 1) (#178)
by onemorechip on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 03:26:42 AM EST

here
--------------------------------------------------

I did my essay on mushrooms. It's about cats.
[ Parent ]

it is as proportional as the house is (none / 0) (#183)
by modmans2ndcoming on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 12:44:21 PM EST

so what is your point? being based on population by definition makes it proportional.

[ Parent ]
Incorrect (none / 0) (#186)
by onemorechip on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 10:29:26 PM EST

being based on population by definition makes it proportional.

Being based on x (i.e., y=f(x)) does not make y proportional to x. Even if f(x) is a linear function it does not follow that y is proportional.

In this case, y = ax + 2. So the smaller x is (since we are talking about positive real numbers), the larger the ratio is.

That is by definition not proportionality. It is not even "as proportional as the House is", since for the HR, y = ax (with rounding applied). Wyoming has 1 rep in the House and 3 electoral votes; California has 52 reps in the House and 54 electoral votes.
--------------------------------------------------

I did my essay on mushrooms. It's about cats.
[ Parent ]

do you know how they get the 3 electoral votes? (none / 0) (#187)
by modmans2ndcoming on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 10:37:02 PM EST

reps plus senators. every state is equal in the senate and is represeted proportionaly in the house. given that, the electoral votes are fair to every one.

given that every state is guaronteed 2 electoral votes, the diffrence between the states is proportional to their population. small staes are not given 2 bonus electoal votes, california has the same 2 votes, there for, any variation of the numbers of electoral votes between staes is proportional to the population

[ Parent ]

Do you know what you're talking about? (none / 0) (#189)
by onemorechip on Wed Mar 19, 2003 at 01:13:55 AM EST

Of course I know where the two excess votes come from. That doesn't mean that I agree that it's fair. It isn't fair because it isn't proportional to population. This was simply a sell-out by the framers of the Constitution to get the smaller states to sign on. Just showing that you know the arbitrary formula on which it is based does not show that it is fair.

You claim that the EC represents the population of each state proportionally. The facts do not support your claim. A voter from Wyoming has over three times the level of representation as a voter from California.

You also claim that it is as proportional to state population as representation in the House is. The facts do not support this claim either. The House is proportional. The Senate is not. Proportional plus non-proportional does not make it proportional.

Why should the level of my representation in the EC depend on what state I'm from? It's time the US abandoned the EC altogether.

small staes are not given 2 bonus electoal votes, california has the same 2 votes, there for, any variation of the numbers of electoral votes between staes is proportional to the population

What rubbish. 2 delegates apportioned to the half a million or so inhabitants of a small state is not the same as 2 delegates representing the roughly 30 million inhabitants of California. If it weren't for the other EC delegates, the ones corresponding to the Representative in the House, the disparity would be more like 60 to 1.
--------------------------------------------------

I did my essay on mushrooms. It's about cats.
[ Parent ]

your right (none / 0) (#191)
by modmans2ndcoming on Wed Mar 19, 2003 at 07:49:18 AM EST

ut do you realy think it isthat unfair to a sztate like california or new york or floridaor michigan that wyoming has 3 electoral votes?

and I am right about the DIFFRENCE between the states is proportional, but that is a cop out.

[ Parent ]

the electoral system in the US has nothing to do (2.00 / 1) (#72)
by modmans2ndcoming on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 10:39:26 PM EST

about it. to a point. sure, it would be hard for other parties to be elected president becasue we give the states the power rather than the national popular vote, but that is how the entire system is built, in a federation of states so the states have powers that the feds do not have and the states have a voice rather than the popular opinion.

As far as the congress, that is not done electoraly but by direct vote. the problem in the US is that congressional districs have only one rep (senators can not have proportional representation becasue they are set up to give each state an equal voice rather than a proportional voice). if congressional districs allowed for proportional representation down to say 5%, then it would be possable to have a proportional system, infact, it would give a greater reason to have the house of reps to have much more power in government since they will be speaking with the voice of all the people.

that is how to fix our system, and it is the only way to fix our system to be proportional since the house is the only proportional body in government.

One important thing (4.33 / 3) (#76)
by Skywise on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:06:06 PM EST

The US system is *not* a two party system, nor is it designed to cater to political party representation.  Though it is one currently, that is only because circumstances have balanced out that way and the parties in power have established legislation to help keep them in power.

The problem with the New Zealand system is that forcing people to vote for political representation directly gives power to political parties.  Government offices then are always beholden to the political party first, government/state second.

Also. even though minority political parties are given voices in the government they still have MINORITY power.  Nader got something like 7% of the vote in the last election?  So that'd be 4 votes out of 51 in the political appointess in parliament.  So "Go ahead, throw your vote away" once again becomes a valid argument among the other political parties that have majority status.

You're still better off trading your vote to the majority if the majority will offer you ideological legislation.

Which, ironically, is what the US system is designed to handle.  (Just not used that way anymore).

I disagree (4.50 / 2) (#84)
by duffbeer703 on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:52:57 PM EST

US political parties are essentialy coalitions of local parties. A Democrat in the inner city has wildely different views than a Southern Democrat or one of the Machine Democrats from the North.

The fringe parties are usually one-issue parties whose ideas are absorbed into the larger national parties platform. Theodore Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" (Progressive) party platform was largely adopted by Democratic politicians. Parts of Ross Perot's platform were adopted by the Republicans. Nader's "Green" party is essentially liberal democrats dissatisfied with the conservative/moderate leadership of the Democratic party.

New Zealand has chosen to give more formal recognition to fringe parties, which probaly would work ok in a country as small as NZ. In the United States, where a larger state like New York has 10 recognized parties, the resulting chaos would render federal government utterly ineffective.

[ Parent ]

I see your point... (5.00 / 1) (#91)
by Skywise on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 01:03:47 AM EST

But couldn't you then say that the states serve the same purpose here as supporting fringe political parties?

(State's being the ones that can send a proportional number of elected representatives)

[ Parent ]

Good point (none / 0) (#117)
by duffbeer703 on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 09:05:06 AM EST

That is an interesting thought... but a state is also proportioned locally. For example, in New York, you have a balance between more liberal democrats in NYC, Albany, Syracuse and Buffalo and conservative democrats and republicans in rural and suburban areas.

I think that if a system is setup well and has enough flexibility to function, proportionality will be a natural thing. Attempting to force a complex system ontop of a legislative structure strikes me as a bad thing.


[ Parent ]

power to political parties (5.00 / 2) (#85)
by enterfornone on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:54:00 PM EST

The problem with the New Zealand system is that forcing people to vote for political representation directly gives power to political parties. Government offices then are always beholden to the political party first, government/state second.
Political parties had power long before NZ gave them recognition. The problem with the US and other systems is by ignoring the existance of political parties they end up giving the dominant ones more power.
Also. even though minority political parties are given voices in the government they still have MINORITY power.
However since the major parties don't have a majority either, they need to get agreement with the minor parties in order to get any legislation through. Which means that no one can have absolute power.

As one Australian minor party puts it, this helps "Keep the bastards honest".

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]

Not quite true (none / 0) (#177)
by onemorechip on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 03:19:37 AM EST

The US system is *not* a two party system, nor is it designed to cater to political party representation. Though it is one currently, that is only because circumstances have balanced out that way and the parties in power have established legislation to help keep them in power.

It is not a two-party system by design, but to understand the "circumstances" that resulted in a de facto two-party system read this and follow the link on Duverger's Law.


--------------------------------------------------

I did my essay on mushrooms. It's about cats.
[ Parent ]

Sort of... (none / 0) (#188)
by Skywise on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 11:18:39 PM EST

But it doesn't, for instance, explain India.


[ Parent ]
Could you elaborate? (none / 0) (#190)
by onemorechip on Wed Mar 19, 2003 at 01:37:17 AM EST

I'm not familiar with India's politics. I would be interested in hearing more if you could provide some insight.

I'll assume you mean there are many major parties in India in spite of a first-past-the-post system. If that's the case then there may be other social factors at work -- perhaps a strong regional component. Since I don't have the necessary familiarity I can only speculate.

Duverger's Law isn't really an absolute law like the law of gravity, it's just a social tendency. But that tendency arises from the (theoretical at least) efforts of voters to maximize expected utility for themselves, and in first-past-the-post systems, that almost always means voting for one of the two front-runners. I would suspect also that some cultures are more utilitarian than others and therefore more likely to see this effect.

It gets very hard for alternative parties to gain parity, once two dominant parties become entrenched. Alternate voting systems such as approval voting for single-winner races, or proportional representation when there are multiple seats, are the way to get over that dominance and restore diversity to a political system that has lost it.
--------------------------------------------------

I did my essay on mushrooms. It's about cats.
[ Parent ]

That's what I was referring to... (none / 0) (#192)
by Skywise on Wed Mar 19, 2003 at 11:47:12 AM EST

India having past the post voting, but having multiple parties.  It's also possible that India's system is too young to have stabilized to two parties.  (There were at least 3 major political parties in the US in 1900)

I'm not denying that once parties are in power they'll take steps to stay there.  My belief is that its not the political parties themselves that do this, its the people in power.  So that even if you do have multiple political parties accounted for in the voting process, those same people will do whatever they can to stay in power and its much harder for voters to keep control of the system in that respect.


[ Parent ]

I agree, mostly (none / 0) (#194)
by onemorechip on Wed Mar 19, 2003 at 09:12:10 PM EST

Yeah, the age of the political system could have something to do with it as well. I'm not aware of any time limit that the two-party (d)evolution would require, and it's not going to be overnight. It could be something like the 2nd law of thermodynamics, where entropy in a closed system is able to move in only one direction, but the rate of movement isn't some fundamental constant.

I agree with your second point to a degree, but I think that there's a self-sustaining nature to the two-party condition under first-past-the-post so that the only way it can be undone (without changing the voting system) would be through gross incompetence of one of the parties, sustained over many election cycles. But then I think the result would be that a new dominant party would soon move in to replace the party that gets booted, and you'd still end up with two dominant parties.

I haven't even touched on the idea that the two dominant parties might eventually start acting so much like each other that for all intents you have a single party. And (borrowing a quote from Douglas Adams), "There is another theory which states that this has already happened."
--------------------------------------------------

I did my essay on mushrooms. It's about cats.
[ Parent ]

The Electoral College (4.00 / 3) (#78)
by duffbeer703 on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:22:10 PM EST

Is one of the most misunderstood US institutions.

The framers of the US Federal government were afraid that large, powerful states (New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia) would have an unfair advantage in Presidential elections and a candidate with a platform beneficial to large states would always win.

Today if you carry California, Texas, NY, Ohio and Florida, you will be elected president. But since the key issues in states vary, a candidate must be well rounded to carry all the states. As an example a strong, pro-labor union candidate would lose Texas and Florida, but would carry the Northeast and Midwest, and still be able to win the election.

With regard to the 2000 election, Bush has really received a bum rap. Blame should be pointed at the political machines that control the votes and the vote counting. A national campaign has little to do with the local parties who manipulate elections every day to purchase patronage.

The fact that Bush received 50% of the vote in Florida to begin with is incredible -- Florida has a powerful democratic party and plenty of people (retirees, immigrants) who consistently vote democrat. The fact that Bush was polling so well is probaly what prompted election commissioners to fake vote results and cheat as obviously as they did.

Minor addition -- the fix (none / 0) (#99)
by Quila on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:23:59 AM EST

As you said, the electoral college does a great job of keeping the large states from becoming too powerful, but the winner-take-all system does end up giving those states too much power. A candidate only has to take the largest several states to win the presidency.

The simple answer would be to remove the winner-take-all system.

[ Parent ]

Delicate balance (none / 0) (#116)
by duffbeer703 on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 08:55:51 AM EST

While you want to limit the power of huge states, you also don't want small states to dominate the field either.

Personally, I think the current system has done a good job of representing everyone and maintaining stability.

[ Parent ]

I don't think (none / 0) (#119)
by minerboy on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 10:02:55 AM EST

I don't think that all states are winner take all, and there is certainly no legal requirement that this be the case. From time to time, one elector will cast a protest vote for a third party candidate. In principle, the electors could have chosen either Bush or Gore regardless of what the state vote was.



[ Parent ]
Nebraska and Maine (4.00 / 1) (#122)
by Quila on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 10:52:10 AM EST

Not that they count much in a presidential election anyway.

In addition to killing any chance for a third party (Perot 1992, 19% popular vote, 0 electoral votes), the current winner-take-all systems also disenfranchise voters of the two main parties. If you're a Democrat in a heavily-Republican state (and vise-versa), your vote doesn't really matter. Bypassing this is the point behind some of the vote-swapping sites gearing up for the next election.

[ Parent ]

A few UKian corrections. (3.50 / 2) (#81)
by it certainly is on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:34:37 PM EST

In practice however, the party that controls the Executive generally has a complete majority in the lower house and as such the lower house acts as little more than a rubber-stamp for the decisions of the executive branch.

This is not a fault. This is the design. Since the introduction of Party politics in Westminster, one party (the Parliamentary Party) is considered as Her Majesty's Government, sitting to the right of the Speaker in the Commons, and all other parties are united as Opposition, sitting on the left of the Speaker. In order to be an effective Government, the Parliamentary Party must have what's called the "working majority", that is it must have won 50% or more of the 659 seats in Parliament. If not, you have a "hung Parliament", which is useless. The Government's bills can be rejected and the Opposition's motions (such as the Conservative opposition's cheeky 1979 "this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government", which it won and thus caused the downfall of the Government) can be passed. Thus you have a Government that's unable to legislate anything and can even be forced to resign, dissolve Parliament and hold another General Election.

The Commons is not a free-for-all debating chamber like in a student union. The majority of the Parliamentary session is devoted to debating Government Bills. If you are not the Government, the only real chances you have are Private Members Ballot (you put your name in a hat, they draw out 20 members -- those members are then guaranteed a debating slot for a bill on whatever they want) or Ten Minute Rule Bills (like it says, you have 10 minutes to make your case).

Party politics means that members of the Opposition parties will be made to vote against the Government, even if they personally like the idea. Likewise, Government Members are compelled by Whips to vote for the Government, even if they don't like the idea.

The UK also has an unelected upper house, made up of appointees and hereditary peers, however their powers are minimal.

Until Dear Leader butchered them this year, the Lords had final say on all Government Bills. They had unlimited power to return Bills to the Commons. The only limitation they used to have was that they could not indefinately reject bills that implemented part of the Government's manifesto, as those Bills were seen as already having the approval of the Electorate.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.

Hung parliament (none / 0) (#83)
by enterfornone on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:47:50 PM EST

If not, you have a "hung Parliament", which is useless.
Not really. In that case you would end up with a government based on consensus rather than on one party's absolute rule. That's what the NZ system results in. I think that would be a good thing.

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
No, it ends up with coalition governments. (none / 0) (#111)
by it certainly is on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 07:29:41 AM EST

Where one (or more) minority parties complete and utterly ignore their principles and all the people who voted for them, just to shack up with the majority party and do whatever they say, even when it contradicts their core party values and/or election pledges. Such as the Lib Dems selling out to Labour in the Scottish Parliament. Thanks you guys! I voted for you and this is how you repay me?

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

re: hung parliaments (none / 0) (#163)
by Minty on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 08:55:45 PM EST

Hi, I'm afraid I don't have any specifics to hand but I do remeber reading a book on british consitutional law that pointed out that Hung parliaments were not actually proven to be of any less worth than any other parliament. Infact, IIRC< the last hung parliament in the UK (the date escapes me, but I think it was in ether the 60's or 70's) actually passed more meaningful legislation that any other parliament of the era. Personally I'm in favour of proportional representation and shorter terms for goverments, party politics in this country has become quite repulsive, and thanks to the parliament act we do now have, whether for good or bad, an elective dictatorship. I also worry that not enough people are going to appreciate what a loss Robin Cooke is going to be to parliamentary reform in this country.
-- You can get all your daily vitamins from 42 pints of guiness, and a glass of milk.
[ Parent ]
The US system vs. complicated schemes (3.00 / 3) (#82)
by duffbeer703 on Sun Mar 16, 2003 at 11:40:06 PM EST

The "Proportional" electoral system you describe is a historical oddball that will be replaced as soon as a party has enough power to change the law.

The US system does a very good job of representing minority interests -- and oftentimes that is a terrible thing.

The principal "protector of the minority" in the United States is the Senate. US Senators serve six-year terms, which insulates them from public opinion, and gain in-depth knowledge of various aspects of government through their service on various Senate committees. The Senate is also very small at 100 members and it's members are generally very intellectual politicians who wield considerable power at home.

The best single example of how the Senate protects a minority is Civil Rights & Segregation. From 1897 until 1958, the House of Representatives (the lower house of Congress) overwhelmingly passed legislation making lynching a federal crime.

The Southern Caucus, who represented the states which had joined the confederacy, managed to lockup this legislation in committee for nearly sixty years. (When legislation is in committee, it never gets voted on) The Senate actually voted on the legislation approximately 4 times, and it was filibustered by Southern Senators (and again, never voted on) until Lyndon Johnson dominated the Senate in the late 50's.

While this is an extreme example, there are plenty of other cases where minority parties or parts of parties (like the Southern Democrats) have their voices heard and heeded.

A system like that of the US is a better solution. The Democratic and Republican parties are essentially a coalition of state and local political parties. Power shifts in the party moderate political change and functions more efficently than a gaggle of oddball parties dominated by one or two mainstream parties.

Ahem... (none / 0) (#108)
by Nesian on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 06:41:17 AM EST

The "Proportional" electoral system you describe is a historical oddball that will be replaced as soon as a party has enough power to change the law.

The system is deisgned so that things take a hell of a lot longer to change than they would in the US. No one party would ever have the ability to change it on their own, without declaring martial law and holding the country to ransom of course.


~After all, if you stockpile a massive nuclear arsenal, it's only natural that people are going to want to go in and have a look around, maybe see what all those buttons marked 'detonate' and 'code red' mean.~
[ Parent ]

That is precisely what the US does.... (none / 0) (#118)
by duffbeer703 on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 09:14:20 AM EST

Did you read my post?

At the Federal level, a coalition of 4-5 Senators can block the passage of any meaningful legislation, or alter it to suit their requirements.

It may take awhile, but some party or coalition of parties will someday want to remain the most powerful game in town -- and will repeal this system.

The US government has essentially maintained the same form since 1789, and it will remain the same for some time.

[ Parent ]

What's bad about that? (none / 0) (#88)
by bjlhct on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 12:50:00 AM EST

National government handles national problems. Local government handles local problems. Hmmm?

*
[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
history of New Zealand (3.00 / 1) (#93)
by danny on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 01:22:09 AM EST

If you're interested in the history of New Zealand, I highly recommend James Belich's two volume A History of the New Zealanders (Making Peoples and Paradise Reforged).

Of course that ends pretty with MMP being introduced.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]

NZ System (5.00 / 2) (#96)
by sgidude on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 02:28:36 AM EST

There are three major issues with the NZ system
  1. : Duration of term, the duration is <= 3 years, which is too short by at least 1, any benefits of being able to get someone out is outweighed by the in inability of a governing party to really bed a policy in resulting in more frequent change than is good.
  2. : The timing of the election is defined by the incumbant government, which allows use of things like Rugby World Cups, or other major sporting events to "help" the votes.
  3. : The coalition goverments are less stable & the minority parties dissappear. It will take time for NZ to get used to MMP.

I like proportional representation as a concept & is more democratic ( just look at the last US presidential election ) but the Irish have a system called STV & I think it is better if not more complicated ( Ace Project have alot of info )

Nigel

Nothing wrong with minority parties going... (2.00 / 1) (#97)
by Lord of Caustic Soda on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:11:38 AM EST

Especially they happen to be the Greens, with a whole bunch of tree-huggin' hippies running amok.

[ Parent ]
In context (5.00 / 3) (#98)
by izogi on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:16:09 AM EST

As a New Zealander I agree with some of what you've brought up, but I think it'd be fair to put it in context. In short, MMP appears to be working well for New Zealand in the current term. New Zealand is a relatively small, isolated island country with the population of a small to medium US state. (Now almost 4 million.)

Helen Clark (current NZ Prime Minister) is very charismatic compared with other PM's in most people's recent memory, and for most people there's no obvious alternative. The current government's support might have nothing to do with the electoral system -- it could be equally likely that it's due to her ability to stand up and lead really well and respond to difficult questions, which could be a result of most democratic systems given the right circumstances. Most of the general policy is popularly in favour of the working class majority, although just how successful it eventually is will probably have to be determined by looking back in hindsight.

MMP itself isn't a proven system for NZ in my eyes. This is our third MMP election and we seem to have ended up with a reasonable result, but that's because essentially one party is heavily dominating everything -- not because there's equal representation in decision making. The Labour party has 52 of 120 seats, it has a coalition with a minor middle-of-the-line party to bring it up to 60 seats. One further MP to vote and it can do what it wants.

Our first and second MMP elections were awful. Neither of the two largest political parties had a majority, and there was a semi-major party in the middle with a few seats run by a guy who's made his reputation by stirring up extreme racial issues. (5% of people vote for him, everyone else thinks he's a complete idiot who calls everyone a racist when they argue with him.) He sat down both major parties for coalition talks and the major party that gave up the most of its principles went into the government. It wasn't a representative government, it was a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Another general argued problem with MMP is that there's no clear way to keep someone out of parliament. As long as a political party has enough proportional votes (5% threshold or at least on MP in an electorate somewhere), it's the party who gets to decide who goes through for the list MP positions. The lists are published before the elections, but in reality most people cast their party vote based on the party policy, not based on who's on the list.

Now as parties are starting to learn how MMP works, they're talking with each other before the election, and giving voters an idea of what the coalitions might look like with different proportions.

People also vote strategically and parties campaign strategically. There's a 5% threshold required to get list MP's into the house, but if one MP gets through in any of the electorates, the proportional amount of list MP's (that could be under 5%) is pulled through to join them. This means that some of the smaller parties that aren't likely to get 5% will often focus their campaign on winning in one specific electorate. If one of the larger parties thinks they might want to form a coalition with a particular smaller party after the election, they might withdraw their candidate in that electorate and tell all of their supporters to vote for the small party candidate instead.

In any case, it's more complicated than it looks. At least in New Zealand, it's not yet a proven system. (Give it another 15 years, maybe.) It's also only being demonstrated on a small scale.


- izogi


I wonder whom you voted for... (none / 0) (#104)
by Lord of Caustic Soda on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:45:21 AM EST

Yes, the first MMP election outcome is definitely a case of minority party running amok (the second wasn't nearly as bad). I'd say we barely managed to avoid a repeat in the last election thanks to the Greens being shut out of government.

[ Parent ]
Greens (none / 0) (#150)
by lakeland on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 05:28:30 PM EST

Hey, I voted for the greens and, apart from a couple obvious gaffes, I've been generally happy with their record to date :-P

[ Parent ]
Ye Gods (none / 0) (#185)
by duncan bayne on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 07:47:00 PM EST

What, you mean other than their support for a ban on water (they fell hook, line & sinker for the DHMO hoax)?

[ Parent ]
Because the party of the religious right is (5.00 / 1) (#160)
by rodgerd on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 08:28:17 PM EST

so much better.

rolls eyes

[ Parent ]

Perhaps because politics is slow to adjust (none / 0) (#149)
by lakeland on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 05:25:19 PM EST

Look at how politicians have reacted to recent elections, and you'll see they are only just starting to adjust to MMP.  There is still a very strong concept of `we're the dominating party, so do what we say' rather than negotiation.  Only one of the two traditional parties (national) has had to change at all.  Really, I don't think you can say NZ has experienced MMP until the politicans start forming a dymamic government.  You see a little of this, with the greens sometimes voting with the government, and NZ first sometimes voting with the government, but it is too early to say what effects it will have yet.

[ Parent ]
UnitedFuture are an improvement... (none / 0) (#159)
by rodgerd on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 08:27:42 PM EST

...on the unwanted coalition of National-NZ First?  How many Labour voters imagined they'd be getting a coalition with a religious-right party?  How many of the UF voters imagined they'd get Labour?

[ Parent ]
United and fundamental christianity (none / 0) (#172)
by izogi on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 01:55:17 AM EST

Agreed. I'm interested in how many last-minute swing voters, who decided to vote United after the debate shortly before the election, realised that United had become much more of a religious-right party since three years before. I'd also like to know how many people had any idea who was on the partly list or what they stood for.

From memory the support for United seemed to drop off very quickly after the election, once lots of people realised they'd voted in lots of christian fundamentalists. On the other hand, United's been very quiet and it's sometimes difficult to even remember that they still exist. I certainly can't complain about them so far, but I haven't exactly been looking in any detail at what they've been doing.


- izogi


[ Parent ]
Easy press, Dunne (5.00 / 1) (#193)
by rodgerd on Wed Mar 19, 2003 at 06:42:39 PM EST

Peter Dunne exudes reasonableness (whether he is or not is another question entirely), and the media largely gave United Future a free ride up to the election, with scrutiny of the candidates around him really only beginning, well, after it was all over.

I imagine a lot of the UF vote was the same group who are attracted to Winston Peters when he's not foaming at the mouth and dissafected National voters who are wating for them to lurch to the centre, rather than the right (they'll be waiting a long time for English or Brownlee to do so).

They're been very quite because the tiny (nearly non-existant) Christian Right in New Zealand have openly acknowledge they've been importing Ralph Reed's advisors to explain to them how they engineered their rise within the Republican Party.  They know being honest about their goals will get them the resounding "fuck off" they've had for the last 20 odd years, so they're hoping to lie thier way into power.

[ Parent ]

NZ is run by a woman (2.50 / 2) (#100)
by tubgirl on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:24:17 AM EST

As is Ireland. Given that women make up the majority of voters in all countries (all countries that allow them to vote in any case), that would appear to be proof that proportional representation in whatever form better reflects the people.

Er... not really (none / 0) (#103)
by Lord of Caustic Soda on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:38:59 AM EST

The National government had a coup in the middle of their term, resulting in the first woman PM in New Zealand (as opposed to the first ELECTED woman PM). Probably a lot less women voted for National then Labour at the time.

Who gets picked as the leader of the party is not up to the public, and I doubt many people cast their votes based on the gender of the party head.

Anyway, care to explain Thatcher?

[ Parent ]

Wait a second... (none / 0) (#141)
by JahToasted on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:45:22 PM EST

Thatcher was a woman?

[ Parent ]
Ireland has a female president... (none / 0) (#115)
by Cougaris on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 08:52:22 AM EST

...but it is not run by her. An Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern runs the country. Not that I'm a big bertie fan or anything.

[ Parent ]
Some background information (4.00 / 1) (#101)
by Lord of Caustic Soda on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:30:27 AM EST

There have been 3 MMP elections in New Zealand. The first had National and NZ First forming a coalition government much to the surprise of many people.

The second had Labour and Alliance forming a coalition (Alliance consisted of a multitude of small parties including the Greens and various others). During that term the Greens left Alliance, which disintegrated completely before the next election.

Before the last election National had a major "purge" with many older MPs being dropped in favour of new people (the resulting lack of name recognition IMHO partially explains their poor showing). United, which used to be pretty much a one-man party (the MP was popular in his own electorate), took in some of the Christian parties and managed to get a decent proportion of votes. Act also managed to get a decent number of votes from former National voters.

I'll attempt to list the parties in the traditional "left" and "right" spectrum, not that it really means much:

"Right-wing"
Act
NZ First
National
United
Labour
Green
"Left-wing"

One of the advantage of MMP as it stands is the 2 votes allow some strategic voting - the electorate vote to the major party candidate and the party vote to the minor party is usually the right thing to do (assuming any of the minor parties are to your liking at all). I was doing vote counting work during the last election and still a lot of people still don't know how to split their votes the right way - votes to minor party candidates in the electorate is pretty much wasted.

Wasted votes (5.00 / 2) (#110)
by izogi on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 07:09:16 AM EST

I was doing vote counting work during the last election and still a lot of people still don't know how to split their votes the right way - votes to minor party candidates in the electorate is pretty much wasted.

I disagree. That assumes the main goal of the person voting is to get the person elected, which often isn't true. By such logic, the minor candidates shouldn't even bother running in the electorates.

I routinely vote for minor candidates and/or submit a spoiled vote in protest because I don't think I'm being presented with any reasonable voting options. I'm sure other people vote for minor candidates just to register that they support non-mainstream issues, for the knowledge of whoever is elected.

Why should anyone be expected to vote for the one they hate least just because nobody else has a chance? To imply that the system should be designed that way would be a shame, IMHO. You might or might not agree with my reasoning to avoid voting for a possible winner, but it's a completely rational decision.


- izogi


[ Parent ]
George Washington warned us (5.00 / 2) (#102)
by Quila on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:35:29 AM EST

in his farewell address. First, the general warning:
"Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally."
And this looks a lot like our current situation:
"The disorders and miseries which result [from the actions of parties] gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty."
And the last bit of advise to us:
"...common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it."
Ah, just read the whole thing at Yale. It seems George Washington had quite a bit of foresight.


One key factor not mentioned in the article (5.00 / 4) (#107)
by rol on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 05:06:37 AM EST

I'll ignore proportional representation and other important stuff already mentioned in the article. Let me just point out one additional method that's been in use forever in Switzerland, and how this can solve a major problem with all the systems mentioned in the article.

The Swiss government consists of seven ministers from the same four parties since 1959 (the prime minister is only primus inter pares), regardless of shifts in the parliament that elects it. The coalition goes from the socialist party all the way to a right-wing conservative party.

The obvious questions are: How can this be stable, and if it is stable, where's change coming from?

The answer to both questions is the same: referenda/ballots. Each of the four parties in the government is strong enough to make life difficult for the rest by collecting signatures (about 1.5% of the population) to put laws up to public ballots or change the constitution. Having all of them within the government makes it easier to govern in a way that takes all major political flavors into consideration.

But ballots are also a means to inject change into the system: In May 2003, for instance, Swiss citizens get to vote on:

  • Different health insurance financing
  • Dropping nuclear energy
  • Encouraging companies to offer more apprenticeship places
All of them were suggested by some initiative. They are only some examples from one ballot day (out of three days this year). Needless to say there are additional ballots on state and municipal level. I once read that Switzerland holds more ballots than all other countries combined -- I don't know whether that's true, but it sure feels like it :-) [1].

Here comes the major point with regards to representing the will of the people: The cool thing about ballots is that you don't have to buy the whole agenda of the ruling parties. If you elect them for their fiscal policy, you don't have to accept their position on civil rights, abortion, environmental issues, or immigration. Ballots can take care of that.

Last, not least, as a recent story mentioned, "greater participation promotes happiness".

[1] And the fancy counting equipment? -- Volunteers sorting each piece of paper by hand!

Initiatives Can Be Problematic (3.00 / 1) (#133)
by tudlio on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 01:52:13 PM EST

Switzerland's population is about 7,300,000. I suspect it's relatively small size and homogenous population contribute a great deal to the success of the initiative system.

In California (population 34,501,130) we've had less success with initiatives. With such a large and heterogenous population passing a ballot initiative becomes a contest between who can afford the best publicity. It's also an out for the legislature, allowing them to pass of the hard decisions to the electorate and the courts, where most high-profile ballot initiatives eventually end up.

No doubt there are other factors than population that matter to the success of the ballot initiative system, but my main point is that it's a mistake to think a system that works in one country can easily be transported to another.




insert self-deprecatory humor here
[ Parent ]
Interesting points, bad examples :-) (4.00 / 1) (#147)
by rol on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 04:53:59 PM EST

Valid points, and I don't have the evidence to prove you wrong. I fully support your statement that there is no magic bullet for this kind of problems. I didn't claim ballots are the cure to all problems, I was rather trying to show that there are methods that work (for some places, anyway) but tend to get ignored. And I do believe that direct democracy (ballots, initiatives, referenda) should play a prominent role in more countries than it does today.

Still, I can't resist addressing some of your points:

  • Switzerland talks four official languages (three of them significant). About 20% of the inhabitants are foreigners (roughly, off the top of my head). There's quite a mentality difference even between the "natives" of the big three regions.
    I suspect that the Swiss population isn't that much more homogenous than the one of California (depends on the definition, of course).
  • Your point about publicity contests and decisions ending up in court is most definitely not a problem with initiatives, but with the USA. Case in point are elections to the parliament or the White House. Addressing that (e.g. prohibiting political TV commercials or subsidizing them) would likely cause a First Amendment war -- different problem.
From my personal experience, I am guessing (warning! speculation ahead!) a crucial factor in the US is that major portions of the population (even those with college degrees) don't give a damn about politics. That's a complex issue and depends on many aspects like education or media (imagine, for instance, having a chunk of prime time TV (or nearly so) dedicated to political debates in the weeks before a ballot, and people actually watching it.).

This reminds me of the arguments over whether a particular country is ready for democracy (watch Afghanistan and Iraq!). The successful democracies of today didn't have a people "ready for it" when they started, either. It takes time and education. One key problem with introducing (direct) democracy is that politicians tend to have little interest in allowing it, or making it work.

[ Parent ]

Direct Representation is the answer (5.00 / 5) (#109)
by Bryan Larsen on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 07:08:27 AM EST

I was hoping to get around to writing an article for Kuro5hin about it, but I guess I'll do it on the fly.

Direct Representation is a very simple system: you maintain a preferential list of the candidates that you would like to represent you in the house.  This list may be as long as you'd like, and may contain any citizen who has reached the age of majority.  You're welcome, even encouraged, to put your own name, or the name of close friends and relatives at or near the top of the list.  This list may be updated at any time: your representative may change as their support waxes and wanes.

Your representative would then be the highest person on your list that is also the highest person on the lists of N voters.  N=1 million may be a good number for the United States, to give an example.

And that's it, the rest is implementation detail.  It's simpler than the simplest first past the post, and a lot simpler than any sort of hybrid system.  Collation of the results would have been impossible before the computer, but easy today.

Election of the head of state and possibly selection of his/her council would likely be done in conventional elections.

There are a lot of great benefits:

1) A representative whose interests closely align with yours.  To ensure representation, you can choose any of the 300 existing representatives, plus if your interesets align with 0.3% of the population, the system makes it easy to find a common candidate without risk.

2) Loosening of the party system.  Why choose from one of 2 platforms when you can choose from one of 300 million?  You will be choosing your representative, not your party, so the power shifts away from the party towards the back benchers.  Parties and alliances will still exist:  bills will need the support of 50% of representatives, and representatives will likely throw their support behind a particular candidate for head of state.

3) Stability.  Once your own views have solidified somewhat, you're likely to prefer the same representative for many decades.  After all he/she is getting maturing at the same rate you are, and will likely react to events the same way you do.  You will likely personally know your representative, and will prefer to make your preferences known through personal communication rather than changing your vote.  If you do change your vote, it has to be "the straw that broke the camel's back" to affect the makeup of the house.

In other words, representatives must be highly sensitive to the desires of their voters, but individual whims are likely to filter out as noise.

The huge abrupt shifts caused by elections would be eliminated, instead replaced with the steady election and retirement of representatives.  Major events such as wars may cause an increased rate of change, but the house will be stable enough that government will not shut down during an election and for a little bit after as it's "getting up to speed".

4) Increased locality.  The elimination of constituencies will alarm some people.  However, we replace it with "true locality", as you vote for the people that truely have the same interests as you do.  

Rural folk may be upset that their votes no longer count for more than their urban relatives (rural constituencies usually have a smaller population than urban constituencies), but this should be offset by the people like myself who have moved from the country but still take a very active interest in "rural issues"

More information:

http://www.directrep.org/ has more information on a similar proprosal which contains unnecessary complexity in my opinion, and has links to earlier work.

hang on... (none / 0) (#113)
by danni on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 08:19:44 AM EST

would it be compulsory for you to accept your position, or could you decline politely?

[ Parent ]
re: compulsion (5.00 / 1) (#124)
by Bryan Larsen on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 11:53:56 AM EST

Good question.  My answer would be:

A representative may choose to neglect his duties to the house.  Presumably this representative would not stay in a position of power for long.  If his constituents decide to leave him in power, then that is the will of the electorate.  If this results in quorum problems in the house, so be it.

But a lot of people wouldn't like that answer.

Bryan


[ Parent ]

Explain the math here (5.00 / 2) (#121)
by nosilA on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 10:48:43 AM EST

So I put down myself and my closest 20 friends as my first 21 choices.  So does everyone else in this ficitional country.  You need some massive computing power to calculate who is the winner, and you can easily end up with infinitely many ties.  

Let say there are 5 people in this country, A, B, C, D, and E.

A votes for A,B,C,D,E
B votes for B,C,D,E,A
C votes for C,D,E,A,B
D votes for D,E,A,B,C
E votes for E,A,B,C,D

Each candidate appears on all 5 lists in all 5 positions.  Who wins?  We'll assume this particular situation is highly unlikely, but what about:

A votes for A,B,C,D,E
B votes for B,E,A,C,D
C votes for A,B,C,D,E
D votes for B,A,D,C,E
E votes for E,D,C,A,B

If you go through enough iterations I believe you will find that A is the winner, but the math required to get there does not scale well.

Voting systems are very very hard and there is a theory that says that no voting system can be perfect.  Your system is unnecessarily complex and although it brings an interesting benefit of it is interest-based constituencies, but that can be accomplished through other, less complex means.

-Alison
Vote to Abstain!
[ Parent ]

re: ties & complexity (5.00 / 1) (#123)
by Bryan Larsen on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 11:49:02 AM EST

re: 20 closest friends and an infinite number of ties

Well actually, you'd end up with nobody in the house, since 20 is significantly lower than the threshold number (ie, 1 million for the US in the example I gave)

re: ties

You have described a pathological situation where the system breaks down.  It's definitely going to be addressed.  Here's a more realistic statement of the problem:

A has the threshold number of votes if and only if B is not elected.

B has the threshold number of votes if and only if A is not elected.

Who wins?

You'd need some sort of run-off rule between A and B.  Given the data available, it's easy enough to tell who is preferred.  Given the pathological case of a tie, a simple rule like "both in" or "both out" or "incumbent preferred" should suffice.

re: computational complexity

Granted, the worst case scenario is bad, but the expected case scenario is feasible, in my opinion.   I would think the average list would be about 10 people.

I wouldn't code it as finding a full solution from scratch, but would instead code the insertion of a new list into a solved solution with intermediate computions saved.

Computers are cheap.  Sure it's a complex problem, but I would estimate as significantly less expensive than say Google, a miniscule fraction money spent on advertising during an election....

re: complex solution

You say my solution is complex.  Complex computationally, or complex to the user?  I think one of the benefits of this system is that it is simpler from the user's point of view than virtually all systems that try to fairly pick more than one representative for a population.

Bryan

[ Parent ]

Complexity obscures (none / 0) (#129)
by p3d0 on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 12:45:24 PM EST

Are we to trust the government computers to get this right? With the current system, I can watch the results on my TV and say, "well, A got more votes than B, so he's in".

Instant runoff is more complex, but similar. I can say "A got the fewest 1st-place votes, so he's out. After redistributing the A votes, B got the fewest 1st-place votes, so he's out" and so on until I get a winner.

How can I double-check the math with your system, given a reasonable amount of information about the polling results?
--
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]

checking the math (4.00 / 1) (#135)
by Bryan Larsen on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:08:38 PM EST

In current systems you can double check the math in the path from intermediate results -> final results, because you are provided the intermediate results (the votecounts).

Why do you currently trust the intermediate results?  In any good electoral systems independent observers oversee the vote counting.

Anybody setting up this system would probably set it up with provisions for independent observers to double check the results.  If you don't trust the independent observers, you're SOL as you are today.

Bryan


[ Parent ]

Trust in the vote counters is irrelevant (none / 0) (#197)
by p3d0 on Sat Mar 22, 2003 at 09:13:32 PM EST

Whether or not we trust the vote counters is independent of the voting system. Whatever the system, either we trust them, or else everyone must count the ballots for themselves. It's safe to assume no Concerned Citizen would ever do that even if he could, so let's just suppose we trust the vote counts, and consider what it would take for a Concerned Citizen to verify the election results.

In the first-past-the-post system, the state of the vote can be captured in a small series of integers, one per candidate. Given that I trust those numbers, I can easily verify that a particular candidate got more votes than all others.

The instant runoff system is more complex. I first need the number of first-place votes per candidate. That's N numbers for N candidates. Once I determine who came last, I need the number of second-place votes (among those who voted first for the eliminated candidate) for each of the remaining candidates. That's N-1 numbers. Continue the process, and you get O(N^2) numbers that completely capture the relevant vote information. From there, you can re-enact the runoff process and verify the results.

With these two systems, all we need is a little trust in the vote collectors in order to have a straightforward means of verifying election results.

With the more complex voting scheme proposed here, even with full trust in the vote collectors, our Concerned Citizen needs to know the contents of every single ballot cast to verify the results.

To me, that is not merely a difference of degree. Democracy must be public and transparent in order to function. Whether things are concealed by villains, or merely obfuscated by complexity, the result is equally undemocratic.
--
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]

re: voting theory (none / 0) (#125)
by Bryan Larsen on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 11:57:01 AM EST

I was planning to research voting theory before posting an article for Kuro5hin.  But because this article forced my hand, I hope I'll learn a lot of voting theory in a "trial by fire".  Keep the heat coming.

Thanks,
Bryan


[ Parent ]

Diary or read other articles (none / 0) (#127)
by nosilA on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 12:36:18 PM EST

There have been a number of articles here in the past on voting methods, Condorcet in particular.  If you do a few searches you should be able to find them.  I suggest doing a google search like this one.  

It's also not a bad idea to post a diary on the subject because you will get a lot of useful comments that you can build into your eventual story on the topic, which will give it a better chance of getting voted up.

I'm not really clear how your system is really that different than other voting systems, particularly Condorcet, but I don't really have time to go into great detail here.  I still have a bunch of questions about your system, but they'll have to wait until after work at least.

-Alison
Vote to Abstain!
[ Parent ]

this isn't Condorcet (none / 0) (#139)
by Bryan Larsen on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:27:20 PM EST

Most other voting methods (including Condorcet, approval and instant runoff) deal with the problem of choosing one candidate from a field.   Variations exist so that the N most popular candidates are elected.

Direct Representation is not designed to select the most popular candidates.  Rather, it is designed to pick representatives, to ensure that you are represented by somebody you trust.

Condercet would be a great way to choose the head of state in a country where representatives are chosen via Direct Representation.

Bryan

[ Parent ]

re: this isn't Condorcet (none / 0) (#171)
by Bryan Larsen on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 12:29:04 AM EST

Offline, I'm being talked around to proxy voting.

By restating the problem as that of choosing representatives, I'm moving away from the real goal: government that does what you want it to do.  Therefore I may be somewhat suboptimal.

More reading for me!  Now just to find the time between the 60 hours of work, 20 hours of dancing and any excess with the girlfriend....

Bryan


[ Parent ]

But surely with existing systems... (3.50 / 2) (#130)
by synaesthesia on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 12:57:44 PM EST

...there is pretty much the same problem?

Let's say there are 5 candidates in this country, A, B, C, D, and E, and there are 20 voters.

A gets 4 votes.
B gets 4 votes.
C gets 4 votes.
D gets 4 votes.
E gets 4 votes.

Who wins?

(Let's say one of the candidates, B, has a brother J who is governor of Florida...)


Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]

the problem is not the math, (none / 0) (#137)
by NightHwk1 on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:17:33 PM EST

the problem is that a group in the extreme minority would control the outcome.

imagine a popular person in a city of ~1/2 million is running for office, and so 75% vote for him. if everyone else in the country is voting for themselves and their best friends, then you have an elected official with his only supporters from a suburb of atlanta.

[ Parent ]

re: the problem is not the math (none / 0) (#140)
by Bryan Larsen on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:34:33 PM EST

imagine a popular person in a city of ~1/2 million is running for office, and so 75% vote for him. if everyone else in the country is voting for themselves and their best friends, then you have an elected official with his only supporters from a suburb of atlanta.

If 75% of the population of Atlanta likes this guy, then of course he should be the representative for 75% of the city of Atlanta!  75% of Atlanta is more than double the 1 million threshold that I had mentioned earlier.

Everybody else should use the bottom of their list to put down the names of people who have a hope of being elected.  They'll be easy to find: they'll be advertising or already elected.  If not, you're wasting your vote.  That's your prerogative, but it's not terribly useful.

Bryan


[ Parent ]

Generally not in US (5.00 / 2) (#112)
by grouse on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 08:11:51 AM EST

The only elections I know of in the U.S. that use a first-past-the-post system are the elections for Electoral College slates. For all other elections I've voted in, ranging from Senator to community college district board member we use runoff voting in Texas, at least. The Wikipedia article you reference clarifies this1.

We recently had an election that was just a runoff for one community college board place. More people voted in the last university student elections than in this election.

----
1 In a very 1984-esque manuever I updated the Wikipedia article you reference after you wrote your K5 article.

You sad bastard!

"Grouse please don't take this the wrong way... To be quite frank, you are throwing my inner Chi out of its harmonious balance with nature." -- Tex Bigballs

Is democracy such a toy? (2.00 / 4) (#126)
by kholmes on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 12:03:19 PM EST

The system works! and thats the problem. To you, the wrong guy got in. And rather than be honest, both to us and yourself, you've declared it unfair. The system itself is the problem! thats the ticket. But isn't it the nature of democracy that some people don't get their way? Tyranny of the majority indeed, it can't be avoided. But you would prefer another tyranny instead. Change the settings until the right guy gets in.

Is democracy such a toy? that we can change its settings as long as the minority is large enough. And thats another kind of tyranny entirely.

But lets put an end to these proud notions of yours.

The result of this is that the President, who in the case of George W. Bush was elected with a popular vote of only 47.87%, is in complete control of the Executive, accountable to no one.

Have you forgotten impeachment? And our congress still controls the purse...

The most common complaint about the US presidential electoral system is the concept of the Electoral College. It was due to the Electoral College that Bush was able to win the election despite gaining fewer votes in total than the runner-up Al Gore.

Right. It was the Electoral College who put into office our adversary Bush, therefore it is the Electoral College who is to blame. Did you know that, originally, the electors for each state was decided upon by its state legislature? It seems our founding fathers didn't trust popular opinion as a guide for public policy. Personally, I still don't.

The concept of "one man, one vote" is fundamental to the system of representative democracy.

Fundamental? How? Aren't you glad you get to vote at all? No, I disagree. Fundamental to representative democracy is if it puts the right people in charge. Tyrants, I can deal with; Plutocrats, I can manage; but incompetence I can't stand. And look! we're still here. And how many reforms has it taken to get us this far? Has it signalled to you people yet? The best form of government is that which changes all the time. It constantly refreshes itself. It throws them boring office people out on to the streets after they have overstayed their usefulness. It puts fire and challenge into the political arena rather than grow decadent and soft. The problem with the US system of government is that it has become too used to itself. The manipulators already know their way through the cracks of the system because them same cracks have been since the last time the system has been reformed, perhaps earlier yet. And of course the media is corrupt---thats what happens after even they lose interest in the news. The same events happen, more or less, every four years until it all becomes a game and the score is how many people are watching.

If democracy has become such a toy then isn't it past time to concede it?

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.

Democracy is not a toy, but can be analysed (none / 0) (#132)
by Field Marshall Stack on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 01:46:15 PM EST

Mathemeticians, most notably the french mathematician Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat Condorcet, have studied election theory extensively. Ideally, the best election method is the one which best determines the will of the populace in every situation. Proportional representation is ideal in some cases, but, as pointed out in the article, PR can't be used for every type of election. If the electors are voting for an office which can only be filled by one person at a time, we have to use a different system.

The above-mentioned Condorcet proved that, in situations where PR is unusable, there is no perfectly ideal system -- there will always be situations in which a candidate that isn't the most preferred by the electorate as a whole is elected. However, he also showed that by using a pairwise comparison method, now named Condorcet's Method after him, these situations could be controlled such that the only time a non-preferred candidate is elected is when the will of the populace is genuinely ambiguous. An interesting thing about Condorcet's work is that it shows runoff voting, the current darling of the tiny American electoral-reform movement, as being only marginally better than the current American system.

Now, that aside, the method currently used by the United States is, if we're to take it as something meant to measure the will of the populace, horribly flawed. In any situation in which there are more than two candidates (even if all but two of the candidates aren't really viable), the system cannot be guaranteed to pick the populace's overall most preferred candidate, even if we ignore the extra complications added by the electoral college system, complications which frankly I don't care enough about to get into.

Democracy is not a toy, however, under the current American electoral system, leaders (and I include every President from Washington to Bush II in this) are chosen based on their ability to game the electoral system, rather than their relative appeal to the voters. Perhaps some of the leaders selected by the American electoral system actually were those who most appealed to the voting populace, but if they were, they were for wholly coincidental reasons. Under the current system, America incompletely represents the ideal of a democratic republic.
--
Ben Allen, hiway@speakeasy.org
"Nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humor"
-Peter Tork
[ Parent ]

... ummm ... (none / 0) (#138)
by Einzelgaenger on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:20:20 PM EST

Well, good ... because we are a representative republic.

The Founders never intended this country to be a pure democracy. Mob rule is not favorable. The mob is stupid.



Some people are too stupid to ever be free.

[ Parent ]

Admittedly, I'm an awful writer (none / 0) (#146)
by Field Marshall Stack on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 04:50:42 PM EST

I can't write clearly to save my life, sorry. You seem to have missed the point badly, but, erm, that's my fault :)

If a representative republic has to have representatives elected according to the will of the people, then we are not a very good representative republic and have never been. If you're okay with calling something with representatives chosen by methods other than polling the populace a fully "representative republic", well, more power to you -- however, I'd urge you to consider how far away from the will of the people the selection process must be for you to consider the end result non-representative. Would we be a representative republic if the President and members of Congress were chosen by a fully random process (I'm picturing someone rolling a d(3 * 10^9) here)? What if we had a hereditary head of state who on his or her own decided who was fit to be a Congressman, Senator, or President? Would that be a representative republic?

What about a system where every 4 years the president was selected based on the winner of a nationwide Monopoly tournament? Would you consider that representative? It's a bit hyperbolic to suggest this, and I am being mildly tongue-in-cheek here, but... to my eye that's pretty close to being equivalent to an electoral system largely unconnected to the actual will of the voting populace, such as our own.
--
Ben Allen, hiway@speakeasy.org
"Nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humor"
-Peter Tork
[ Parent ]

Individual Rights more Important (3.00 / 2) (#134)
by redelm on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 02:04:56 PM EST

So NZ goes with a mixed House of Commons -- some members by ridings, some by party lists. I think I prefer functioning bicameral goverments with the House of Commons being by riding and a House of Lords[Senate] by party list. This way the second chamber has the mandate necessary to block the House and the Prime Minister cannot act as an elected dictator. Checks and balances.

But I'm not so sure that better democracy is the key to happiness. Many places without the slightest shred (.hk) or with very little (sg,tw,kr) have prospered and their people are happy. Some others with superlative democracies (se) have failed to keep pace.

The only way to prevent tyranny of the majority is to enshrine and protect individual rights from legislative encroachment as does the US Constitution. This also requires an independant judiciary (House of Lords or Supreme Court) that is willing to challenge the primacy of Parlement. This does not exist in the UK or Canada. I don't know about AU or NZ.



um... (none / 0) (#145)
by Run4YourLives on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 04:47:04 PM EST

Last I checked canada does indeed have a supreme court of appointed magistrates, as well as a constitution, and a senate (House of Lords).

Just pointing that out.


It's slightly Japanese, but without all of that fanatical devotion to the workplace. - CheeseburgerBrown
[ Parent ]

Canada's checks are stillborn (2.00 / 1) (#152)
by redelm on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 05:54:26 PM EST

You are quite right that Canada does have these institutions. Unfortunately, they are toothless:
  • The Canadian Senate is appointed, not elected, and as such does not have the mandate to stop anything. At most it can delay unwise legislation.
  • The Canadian Constitution is so full of weasel words (notwithstanding and "reasonable" that it is meaningless.
  • The Canadian Supreme Court has a long tradition of deferring to Parlement and AFAIK has never struck down legislation.



    [ Parent ]

  • hmm... (5.00 / 1) (#154)
    by Run4YourLives on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 06:25:04 PM EST

    Your opinion of the effectivness of Canada's institutions does not negate the fact that they exist, which renders your original statement of: [supreme court, senate] does not exist in UK or Canada as false.

    Such a loose interpretation of the truth leads me to question all of the rest of the 'facts' you provided, and does not help your argument any.

    Furthermore, your knowlege of Canada is fairly weak (I hope you're not Canadian), since a quick search on google produces many instances of the Canadian Supreme Court ruling laws as unconstitutional on it's own:

    Child Porn
    The Indian Act
    Redefining the Family

    It's slightly Japanese, but without all of that fanatical devotion to the workplace. - CheeseburgerBrown
    [ Parent ]

    Challenge primacy of Parlement (none / 0) (#161)
    by redelm on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 08:30:20 PM EST

    Reread my original post. I did not say the Cdn Supreme Ct did not exist, merely that it was unwilling to challenge the primacy of Parlement.

    But I'm glad to see that it's beginning to happen. Drybones is not a challenge because the Bill of Rights was passed after the Indian act and overrruled it. But some of the more recent cases are more promising.



    [ Parent ]

    Something doesn't seem right. (none / 0) (#148)
    by Field Marshall Stack on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 05:04:31 PM EST

    But I'm not so sure that better democracy is the key to happiness. Many places without the slightest shred (.hk) or with very little (sg,tw,kr) have prospered and their people are happy. Some others with superlative democracies (se) have failed to keep pace.

    Are you honestly suggesting that the average person in Singapore is happier than the average person in Sweden?

    --
    Ben Allen, hiway@speakeasy.org
    "Nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humor"
    -Peter Tork
    [ Parent ]
    SG vs SE (none / 0) (#151)
    by redelm on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 05:48:22 PM EST

    I wouldn't want to compare absolute levels, I'm not sure how. But I'm reasonably confident in saying that SG has improved a great deal more (in happiness or any other measure) the SE over the past 30 years.



    [ Parent ]

    Granted, but... (none / 0) (#156)
    by Field Marshall Stack on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 07:08:27 PM EST

    There are fairly easy ways to compare levels of happiness in a nation. I'd start with average lifespan, average education levels, crime rate, incarceration rate, and (on a whim) suicide rate. I'm sure any sociologists who may be reading will chime in with better metrics than the ones I've chosen.

    Rate of change is somewhat unfair to use when determining which system of government is better, since there could be a diminishing returns effect on happiness, and because the ideal system of government for an overall happy society is probably quite different from the ideal system for a nation trying to become happier. For example, I'm sure if Bangladesh tried to adopt a government along Swedish lines, the result would be quite messy.

    Tangent: I went searching on Google just now for U.N. reports pertaining to this and got this page as the first result:

    Bangladesh -- The Happiest Nation.

    Shows how much I know...

    In any case, pardon me if I'm putting words in your mouth, but it seems to me as if you're equating economic growth with increased happiness -- or, at least, you consider economic growth to be as important to happiness as I do lifespan and education level. Is that right?
    --
    Ben Allen, hiway@speakeasy.org
    "Nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humor"
    -Peter Tork
    [ Parent ]

    Measure over time (none / 0) (#162)
    by redelm on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 08:41:48 PM EST

    Yes, I think economic growth is an important prerequisite for increasing happiness. It actually provides no happiness on it's own, but can allow spending on things that do.

    I have real problems with international comparisons because different peoples have different values. Whatever weighting you choose will be wrong.

    However, it is fairly easy to measure over time. Just ask any questions relevant for that society, and monitor over time.

    The diminishing returns assumes some sort of ceiling on human happiness. Or that it's a zero-sum game. I don't believe this.



    [ Parent ]

    Problematic... (none / 0) (#165)
    by Field Marshall Stack on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 09:22:57 PM EST

    I defer to rogerd on why Sweden's a better place to live than Singapore.

    That said, your resistance to comparing the relative happiness levels of different countries makes conversation sort of difficult. Are you saying that the actual stated happiness levels of the citizens of for example Bangladesh are irrelevant, and that the only thing that matters are the happiness gradients over time?

    Also, you said that economic growth is a prerequisite for happiness, or at least increasing happiness. Do you consider that an absolute rule? Can you envision a nation full of people who are getting happier despite a shrinking or static economy?
    --
    Ben Allen, hiway@speakeasy.org
    "Nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humor"
    -Peter Tork
    [ Parent ]

    Repress what is feared (none / 0) (#166)
    by redelm on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 10:06:47 PM EST

    SE and SG are repressive in different ways. Which you prefer depends on your values. SG might repress homosexuals. SE surely represses entrepreneurs, especially those who want to build a big mall or pulp&paper plant. Each society represses what it fears.

    If it were possible to measure happiness levels directly and objectively [neurotramsmitter levels], then this of course would be better. But failing this, I prefer time studies rather than arbitrarily weighted scores from totally different measurement systems.

    Yes, people could get happier in a static/shrinking economy, one easy way is productivity increases to give more leisure time. Failing this, allocations of limited/decreasing resources would have to be allocated more efficiently. Not impossible, but not easy.



    [ Parent ]

    Bowing out (4.00 / 1) (#169)
    by Field Marshall Stack on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 10:56:39 PM EST

    I don't feel comfortable continuing this debate without more hard facts on the workings of Sweden's economy, and though I've got a gut feeling that it's less hard to set up a private business there than you're insinuating, I can't really argue based on it, or else I'd be no better than the however many million Rush Limbaugh listeners out there who think that Sweden is an impoverished country where men in shiny black boots beat down entrepreneurial 9 year olds for setting up lemonade stands.

    I also have a gut feeling that private enterprise isn't as unregulated in Singapore as you suggest -- given the size of the place, I'd be surprised if it were legal to plop down paper mills in the middle of town. I live near a mill town (Tacoma, Washington). It's, uhm, an aromatic place.

    --
    Ben Allen, hiway@speakeasy.org
    "Nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humor"
    -Peter Tork
    [ Parent ]

    European roadblocks to Entrepreneurs (none / 0) (#182)
    by redelm on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 10:24:50 AM EST

    I've lived in Europe, and think I understand the place although there are regional variations. It really _is_ democratic. What "the People" want to happen, mostly happens. What they don't want to happen, mostly doesn't.

    Entrepreneurs face lots of roadblocks to make sure they conform. It is not like the US where there is hoop-jumping, but no discretionary dealkillers. First the E has to get land or a place of business. Land is 100% zoned, and buying it is not enough. Rezoning is a complex task involving multiple layers of government and is a major source of corruption. But rezoning can and will be refused. WalMart would have grievous trouble after the French hypermarche experience. But lets you manage to find and lease some commercial space [which is not as easy as the US because things don't get financed and built without tenants].

    Then you have to get a Business Permit, usually from the local town council. Unless they are known horses-arses, your competitors will be asked their opinion. If they say there isn't enough business for all of you, your application will be rejected. Harmony and solidarity are important.

    Once you get a BizPermit, you have to hire staff. This isn't as easy as the US because the job market is nowhere near as fluid. It's hard to fire people, so companies don't. The only people on the job market are new grads, those who were so disruptive that the company took all that trouble, plus some of those from bankrupt companies or failed operations. You can try to entice employees away from their companies, but it isn't easy. First, you are new and might not succeed, throwing them into a bad job market. Second, marginal tax rates are high, so you'll have to offer alot of money to make much after-tax difference in their pockets. Third, the extra money won't necessarily help them. Conspicuous consumption is not socially valued.

    Finally, you will have to deal with unions and/or works councils that will be set up for your business. Most of these are fairly reasonable, but one troublemaker can be a roadblock. You have to get approval from them for any major business decision.



    [ Parent ]

    so? (5.00 / 1) (#157)
    by Krazor on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 07:19:54 PM EST

    Improving a country does not equal happiness. Under Stalin, heavy industry improved a huge amount in the USSR during the 30's and 40's. Does that make the people he was using as slave labour happier? In Malaya (now Malaysia) the Britsh 'improved' the economy by creating tin mines and rubber plantations. However these made the local people so unhappy, that they had to ship in Chinese to work in the mines, as the locals preferred quieter lives fishing, etc. Therefore I reject your idea that bringing prosperity creates happiness. Also, you say that you don't want to measure absolute happiness levels, (how could you?) but then go on to say that happiness in SG has improved more over the last 30 years than happiness in SE. On what do you base this? If we can't measure absolute levels of happiness, then how can we measure improved happiness over a period of time? Is there some sort of world happiness table that I haven't seen? Or is this based on 'common sense'?

    [ Parent ]
    Unless you're gay... (5.00 / 1) (#158)
    by rodgerd on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 08:24:02 PM EST

    ...or a lesbian.  Or a guy who wants to grow his hair long.  Or a woman who wants to be taken a little more seriously.  Or like sex toys.

    Or at any rate, those are typical complaints from Singaporeans I've known who've moved to New Zealand.

    [ Parent ]

    Accoutability (3.50 / 2) (#136)
    by rf0 on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 03:10:20 PM EST

    I'm happy to live in a democracy but the one thing that I'm annoyed about at the moment is accountability. Here in the UK Mr Blair is pushing for war (and looks like he is going to get it) but the general feel of the populus is that we don't want it.

    So we go on protest marches, sign petitions and generally make a noise but we just seem to be ignored. What would be nice would for anyone to go up to the PM and say "No. We don't want this. Why won't you listen". However is that ever going to be possible? I don't think so.

    Rus

    --
    a2b2.com - Stable, Friendly Decent Hosting

    Accountability vs Whim (3.00 / 2) (#142)
    by Grognard on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 04:05:21 PM EST

    As noted here, instant "accountability" would seriously destabilize government. The system is representative instead of democratic for a reason.


    [ Parent ]
    Without getting into ethics... (none / 0) (#173)
    by izogi on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 02:05:16 AM EST

    Without diving into ethics about whether or not countries should be going to war, I think it's quite important to recognise that one of the sides of good leadership is being able to make unpopular decisions.

    If you think that the general population is always right about everything, you may as well write it into a constitution that the government has to follow public opinion regardless. Unfortunately it doesn't work this way. It doesn't matter who's voted in, even if it was you. They're going to have to make unpopular decisions sooner or later simply because of the dynamics of how society and large groups of people work. The accountability comes at election time.


    - izogi


    [ Parent ]
    [OT] Proposal: self organizing representation (5.00 / 3) (#143)
    by labradore on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 04:27:44 PM EST

    While I realize that there are significant costs and disadvantages associated with direct democracies, I think that it is a good starting point for a system that can only be implemented practically with electronic voting. The system is relatively simple: each person of voting status gets to vote on every bill that is brought before the "lower" house. Votes would take place on a regular schedule (perhaps every Tuesday and Friday or perhaps every day at a set time) and everyone could vote electronically. So far this sounds like the idealized direct democracy. Here is the difference: you can assign your vote to someone else, and do so any time. I offer that another feature of the system could be to allow assignment of your vote on certain kinds of law to others and to retain your vote for laws in which you are particularly interested. The next feature of this system is that assignees could also assign the votes for which they are responsible to other assignees, provided the original voters had allowed such reassignment either generically or to specific designees. The final piece of the system is that representatives who have control of a certain threshold of voting power (e.g. those assignees who control a voting block of at least 0.5%, or the top 500 assignees) can submit bills to be voted on. Protocol and procedures for actual meetings and debate among the most popular representatives can be worked out. The only new provision that must be made for all meeting procedures is that all voting results must be made immediately available to the public and all discussions among representatives must be made public in a fashion similar to existing sunshine laws. All representatives would also be obligated to provide a complete record of campaign contributions and voting histories, and would be obligated to make summary reports on their voting available on a regular basis (e.g. every other Friday). All designees would find it in their best interest to have electronic discussion boards open to the voters who they represent, in order to facilitate communication between voters and representatives and encourage cohesive voting blocks.

    The "upper" house of the system would be elected similarly to the US Senate to help balance the voting power of small states or districts against large ones and to counter the whims of popular opinion that may steer the voting of the lower house. However, these upper house representatives would be on an order-of-preference basis, instead of the first-past-the-post system. Perhaps a certain percentage of the upper house seats should also be given over to a pool of national candidates for proportional representation.

    I have not yet devised a satisfying system to select and make an executive accountable to his constituents without stripping him of too much power. Chief executives need a certain amount of discretion when making decisions and acting diplomatically which cannot be to closely tied to public opinion.

    Comments greatly appreciated.

    Catching my own errors: (none / 0) (#144)
    by labradore on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 04:38:00 PM EST

    • (e.g. perhaps those assignees who control a voting block of at least 0.5%, or perhaps the 500 most popular representative/assignees)
    • Chief executives need a cerain amount of discretion ... without stripping him of too much power.
    Please accept my appologies. The (corrected) above mistakes drive me nuts when I read them in someone else's writing.

    [ Parent ]
    Will it really be any different? (none / 0) (#155)
    by MuteWinter on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 06:52:16 PM EST

    Rather than lobbyists going directly to the politicians, they would just run massive ad campaigns. Obviously the scope of these campaigns would be determined by the ammount of money that organization or coorporation has, or has a risk of loosing.

    However, if the majority of people receieved their news from less biased sources, or where more educated and had better judgement, this would probably be a much better system.

    Right here in around Milwaukee we have a billionaire, Sam Johnson of SC Johnson financing this huge anti-coal campaign because Wisconsin Energy is building several new coal plants. ( http://milwaukee.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/2003/01/20/story4.html ) Now this is all fine and dandy, except that the alternatives will be very costly to the rest of the general population that will have to pay increased electrical bills. While his motives may appear good (less pollution), it just so happens that one of the sites happens to be where? Right next to some of his land. Your average person is now currently being bombarded by two ad campaigns, one by a billionaire, and the other by an energy company. One choice makes him pay more, the other gives him less pollution.

    Our future is today mostly decided by the people with all the money (who own the corporations.) I'm just not so sure it would be a whole lot different if everyone was voting for themselves.

    [ Parent ]

    Proxy voting (none / 0) (#164)
    by gregbillock on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 09:12:07 PM EST

    I like your proposal. I have been thinking about an idea very similar to this for some time. I think of it as 'proxy voting' where your proxy is assignable to a representative, who can then further assign the proxy, and so on.

    I see a few problems with this idea. First, it may be best to optimize down the opportunities to reassign proxies. That is, it may be best to only allow reassignment of proxies every month, or every three months, or on some schedule like that, to give representatives more security in how they budget their time.

    Another concern is how to verify assignment. I'm in favor of having all voting happen "in public"--meaning no absentee balloting--because I think this leads to abuses. What would hinder proxies being assigned by bullying family members and not by the will of the voter? I don't have a good answer for that. Perhaps the discrete reassignment period would help?

    [ Parent ]

    c/f Direct Representation (none / 0) (#170)
    by Bryan Larsen on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 12:23:58 AM EST

    Direct Representation as proposed on http://www.directrep.org is closer to your proposal than to my previous post.  Dave Robinson uses proxy voting there as well.

    As Dave puts it, there are two ideas we're trying to convince people of:  continuous elections and proxy voting.

    I think your scheme is much closer to a direct representation scheme than a direct democracy scheme, but it's hard to say.

    Would I be able to transfer my vote to my Dad without him having to disclose his voting record, which he rightly would consider very private information?

    I offer that another feature of the system could be to allow assignment of your vote on certain kinds of law to others and to retain your vote for laws in which you are particularly interested.

    How would this work?  I believe it would be impossible to define "certain kinds of law" usefully.  And if you let the voter override his representative arbitrarily at the last minute really waters down your system.

    I once believed a system such as yours was the right way to go, but I now believe Direct Representation is better.

    In your upper house, it's the "whims of popular opinion" that need insulating against.  Small states or districts do not need overrepresentation in the upper house since they are not discriminated against in the lower house.  I believe that people tend to vote close to their roots: a lot of city folks with rural ties will tend to vote on rural issues.

    As far as the executive goes, I believe that what you want is very similar to what you have now in the United States: an executive voted on at large, for a fixed term, with a clear separation of powers from the house.   The only fix that is needed is to get rid of first past the post voting and replace it with Condorcet preference or suchlike.

    [ Parent ]

    Interesting, but... (none / 0) (#176)
    by onemorechip on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 03:04:50 AM EST

    ...the first thing that strikes me as wrong is the idea of reassignment. I think that as soon as you get more than one level of representation away from direct voting, you've lost any accountability for your vote. Say you assign your vote to your best friend. Two months later, lacking the time to keep track of all the issues, your best friend assigns his votes, and all votes assigned to him, to his cousin. Now how do you know if you are being properly represented anymore, or even who is representing you?

    I think assignments should be transferable only back to the original owner of the vote. This could be done at the request of either the assignee or the original voter (it doesn't require the consent of both, and the original voter can then choose to reassign, keep the vote, or simply not exercise his voting power).

    Another concern is that eventually all the votes will end up in the hands of the people have the most time to dedicate to legislation. These will become your career politicians. It might be better in some ways than the current system, since anyone with a worthy cause might collect enough assigned votes to wield some power (thus environmental causes and so on could get better representation than they do today). But a lot of the vote-holders will be wealthy individuals (or those paid to represent them), not the people who spend 40+ hours a week trying to bring home a paycheck.
    --------------------------------------------------

    I did my essay on mushrooms. It's about cats.
    [ Parent ]

    Sounds familiar (4.00 / 1) (#153)
    by yokaze on Mon Mar 17, 2003 at 06:05:43 PM EST

    In Germany, a similar voting system is employed. At least for its parliament (Bundestag).
    Here a case study.
    If I understand it correctly, the write-up states, that it has been employed since the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949.

    But, IRC, the change to the MMP-system has been introduced in the late 80s.

    Similar to NZ, in Germany, a party has to win either at least 5% of the total votes, or four of the 328 electorate seats to gain a number of seats in parliament, proportional to the number of votes.

    Germany has also second chamber (Bundesrat), where its States (Bundeslaender) are represented. The second chamber should, theoretically, only decide on matters, which affects the authority of the States.

    The 5% barrier should avoid fragmentation of the parliament, like it happened in Germany before 1933. (Or in Italy, as I've been told)
    The introduction of the MPP should lessen the influence of the parties and make the MPs more independent.
    Admitting parties with a certain amount of electorates has been introduced (after re-unification) with the idea in mind, that strong regional movements, which could win a electorate should be represented in the parliament, too.


    Not a disadvantage (4.60 / 5) (#174)
    by sholden on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 02:34:28 AM EST

    There is one major disadvantage to this system however. That is, it is possible that the lower house and upper house will be controlled by two different parties.
    I would consider that an advantage of the upper/lower house system. It means that it is rare that a party has control of both houses, and hence can pass any legislation it feels like.

    This is of particular importance in a country like Australia, which doesn't have constitutional restrictions on government to the level of the US.

    If the current Australian government had control of the senate, Australia would have laws making it legal for the navy to force Australian ships with Australian citizens on board out of Australian waters. To go with the wonderful ASIO legislation allowing them to detain anyone they want for 7 days, the first 48 hours of which without informing anyone or allowing contact with a lawyer...

    --
    The world's dullest web page


    A good article (5.00 / 1) (#175)
    by onemorechip on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 02:47:02 AM EST

    It's good to see a discussion of Proportional Representation. I'd just like to inject a few comments (not directly related to PR but related to some of the other points in your article).

    You say the President is accountable to no one. In theory that isn't true: We have checks and balances between the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches. One such check is the power of the Legislative branch to impeach the President. In practice, however, it appears that the power of the Executive branch has expanded well beyond the limits originally envisioned for it, to the point where Presidents almost routinely send troops into combat without a declaration of war from Congress. To a great extent, Congress itself is to blame.

    You say that the most common complaint in the U.S. is against the Electoral College, rather than against the spoiler problem of first-past-the-post voting. Funny, I find that relatively few people want to abolish the EC, and many give various rationalizations for keeping it. Not that I agree with any of those arguments. On the other hand, quite a lot of people seem to be unhappy with the spoiler problem, but few seem to be aware that alternatives even exist. Perhaps that lack of awareness has led to what, on the surface, looks like complacency.

    My last comment is that you mention instant runoff voting without mentioning any of its flaws. Instant runoff voting exhibits non-monotonicity, the property that increased support for a candidate can in some cases actually cause that candidate to lose (or decreased support can cause a candidate to win). One consequence is that there can be a group of voters that can achieve better results for themselves by not voting than they can achieve by voting their actual preferences. A more detailed discussion of these problems can be found at electionmethods.org, a site that advocates pairwise preferential voting (a.k.a. Condorcet voting), and approval voting as replacements for first-past-the-post in single-winner elections. Incidentally, I'm in favor of approval voting in such elections but I have some reservations about Condorcet.
    --------------------------------------------------

    I did my essay on mushrooms. It's about cats.

    On electoral reform (5.00 / 2) (#180)
    by ssyreeni on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 08:19:35 AM EST

    Electoral reform is one of the more interesting subjects in politics, as it sidesteps the normal, day to day haggling between parties and poses the more fundamental question of how (representative) democracy is supposed to work. Thanks for a nice opening. I'd like to continue with a couple of further points.

    First, as you say, plurality systems with fine-grained districting contrast heavily with single-district proportional representation. The first type of system is indeed meant to guarantee regional representation, while the second views the electorate as a single whole with coincident interests. The first type of system generally prevails where the political order has come about via a combination of previously existing, local governments, while the second is usually associated with a nation state born de novo. The United States is an extreme example of regional representation, the European Commission a second, less pronounced one. Tightening integration usually calls for a mix of proportional and regional representation, which is the general trend in most mixed systems of representation. In New Zealand mixed member proportional representation is chosen as a solution, while in the EU there is a division of power between separate instances (Commission and Parliament) with different representative criteria. The tightest conditions would call for mutual veto powers between such instances, but that sort of thing is usually deemed too costly in terms of legislative overhead.

    I think the contrast between regional and proportional representation nicely reflects one of the basic problems with democracy. In any communal decision making process which dispenses with the requirement of strict unanimity, decisions can be made which benefit some at the expense of others. The concern over local matters is one example, the possibility of a tyrannical majority is another, special interest politics a third, and the list goes on. Things like Mixed Member Proportionality, supermajority requirements, the subsidiarity principle and constitutional limitations of power are an attempt to alleviate some of these problems. I think, when we analyse representative democracy, we should keep in mind which precise problems its many variants are meant to solve, instead of simply assuming one of the variants is actually always better than the others.

    Second, the reason Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), also called Single Transferable Vote (STV), is better than the conventional alternative isn't really that votes aren't "wasted" -- not every candidate gets elected, so some votes really should be rounded out. The real reason is that STV allows people to express their full preferences instead of just the top candidate. In effect, if your top candidate loses, your lower order preferences will still allow you to help the next most tolerable candidate beat that utter SOB down the line. STV isn't alone in allowing this, but does succumb to nasty forms of strategic voting -- in runoffs each round separately is susceptible to vote splintering, a fact which actually stops STV from helping small parties all that much and causes some real perversities to emerge. (E.g. STV isn't monotonic -- voting someone down can help him win.) This is why many election method enthusiasts view STV with something of a weary eye. In particular, in single winner elections methods like Condorcet voting fare much better.

    There are quite a number of complications to election methods, starting with the definition of who should be the winner in multiple candidate elections. Moreover, one should never view voting systems as static, neutral devices for collecting and unifying people's preferences, but should look into voting strategy as well -- if we don't, we for instance miss the inherent bias towards a two-party system implicit in plurality votes. To anyone who's interested in this stuff, I'd suggest delving into Wikipedia's voting method articles and browsing the archives of the election-methods mailing list. I also think it would be a good idea to stop thinking of elections in terms of what happens to individual votes, and instead try to understand the process starting from individual preference orders and how they can give rise to sane collective objectives. This change in viewpoint seems to lead to a number of important insights. As surprising as it may sound, electoral reform is anything but simple, and conjures up a whole, nasty mathematics of its own.

    Third, when we talk about representative democracy in the context of a party system, the principle of one man one vote doesn't actually cut it. The voting power of a single individual in coalitional voting games mostly certainly doesn't stay constant. The study of such games is a subject in cooperative game theory, and mostly utilizes statistical power measures like Banzhaf indices. I'd suggest looking into those before equating coalitional politics with the case of large number direct democracy.



    Despite misconceptions (1.14 / 7) (#181)
    by medham on Tue Mar 18, 2003 at 08:29:39 AM EST

    An interesting story, but I failed to see this key point addressed: who gives a fuck about New Zealand?

    The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

    Government is Representation of the People (5.00 / 1) (#195)
    by nalex on Wed Mar 19, 2003 at 09:19:11 PM EST

    It is interesting to note that public opinion and the NZ MMP parliament are in agreement over the Iraq invasion, whereas the UK and Australian governments are at odds with their population. It seems to me that the Americans will always favour violent causes. Maybe untrue, but as soon as they start exploding ordinance, the voters approve. Hence Bush manufactures consent by blowing up Bagdhad. This does not happen here (in NZ) under our multifaceted Government. NZ told the US to take its nuclear powered and armed ships away from our waters in the 1980s! Heck, one MP even smokes pot and another one tried to have him charged for it!

    Interesting story (none / 0) (#196)
    by weirdling on Thu Mar 20, 2003 at 11:16:07 AM EST

    However, Bush was elected by a greater percentage of the populace than Blair.  The greatest problem with the parliamentary system is that it seriously multiplies the partisan problem where partisans are the only ones who vote because nobody else cares, so a tiny percentage of the populace control the government.

    I think there should be three houses rather than two and a ruling comittee comprised of seven people for the executive branch, because the biggest problem with proportional representation is that there's only one president or prime minister...

    House one would be the House of Commons.  It would have all your liberal-democratic ideals, be simply huge, and hopefully inefficient.  It would have final say on laws as well as the authority to issue an endless string of resolutions commenting on whatever they deem appropriate.  All legislation, including the purse, must be approved by a majority of the House of Commons.

    The second house would be the Senate.  The Senate would be elected proportionally based on taxes.  You didn't pay any taxes last year?  You don't get any votes.  You paid $63,500 in taxes?  You get 63,500 votes.  Each state (or province or whatever) would get exactly two senators and everyone in the state (or province, well, you know) would get to vote for both of them, putting their votes where they see fit.  In other words, you get 63,500 votes, and you can use 30,000 on one person, 10,000 on another, and the remainder on a third-party guy.

    The third house would be the House of Competents.  It would contain three representatives from each major sector of society, such as industry, military, education, so on.  In order to vote for members in this house, you have to have a college degree, membership in the military, or membership in some guild, which you'll generally have to pay for.  Members to this house would be appointed indefinately, recallable if 66% of their constituents vote for recall.

    There will be seven representatives on the ruling committee, one from the Commons, one from the Comptetents, one from the Senate, all appointed by their respective bodies, then four directly elected members who are simply the top four vote-getters in a general election.

    All three houses can initiate bills and all three houses can defeat bills.  To pass a bill in the Commons, a simple majority is required.  To pass a bill in the senate, a 66% majority is required.  To pass a bill in the Competents, a 66% majority is required.  A simple majority is all that is needed to veto a bill in the comittee, after which a 75% majority is required in all three houses to pass it.

    The judiciary branch is appointed by the comittee and confirmed by all three houses, but a simple majority is all that is needed to achieve confirmation.  Once confirmed, the judiciary has the power to judge constitutional issues.  If a case is presented before a court that constitutes egregious and/or obvious violation of the constitution, the court is at liberty to initiate impeachment proceedings against the originator of the bill.  Once initiated, the impeachment proceedings proceed normally.

    Any house may bring impeachment proceedings against one of its own for any reason.  The comittee can bring impeachment proceedings for violation of law against any member of any house.  The endictment is heard in the house of commons and the trial is held in the senate.  The House of Commons can bring impeachment proceedings against a member of the judiciary or the executive, after which it is tried normally.

    The idea here is that all Democracies tend toward the lowest common denominator and result in taxation without representation, the battle cry of the American revolution.  The House of competents may be superfluous and difficult to implement, but it'd allow for real, intelligent people in government.  The tax-proportional vote in the Senate would keep spending in check.  The Commons would satisfy everyone's need for egalite.  Four elected committee members would mean that there wouldn't really be just two parties, as it'd use the simple vote system, meaning partisans would have to coordinate in order to elect two of their party.  It's pretty likely the largest third party (right now, Libertarian) and the second largest third party (right now, Reform) (Really - Green only got a lot of votes; it hasn't got a lot of registered voters) would likely get representation, as well.  For sure, their voice would be small compared to the fact that whoever controls the Commons gets a member and so on, but it'd still be there...

    I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.

    New Zealand's Mixed Member Proportional electoral system | 198 comments (155 topical, 43 editorial, 0 hidden)
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