Game Theory, Voting, Reason, and Behavior

A friend of mine recently said, “”

There are better election systems than our single-vote system, which inevitably results in a two-party system. Ranked choice, however, isn’t one of them as it’s too easily gamed and when people game it, it backfires.

For example, let’s say five candidates are running, but only A and B, party leaders, have a chance. There’s also a clear bottom clunker, E.

Both sides game the system, so those voting for A rank: A E D C B

Those voting for B rank: B E D C A

Results: Although tied as favorites, both A and B lose, with about the same points as D. Instead, E the clunker wins because voters cannot help but try and game the system. Not all voters must game the system, either. If just over half try to game it, E — the guy everyone hates — wins.

This is just one reason why ranked voting sucks. Another is the fact it’s complicated and people don’t trust complicated. With fewer people voting, fewer people are being represented.

I’ve been studying game theory ever since watching A Beautiful Mind with Russel Crowe. Brilliant movie.

Game theory is brilliant, too, but complicated stuff. Things are only sometimes based on reason. Other times they’re based on group behavior. Often, it’s a combination of both and a variety of factors can drive things in different directions.

Fun stuff!

One approach used in large group decision-making eliminates gaming while very accurately measuring group preferences. It involves asking each member of the group just one question, and a random question at that.

If you have five candidates, A, B, C, and D, you have 6 possible pairings:

  • A-B
  • A-C
  • A-D
  • B-C
  • B-D
  • C-D

To eliminate gaming, only one random pairing is selected for each voter. To eliminate position bias, the pairings occur in random order and are listed on the same line. Sometimes A comes before C, and sometimes C before A. To eliminate yet another bias, a third option — Equal / I Don’t Know — is listed below and equidistant from both names. Thus response’s function is to reduce voter frustration while increasing subsequent response rate.

For each vote, the selected one of the pair receives a +1 point while the other receives a -1 point. If the field is left blank or if the voter chooses Equal / I Don’t Know, points are neither given nor taken away from either candidate.

To detect and prevent election fraud, the system does record all pairings, as well as which pairings were given to each voter. While it does record the +1 and -1 votes, or the Null Vote made by each voter, it does not record that voter’s choice. The system checks that each candidate appeared an equal number of times and will make a leveling adjustment to make it so. The leveling adjustment will narrow down spreads between candidates, but only slightly, and it will never switch candidate rankings.

To further detect and prevent fraud, each voter is given a unique random alphanumeric number when they vote. After they’ve voted, the voter can check their vote online using the unique number to see if it was recorded as the individual voted. If not, the voter can file an immediate formal complaint within 24 ours. It won’t change their vote, but it might invalidate it if the complaint is verified. This, too, narrows spreads but doesn’t switch rankings.

All steps are printed on paper and are completely open and transparent to independent inspectors with audit authority. They can even contact a limited number of randomly-selected (think Powerball) voters in order to double-check the accuracy.

This system will produce a ranked-order list of candidates, or candidate teams for presidential and gubernatorial elections, to be published immediately at the closure of the last polling location.

To prevent judicial fraud, while any of the candidates can challenge it up to 30 days — at their expense — and judges can invalidate the vote altogether if election commission concurs, the state cannot decide the election.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the ONLY way to cheaply, effectively, and accurately determine actual voter preference for candidates while maximizing transparency and eliminating election fraud and most of the biases involved in voting while simultaneously providing a full, double-entry audit trail.

It just is!

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