Money in Politics

I often read advocacy to restrict money in politics. Emphasizing attempts to restrict it may amount to a misdirection of effort. What may be more effective is to arrange matters in such a way that the money and advertising won’t have so much effect on the elections.

There are two points to argue: (1) trying to restrict money has little effect, and (2) another approach may have great effect if we can put it through.

As for (1), I will just quote Jim Mueller (of Wisconsin) [link]:

Political money flows like water around, over, under obstacles put in its way [my emphasis]. One can see this in “amateur” sports. On page C5 of 9/10/13 Wisconsin State Journal reported allegations about the Oklahoma State Football Program. The allegations included pay to “amateur” players for performance, special personnel to tutor and complete work for the players and professors who gave passing grades for little or no work, selective enforcement of positive drug tests, hostesses having sex with players being recruited.

The amounts involved in College Football are tiny in comparison to what the government controls. Even if the Move to Amend effort is successful in amending the constitution, legislation has to be passed and regulators have to enforce the laws. If that happens, there will be more creative ways to circumvent the regulations and make the money flow to people willing to be influenced [again, my emphasis].

Jim goes on to offer a solution in how legislatures would be chosen and how they would operate, and I am in agreement with his proposal; however, I want to talk about single-winner elections, for in case such continue to exist in the US. In doing so, I enter into branch (2) of my argument, i. e. the subargument to convince you that a method is available to decouple money from having any effect on elections.

All single-winner elections at all political levels in the US are currently conducted by the choose-one plurality voting system, also called “First Past the Post” (FPTP) [note 1]. As pointed out by Warren D. Smith, Ph.D. (math) and his co-authors, FPTP is particularly vulnerable to money influence. Please see the writing by Smith that I cite first, and another writing in which Shentrup and Jennings join with Smith to make a similar argument:

“[It may be] more effective to try to reduce the inherent importance of cash, than to wage a potentially futile battle to [restrict money].” — Jennings, Shentrup, and Smith

These authors present reasoning to convince us that FPTP is vulnerable to money influence and that Score Voting, also called Range Voting, is a solution, will resist money influence and put the general public in power rather than the oligarchs.

I want to call to your attention some specific characteristics of the two voting systems that they compare.

FPTP does not give the voters equal power to one another. To explain why I think this, I will repeat an argument from Mark Frohnmayer (of Oregon) and from his father.

Consider an example where three candidates, call them A, B, and C, are running for a single-winner office (e. g. governor of a State). Let’s say that a million voters would be happy with A and equally unhappy with either B or C. So they vote for A; the system (FPTP) allows them to express their exact position, and it gives their expression full weight. But suppose some voters have the opposite opinion. They would be roughly equally happy with B or C, and for them, the election of A would be the end of the world. Call them the “anti-A faction”. I use the term ‘faction’ to indicate any group of voters who have the same values, regardless of whether they are organized or even know anything about one another. How many voters must the anti-A faction contain in order to balance the million pro-A voters? With FPTP, the answer is about two million, because the anti-A faction’s vote will be split between B and C. And so I’m arguing here that since it takes two million in one faction to balance one million in the faction that has the exact opposite valuation on the candidacies, each individual voter in the anti-A faction has only half the political power of each individual voter in the pro-A faction. Therefore, FPTP does not attach equal weight to each vote, QED.

I will now try to demonstrate to you that there is a formal constraint that a voting system has to pass if it gives the votes equal weight. This constraint is that for every possible vote in the system, there is another possible vote that would exactly cancel the political effect of the first vote, its antivote if you will. This is the Frohnmayer balance constraint and it was described by Mark Frohnmayer’s father. When I say “exactly cancel” (or “exactly balance”), here’s what I mean in detail. Suppose some number of people have already voted in the election, and you and I (two individuals) are the last voters, and we are on our way to the polls. Let us say that if neither of us votes, the outcome will be such-and-such. But let us say that if you make it to the poll and I don’t, your vote will sway the election, change the outcome. Someone who won now ties, or someone who ties now loses, or someone who would have lost now ties, or someone who would have tied now wins. Now I arrive and cast my vote. Can my vote cancel yours? If it cancels, that means that the former outcome is restored, the outcome that would have occurred had neither of us voted. Otherwise, what power relations have played themselves out? You were able to move the needle, and I was not able to move it back. That implies that you had more power than I had. Therefore, a voting system that does not meet the Frohnmayer balance constraint does not weigh the votes equally, does not accord equal political power to the voters, one voter to another [note 2].

The two writings I cited above in which Warren D. Smith is either the author or a co-author, they compare Score Voting to FPTP, and they argue that FPTP is very money-vulnerable and that Score is not. I note that FPTP does not give equal weight to the votes and Score does. I want to generalize and propose that this is the key difference between those systems that causes one to be money-vulnerable and the other to be money-resistant, that one does not accord equality and the other does. I want to suggest that other systems that, like FPTP, do not accord the votes equal weight, also are money-vulnerable, and I want to suggest that other systems, like Score, that do accord the votes equal weight, are money-resistant. I feel that when a system permits inequality, that inequality functions as a crack into which the oligarchy can insert its wedge in order to burst the system apart as a tool of democracy and create oligarchy instead of democracy. I don’t have a proof of this contention, but I’m suggesting to you that it is likely true based on the examples.

The simplest voting system that provides equality is Approval. Simplicity may be necessary to sell changes to Americans. However I think another system, a balanced multiround system, may provide slightly better power relations. Arguably with Approval or more generally Score, in order to give any of your support to a compromise candidate over the worst candidates, you have to dilute some of your support for your favorite candidates. I think a system I describe solves that.

By the way, I oppose the most popular alternative voting system, IRV, on the grounds that it does not provide equality; it does not meet even the formal balance constraint. IRV is a multiround system, which may be a win (see previous paragraph), but the problem with it is that each round is not fair, gives more power to those who support a candidate (and oppose the others) than to those who oppose a candidate (and support the others), as FPTP does.

__________________

[note 1] The election for President of the United States (POTUS) is said to require a majority. Indeed it requires a majority in the electoral college. However, the elections of the electors goes basically by FPTP in every State. So, the election of POTUS inherits all the problems that a choose-one system brings, including extreme vulnerability to money influence.

[note 2]:

Even though I argue that for a voting system to provide equality, it must meet the balance constraint, even among systems that do meet that formal constraint, I contend that there can be a difference in degree to which they give everyone the same power. Systems meeting the balance constraint give two voters the same power if those voters are in full disagreement with one another. But it seems to me that such systems may fail to give two voters who are only in partial disagreement with one another equal power.

To explain this, I start by referring to a voting system that I think gives everyone equal power: Score Voting also known as Range Voting. Not only does Score give equal power, but it is also interesting to use as a prototype in which it is possible to cast descriptions of a number of other voting systems, as we can view them as restricted versions of Score. These systems have restrictions on the forms of their ballots, but the ballots that they do allow map to Score ballots in such a way that if the election is tallied as in Score, it produces the same outcome as the voting system being described would produce.

A vote in Score is a point in a vector space whose number of dimensions equals the number of candidates. If the middle of this space is the origin, and we picture a vector as an arrow, a rational voter will make as long an arrow as possible, and it will have some angle from the origin. Score allows all angles (to some granularity). All rational votes are simply angles.

Now consider the plurality/antiplurality voting system. The way this works is the ballots are restricted to either support one candidate and oppose all the others, or oppose one candidate and support all the others. This meets Frohnmayer balance. Manifestly, every vote in this system has its antivote. However, consider a four-candidate election in which I favor candidates A and B and I oppose candidates C and D. Score would let me vote that way, but plurality/antiplurality prevents me from doing so. On the other hand if you, say for example, like A, B, and C but oppose D, plurality/antiplurality accepts your exact expression of your sentiment. So, I conclude that even though plurality/antiplurality meets formal balance, it doesn’t gives our positions equal power, because it allows one position to be expressed on the ballot and the other not. Generalizing, we can see that some systems are better at providing equality than others even if both systems being compared meet the formal balance constraint.

The space of permitted vectors under Score is the whole surface of the hypercube (some people want it to be a sphere instead), but that of plurality/antiplurality is a spiky thing: you can only vote in the center of each face, for or against one candidate; you can’t go into the corners and support a different count of candidates than one or all-but-one.

[end of note 2]

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Balanced Elimination Voting, Version _n+1_

This version revises the triggering rule for ranks mentioning more than one candidate.

I propose the following form of balanced elimination voting for single-winner elections, unless the political forces favoring the elimination of single-winner elections prevail.

The voters list on their ballots so many ranks as they choose.

Each rank lists one or more candidates and indicates support for or opposition to those candidates listed. It must be support for all or opposition to all, within the rank.

The order of the ranks on the ballot signifies.

Tallying proceeds in rounds, where each round eliminates a candidate from further consideration. The last candidate standing wins the election.

Each round begins by zeroing a counter for each candidate still in the running. The round then examines the ballots. For each ballot, the round must determine the earliest rank such that any candidate named in that rank, and at least one candidate not named in that rank, is still in the running. If this rank declares support for one or more candidates, each of those identified candidates receives a point and a point is deducted from each of the counters of the other candidates. If the rank declares opposition to one or more candidates, a point is deducted from each indicated candidate’s counter and one is added to the counter of each of the other candidates still in the running. Once the so found rank is interpreted in this way, the processing of the ballot is complete for the current round, and the round proceeds onward to the next ballot, if any. Once all the ballots are processed in this way, the round eliminates the candidate having the lowest total on her counter, and that completes the round.

[short link https://wp.me/p23U97-fs ]

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Balanced Elimination Voting, Version _n_

I forget how many stupid versions I have already published.

The voters list on their ballots so many ranks as they choose. Each rank lists one or more candidates and indicates support for or opposition to those candidates listed. It must be support for all or opposition to all, within the rank. The order of the ranks on the ballot signifies.

Tallying proceeds in rounds, where each round eliminates a candidate. The last candidate not eliminated wins the election.

Each round begins by zeroing a counter for each candidate not already eliminated. The round then examines the ballots. For each ballot, the round must determine the earliest rank (the one closest to the top of the ballot, given that the voters are using a language that is written from top to bottom, such as English) such that each candidate named in that rank is still in the running (i. e. has not already been eliminated by a prior round). If this rank declares support for one or more candidates, each of those identified candidates receives a point and a point is deducted from each of the counters of the other candidates. If the rank declares opposition to one or more candidates, a point is deducted from each indicated candidate’s counter and one is added to the counter of each of the other candidates still in the running. Once the rank is interpreted in this way, the processing of the ballot is complete for the current round, and the round proceeds onward to the next ballot, if any. Once all the ballots are processed in this way, the round eliminates the candidate having the lowest total on her counter, and that completes the round.

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Balanced Elimination Voting

[Version 3]

This is a proposal for a method of election of a single winner.

Prescription

The Ballot

The top of the ballot will sport a checkbox labeled “Tally from the top down.” If the voter does not check this box, the interpretation shall be “Tally from the bottom up”. I will explain the significance of this distinction under the heading of the tally, below.

The voter can rank the candidates. Equal ranking is allowed. If the voter fails to mention any candidates, the tally shall interpret the ballot as though it had an additional rank at the bottom mentioning the unmentioned candidates.

This completes the prescription of the voter’s freedom of movement in filling out the ballot.

The Tally

[Oops, I made a serious error in writing this section. For the moment, please refer to the previous version, linked at the bottom]

Design Motiviation and Analysis

Meeting the Balance Constraint

A balanced election system is one in which for every possible vote, there is another vote that would cancel the effect of the first vote. I believe that balance is necessary to resist the effect of expensive advertising. I believe that IRV advocates cannot bring a proof to the effect that IRV is balanced.

The present proposal meets the balance constraint. The antivote of a given vote turns its ranks upside down and toggles the direction-of-search control. The antivotes thus address the same candidates on a given round, and have the opposite effect on the accumulators.

Bottom-up ballots are based on hatred. They give priority to eliminating the worst candidates.

Top-down ballots are based on love. They give priority to supporting the best candidates, similar to IRV.

Division of the Individual Voter’s Political Power

An advocate for IRV brought me the critique that in Score Voting, if a voter gives any support to a compromise candidate, that can dilute the effective support given to the favorite candidate, depending on the other votes. I designed the present proposal to address this critique. A bottom-up voter gives her full political weight to the elimination of the terrible candidates, so long as they have not been eliminated. If there is sufficient agreement from the other voters that the terrible candidates can be eliminated, then the system allows the bottom-up voter to support her favorite candidates fully. Therefore it seems that the present proposal escapes this critique of Score Voting.

Election Mechanics

The present system cannot be tallied by the precincts. This increases the cost of an election as compared to Score Voting. However, the cost of an election is trivial compared to the cost of bad government caused by electing a bad candidate. It would be possible to do a tally where the actual counting happens in the precincts, but there would have to be a dialog between the precincts and the center after each round, to settle on the set of candidates remaining standing for the subsequent round.

Question

I understand that there is a theorem in Game Theory that implies that there is no voting system for which the best strategy is honesty, and no voting system in which the best strategy does not depend on the voter’s estimate of the other voters’ values with regard to the relative merits of the candidacies.

However, if the best strategy in Balanced Elimination Voting isn’t to honestly rank the candidates (allowing equal-ranking if one feels the same degree of support toward two or more candidates) and choose the bottom-up search, I don’t know what it is. This can’t always be the best strategy if my understanding about the theorem is correct.

Who can resolve this paradox?

[I previously described this system differently and offered more flexibility to sophisticated voters.]

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US vs. Morals

US citizens should require their government officials to behave morally in foreign and domestic policy. The citizens should require that current and former officials of the US government who engaged the country’s name and resources in torture or aggressive war should be imprisoned. Any honest assessment of Mr. Obama’s service in office should hold him accountable for his failure to have his Justice Department follow up on whatever evidence or credible allegations they could find to the effect that current and former US officials engaged in or ordered such crimes, with a view to prosecution should the evidence warrant.

People who promote the idea attributed to the mythical character “Abraham” that a certain kind of god exists, say that this supposed god knows right from wrong and has the power to make things right. If these assertions on the part of those proponents were both meaningful and true, one would have to conclude that this god deserves judgment for having permitted US war crimes and torture when he could have prevented them.

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Disagree with Trump’s Actions?

I want to encourage those who disagree with Trump’s actions in office to think of systems, not persons.

Ask yourself whether the US has a good way to choose who becomes President. And answer yourself, no it does not. It’s anti-democratic and rather too random. From among the Republican clown car, Trump wasn’t the most approved. He only won with a plurality. Plurality elections do not reflect levels of approval. Vast improvement is possible. In this connection I particularly want to draw your attention to the Smith argument. The wealthy have the power, and a different system would take away their special power and cause all citizens to have equal power. For those of you arguing from the difficulty of changing the system to one that might be seen to work against those already in power, yes, your point has some validity. However, the problem of taking power might not be wholly impossible to solve, and before trying to change the system, it’s necessary to educate people about what kind of change would be adequate to produce better results than the current system does, with a radical difference. So I’m urging you to read and understand what Warren D. Smith points out and his reasoning for his position. I consider this reasoning to be key to understanding how to create a democratic republic.

In addition to the matter of how the person to fill the Presidency is chosen, I want you to think about how much power the office has. Should the people reduce that power and move some of it to the legislative branch of government? Should there be one president for domestic enforcement and another for foreign policy? Should the presidency be held by a seven-person executive council, as they do in Switzerland?

The Declaration of Independence says that when the people are not satisfied with the form of their government, they have a right to change it. How bad do things have to become before you start to consider and discuss exercising this right?

Please do not  focus on how horrible you may think Trump is,  nor how wonderful you may think Bernie or someone else is. Cults of personality won’t solve the public problems.  Calling the officers and owners of large corporations “greedy” is misplacing your focus. If you describe the problem as one of the character of individual persons, that leads your listeners to suppose that the solutions that will work will address themselves to character. Such solutions won’t work; they won’t scale. Focus instead on systems, and systemic change. Peoples’ behavior is substantially shaped by what system they operate within, and by the rules of the game they have to play in order to stay alive and raise offspring. In politics and in economics, focus on the systems.

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Simulating Finer-grained Score Voting Given A Coarse-grained System

Someone commented on Facebook:

So basically approval is saying that for example a Green would be just as happy with a Democrat and that is not true. Too many think that Greens are similar to Democrats when the motives behind Democratic actions are hotly contested.

My response:

For voters, there’s a way around the coarseness of Approval Voting. Suppose for example it’s Bush, Gore, and Nader, and my true preferences are Bush -50, Gore -40, Nader 50. In finer-grained Score Voting, I would exaggerate my support for Gore and vote strategically Bush -50, Gore 49, Nader 50. Can I use the same strategy with Approval Voting? Yes. I obtain a random number from a computer or some coin tosses or something, and I approve Gore with probability 99%. If lots of people do that, he will receive the amount of support toward his final score, relative to the min and max possible, as though they were voting in a finer-grained Score system.

(Location of original conversation on Facebook: link).

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