March 2nd, 2020

planet

ranked choice voting

oh man, now that the dust has definitely settled over some years, I should talk about the terrible time we decided to try ranked-choice voting in our makerspace elections.

voting systems get talked about a lot in US election years, because we have a "first past the post" voting system. If there are 27 candidates, you vote for your one favorite. People say this is not fair and has lead to a nearly unconquerable two party system, because everyone is afraid to "throw their vote away" on a third party candidate.

Let's say I polled my friends here on what game we should play...

checkers
chess
risk
monopoly
tackle football

maybe you just want to play a game inside. you'd have a hard time picking between the first four options, so you start asking yourself which one is more likely to win among the "inside gamer" crowd? if you guess wrong, well, our inside gamer votes are all split up like crazy and we end up playing tackle football.

So at my community makerspace, with 400 members, we decided to try ranked choice voting. We had a dozen or so candidates running for four open at-large director positions, and used surveymonkey for everyone to rank their choices, 1 through 12.

Hilarity ensued (not really, it was awful) when questions came up about who's running this election and who's counting the votes... the answer was basically well, the same volunteers who do EVERYTHING around this place, who also happen to be running for office. NO we can't have that! Then someone pointed out that we did not like how surveymonkey counted the votes - they basically averaged the ranks. So some members said they ranked their first four picks who they want on the board... that meant they had no say in who WASN'T on the board. If seven people voted for joe, bob, mary and sue in various orders and stopped, but three other people ranked mark as their number 1, then mark's average ranking is that he's the king of the world and totally wins. What's more fair, they said, is the "instant runoff" scenario. Not familiar with that one? It's because according to Wikipedia there are five possible methods to determine the winners in a ranked choice system, the most popular being instant runoff...

"If no candidate is the first choice of more than half of the voters, then all votes cast for the candidate with the lowest number of first choices are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on who is ranked next on each ballot."

So you write this crazy script to go through and eliminate one candidate at a time, and on loop 11 you're down to the end. We had one person use a spreadsheet, one write a python script, and one more just give the fuck up, before we determined our winners.

This is for a volunteer job, mind you. But there was DRAMA, calls for a re-election, calls for new bylaws about running and counting.

and a lot of calls to definitely get the fuck out of ranked choice voting.

because at the end of the day, if it takes a weird computer algorithm to count votes, somebody's not going to trust it. Somebody else will debate forever what's the most fair way, somebody else will find an error in the code, somebody else will ALWAYS wonder who their votes were actually cast for, and it will be weird.

In the next year's election, we just used multi-choice checkboxes.

They are extremely easy to count. You can tell everyone that 123 people checked mary's box, 45 checked bob's. anybody can do it and you can't manipulate the count unless you're straight up faking votes. It's addition. I like addition.

and we can all move on with our lives.