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About a month ago, in Rhode Island, H 6176 became law. This establishes a commission to study improved voting systems and recommend related legislation.

Voting system reform is a crucially important issue. How many times have you, personally, swallowed your pride and voted for the lesser evil? Every one of those times, you were being robbed of your rightful voice. There is no rational reason that you should not be able to support the best option, and oppose the worst option, at the same time. The only thing keeping that from happening is an outdated voting system, plurality voting. And the only people who benefit from keeping that system are lazy, corrupt politicians and the lobbyists whom they service for pay.

This commission is the best hope for statewide voting reform in the United States right now. And if you're a Rhode Island voter, perhaps you could be a member. Read below the squiggle for details.

I knew about this bill from my interest in voting reform. But I couldn't find any reports of who was serving. The bill establishes that at least 5 of the 13 commissioners will be town or city clerks from the state of Rhode Island, so I wrote to all of them (there's only 39). And none of them had heard of this bill. Only one of them was able, by writing to a friend, to find me the information that the bill's main sponsor, Chris Blazejewski, a Democratic state senator from Providence (district 2), was still looking for commissioners.

There is a complicating factor. The bill was passed through the worthy lobbying of FairVote RI, which is affiliated with the national FairVote. This is the primary lobbying group in the country on the issue of voting reform, and they've done some excellent work. But... they are exclusively focused on Instant Runoff Voting, IRV.

IRV represents a clear step up from plurality voting. But there are unquestionably better voting systems out there. It would be a tremendous lost opportunity if this commission's report only supported IRV.

In the past, supporters of other systems have responded to real reform opportunities, opportunities which FairVote opened up, with a counterproductive focus on IRV's flaws. These flaws are quite real, but they are far smaller than the gigantic catastrophe which is plurality voting. As a result, it seems that FairVote has developed an irrational rancor against any non-IRV single-winner reforms. They repeatedly use dishonest or distorted talking points to oppose good reforms, culminating in their recent attack site misleadingly named (no link juice from me, sorry). This site's sole purpose is to promote a half-assed, non-peer-reviewed, pseudo-academic report purporting to show that Range Voting, and several other good alternatives (Approval and Bucklin voting; along with one bad system, Borda voting), are "unsuitable" for use as voting systems - and that the only suitable system is, you guessed it, IRV. The problem is, that this is a clear attempt to steal traffic from, which is a range voting advocacy site. (The latter is run by Warren Smith, a voting systems research pioneer, but one whose mathematical knowledge, let us say, outpaces his political messaging and web design skills).

Why am I airing out this dirty laundry of the voting reform movement? My intent is not to attack FairVote. I'm just trying to say that Blazejewski has talked to Fairvote, and it is, sad to say, likely that he has already heard some of their lies about other systems, and, more importantly, their truths about how advocates of those other systems are sometimes little more than nerdy keyboard kommandoes. And if that hasn't happened already, there's always the chance that it will when they read this diary. (Hi Rob... you're doing great work, but it would be even more helpful if you wouldn't let a few counterproductive activists turn you into their mirror image.) Given that likelihood, it is probably not the best strategy to simply barrage Blazejewski with queries about this. It's probably best to strategize a bit first.

So. Having heard all of that, if you think that you or someone you know might be qualified to serve on this commission... please contact e through a DKos message, or through "email this user" at my wikipedia user page. I'll be happy to answer any questions you have, but I think it's best if we strategize a bit first before we go to Blazejewski.

I don't want to finish this diary without actually including some information about better voting reforms. So, here's a list of the advantages of my favorite reform, Simple Optionally-Delegated Approval.

For voters

  1. SODA is extremely easy for the voters; in fact, no voting system is simpler to vote. Plurality, by restricting you to only one vote, also makes it possible to mistakenly "overvote", spoiling your ballot. There is no such way to accidentally invalidate your ballot under SODA. Also, both Plurality and Approval require a conscientious voter to consider strategy and polling status; SODA allows a simple bullet vote to still be strategically as strong as possible, regardless of the candidate standings.
  2. Under SODA, there is no need for dishonesty from individual voters. A voter can safely vote for any candidate that they honestly agree with, without fear of that vote being wasted; or safely vote an honest approval-style ballot, if they do not agree with any candidate's preference order. This is drastically different from plurality, where voters must dishonestly spurn "spoiler" candidates as a matter of course.
  3. SODA does not require you to trust any politician. Any vote delegation is both safe (you can see where your delegated vote may go) and entirely optional. Any voter who dislikes the idea of their vote being delegated in a "smoke-filled room", need not allow that to happen.

For society (results)

  1. SODA is far more likely to arrive at a majority result than Plurality (or even IRV). Winners will thus have a clearer mandate.
  2. SODA may be more likely to elect the pairwise champion (aka Condorcet winner, the candidate who could beat all others one-on-one) than any other system (except SODA-DAC). See the technical discussion below for the assumptions that would make this true.
  3. However, unexpected, relatively unknown or unqualified winners will be as rare or rarer under SODA than under Approval or a Condorcet system. In a polarized society, Condorcet or Approval can have such a strong tendency to elect centrists that even unqualified, largely-unknown centrists have an advantage over better-known candidates; SODA will not have such a tendency unless the stronger candidates consciously choose this as a compromise.

For society (process)

  1. SODA balances voice for minority leaders with power for majority winners or coalitions. In fact, you could say that SODA combines the best of both worlds - the negotiated, everyone-gets-a-voice majority coalitions of parliamentary government, with the decisive, buck-stops-here clear winner of a US-style system.
  2. SODA would reduce negative campaigns. A negative personal attack against opponent A would often just shift votes to another opponent B who would end up sharing them back with A in the delegation round. (In fact, some parties might decide to run two candidates per race, to explicitly take advantage of this phenomenon). Meanwhile, the candidate carrying out the attacks could also suffer if voters saw them as a slimy mudslinger.
  3. Like many other voting reforms, SODA would reduce the influence of money in political campaigns. Plurality, with its overriding need to be a frontrunner, exaggerates the importance of money. Any candidate who's not one of the two best-funded, is almost certainly at best a spoiler, and is thus aggressively ignored by voters and media. SODA in particular, by encouraging meaningful campaigns and get-out-the-vote operations by minor candidates, while still ensuring that the extra turnout those generated would have an effective impact in deciding between the major candidates, would help substitute grassroots people-power for dollar-power in campaigns.

For activists

  1. SODA is arguably better than Plurality voting in every way (Pareto dominant). Although other systems may offer even-greater advantages over plurality, they also come with certain disadvantages. Those disadvantages may be minor; but they give an opportunity for lobbyists, corrupt politicians, and other reform opponents to attack the reform, and put reform advocates on the defensive. A SODA advocate can devote all their attention to its advantages.
  2. SODA would lead to less infighting. Because it solves the spoiler problem, there's no need for pointless debate between radicals who want to pressure their side and moderates who want to support it. Substantive debate would continue, but with less need for unhelpful acrimony.
  3. Because it allows more voices in the debate, SODA would support the passage of other reforms such as campaign finance reform. The current two-party system sees these issues, which should be bipartisan, through a partisan lens, crippling their progress. By breaking the two-party monopoly, SODA would open the potential for more cross-partisan alliances and independent support on these matters.

For politicians

  1. SODA should be generally acceptable to honest officeholders, who are winners in a Plurality two-party system. Most of their familiar ways of thinking about the campaign would still work - except that it would reduce negative campaigning. Plurality-style voting still works just fine, and if most votes are for major parties, this system will cleanly allow a major party to win, in many cases without going to the delegation round (especially if the major-party candidates do not pre-announce delegation preferences, thus preventing an extorting minor party from demanding their delegated votes; and/or if the optional anti-kingmaker rule is used).
  2. SODA would make a politician's job more fun. Less time spent on fundraising (see process advantage #3), fewer attack ads from opponents (see process advantage #2); what's not to like? Sure, nobody would be a politician today without a high tolerance for these problems, but even for politicians, negative ads and the fundraising treadmill have gotten out of hand.
  3. SODA reduces the threat from unserious candidates. Under plurality, an even an unqualified candidate can be a spoiler. Under Condorcet or Approval, they can prosper simply because of second-choice support from two polarized camps. In fact, in the latter case, candidates can do better the less voters know about them! If there's anything that annoys a serious politician, it's losing to an unqualified cipher. SODA has no such problem, unless one of the candidates with more first-choice votes puts their reputation on the line by explicitly choosing the centrist twice (in order to avoid something worse). That's not going to happen for an unknown.

Which is your favorite of the SODA voting advantages I listed?

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