Difference between revisions of "PLACE FAQ"

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=== Doesn't PLACE put too little emphasis on parties? ===
=== Doesn't PLACE put too little emphasis on parties? ===
#PropRep, and especially methods like STV (explained below), lead to more parties. Since voters don't have to worry about wasted votes, they can afford to split into a new party as soon as their current party does something they dislike. Taken to an extreme, this could mean many tiny parties, each focused on only one issue or subgroup.  
"#PropRep", and especially methods like STV (explained below), lead to more parties. Since voters don't have to worry about wasted votes, they can afford to split into a new party as soon as their current party does something they dislike. Taken to an extreme, this could mean many tiny parties, each focused on only one issue or subgroup.  
As discussed above in the question about "healthy politics", PLACE avoids this problem because of the 25% local threshold. Splinter groups without a local base of support don't have to worry about wasting their vote, but they can't actually elect their chosen candidate; they'd have to work through a larger party. This helps ensure some degree of pre-election coalition- and platform-building, so that voters can make a choice between competing visions for the country's future, and not just single-issue parochialism.
As discussed above in the question about "healthy politics", PLACE avoids this problem because of the 25% local threshold. Splinter groups without a local base of support don't have to worry about wasting their vote, but they can't actually elect their chosen candidate; they'd have to work through a larger party. This helps ensure some degree of pre-election coalition- and platform-building, so that voters can make a choice between competing visions for the country's future, and not just single-issue parochialism.

Revision as of 06:11, 12 October 2017


Basic questions

What is this page?

This is an FAQ about PLACE voting, a proportional voting method intended as a replacement for district-based choose-one plurality, aka FPTP, for electing a legislature. It also discusses related issues, such as the problems of FPTP and the advantages of proportional methods in general.

What does PLACE stand for?

Proportional, Locally-Accountable, Candidate Endorsement voting.

The problem

What is FPTP?

FPTP stands for First Past The Post, the voting method used by countries such as the US, the UK, and Canada. This is where you can vote for just one candidate and only among those running in your local district, and then whichever of those gets the most votes wins. It's also known as "plurality" or "choose-one plurality", and while most democracies do NOT use this method, among those that use single-member districts it is by far the most common, so sometimes "single-member districts" will mistakenly be used as a synonymous term.

Why is FPTP bad?

It leads to a large proportion of wasted votes (usually over 50%). This enables gerrymandering. Also, it tends to a two-party duopoly, which tends to be unaccountable, extremist, and acrimonious.

How does FPTP waste votes?

In FPTP, all votes that are not for the winning candidate are wasted. If there's more than 2 candidates, this can add up to over 50% already. Also, any portion of votes for the winning candidate that exceed the 50%+1 threshold needed to guarantee a win are also wasted.

So in a district with 3 candidates that get 40%, 35%, and 25%, the wasted vote total is 60%, the sum of the two losing candidate totals. In a district with 2 candidates that get 75% and 25%, the wasted vote total is 50% -1; the losing vote total plus 1/3 of each winning vote.

If your vote is wasted, you are effectively not represented.

What is gerrymandering, and what does it have to do with wasted votes?

Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing district lines in order to maximize wasted votes for your opponents. It's named after an 1812 Massachusetts state senate district signed into law by Elbridge Gerry, which was said to resemble a salamander. (Although Gerry's name is pronounced with a hard "g", the word "gerrymandering" is usually pronounced with a "j" sound at the start.)

Modern computer-aided gerrymandering can be extremely effective, especially in areas where housing is highly segregated. Minority areas, which tend to vote reliably for one party, are used as pawns in engineering an advantage for one party. Gerrymandering can also be bipartisan, in which case it is used not to create a partisan advantage, but simply to ensure well-connected incumbents are re-elected (and sometimes, to get rid of incumbents who don't toe the party line).

The most famous gerrymandered districts are the ones which look craziest when mapped, with filigreed edges and bizarre tentacled shapes. However, the heart of gerrymandering is engineering wasted votes, and these exist even in districts with sensible, compact shapes. A compact district can be highly gerrymandered, and a strangely-shaped one can be fair from a partisan perspective.

Gerrymandering is worst in the US, because most other countries do not allow politicians to draw their own boundaries.

Across time and space, gerrymandering has been used by various parties and groups. But in one time and place, it tends to favor one party. Right now, in the US House of Representatives, it favors the Republicans. As I write this in October 2017, the latest forecasts for what would happen if the House elections happened now are that the Republicans would get 46.2% of the two-party vote, but 52.4% of the seats (according to Decision Desk HQ).

Aside from wasted votes and gerrymandering, what's bad about FPTP?

Under FPTP, voters learn that votes for third-party candidates are almost always wasted, so there are strong incentives to only vote for the two biggest parties. That gives those two parties an advantage; in the language of commerce, they have unfair market power. Like any monopoly, over time they tend to abuse that power, becoming less and less accountable to voters as they pander more and more to political donors.

Also, if politics has only two sides, all the political fights start to look zero-sum to those parties. Instead of looking for win-win solutions, their incentives are to take whatever political stance hurts the other party the most. Thus we have mudslinging campaigns and bad-faith legislative negotiations. It pays to hurt yourself in order to hurt one opponent more, because there is no third option who will come out unscathed.

The general solution: proportional representation

What is proportional representation?

Proportional representation is any voting method which ensures that a party (or any other group of voters who uniformly prefer the same large-enough set of candidates) will get approximately the same portion of seats as they have of votes. ("Approximately" in this case can usually be defined rigorously, but that definition varies for different proportional methods). It also refers to the entirety of any electoral system which uses such a voting method.

What hashtag should I use for proportional representation?

Unfortunately, the initials "PR" are highly ambiguous; they could refer to Puerto Rico, Public Relations, or a Pull Request (used by programmers to collaboratively fix computer code). But the full words "proportional representation" are too long. Thus, #PropRep.

What does #PropRep have to do with wasted votes?

Another definition of proportional representation methods is that they are designed to minimize wasted votes. When one party gets a seat proportion that is substantially better or worse than their vote proportion, it must be because they are wasting less or more of their voting power than average. Thus minimizing wasted votes implies getting a proportional result.

In other words: if you want the best chance that your vote will matter and you will be represented, you should be looking for a #PropRep method.

Is proportional representation just a theory?

Certainly not! Over 80% of OECD countries use some form of #PropRep.

Should advocates of different #PropRep methods work together?

Of course. (Except for closed list, which is strictly worse than open list.)

  1. PropRep methods have more similarities and common advantages than differences. Though it's worthwhile to debate which method is best, we should not lose sight of the fact that they're all vastly superior to FPTP. Thus, when this FAQ takes the position that PLACE is superior to other #PropRep methods, this should not be construed as opposition to those other methods.

PLACE voting: process (how)

How does PLACE voting work?

Assuming that there is one equal-population district (aka riding or constituency) per seat, and that the parties have already nominated candidates by district, here are the steps:

  1. Before the election, candidates may endorse other candidates. From the perspective of candidate X in party Y, this divides other candidates into 4 groups:
    • "Same faction": those X endorses who are in party Y
    • "Same party": those who are in party Y but who don't get endorsed by X.
    • "Allies": Those X endorses who are not in party Y
    • "Opponents": Those not in party Y who are not endorsed by X.
  2. The ballot lists the candidates running locally, and also has a write-in slot for each party. You can choose a local candidate, choose a party, or choose a party and write in a candidate from another district.
    • There is also a way to check "do not transfer" when choosing a local candidate, or "do not transfer to local candidates" when choosing a party.
  3. Ballots are tallied, and any candidate who got less than 25% of the local vote is eliminated (unless they got more local votes than any other).
  4. Votes for eliminated candidates are transferred (unless the voter opted out). They go first to "same faction", in descending order of raw vote total; then "Same party", again by vote total; and finally to "allies", again in vote order. If all these groups run out, a ballot is exhausted.
  5. Any candidate who gets a "quota" of votes wins, and the excess portion of all their votes (above what they needed to win) is transferred.
    • A "quota" is defined as V/(S+1), where V is the total number of votes and S is the number of seats. So in an election for 9 seats, a quota would be 10% of the total votes, or 90% of the average district's votes.
    • If one candidate got two quotas of votes, then half of each of those votes would be "excess" and would be transferred. Thus, transfers can involve partial votes.
    • As soon as a candidate is elected, all other candidates in the same district are eliminated.
  6. Until all seats are full, the candidate that is farthest behind the frontrunner in their district is eliminated, one by one.
    • Thus votes will move from weaker candidates to stronger ones until they make up full quotas and the seats fill up.
  7. Each winning party assigns each district where they did not win to one of their winning candidates as "extra constituents".
    • Thus, even if your party did not win in your district, you will be a constituent for a representative from your party; you'll still have "your" representative to listen to your petitions.

Did you skip any niggling details in the procedure above?

A few:

Niggling detail 0: Minimum number of endorsements

If a candidate has any within-party ("same faction") endorsements, he must have at least 3 of them (or at least half of the other candidates running in his party, rounded down; whichever is less). This helps prevent unserious candidates from running merely as "vote funnels" for a single specific serious candidate.

Niggling detail 1: Information available in the voting booth

Each voting booth will have:

  • A list of all candidates in all districts (all eligible write-ins), along with lists of "faction" and "ally" endorsements for each.
    • The "faction" information for each party will also be available in the form of a matrix, where columns are endorsers and rows are endorsees, and "similar" candidates (those getting correlated endorsements) are listed near to each other. Rows and columns will use the same ordering of course.
    • Each eligible write-in candidate will have an optional error-resistant 3-letter code, for people who can't spell their name.
    • Each candidate will be allowed to submit a brief under-50-word statement which will go with their name
  • An explanation of the PLACE rules, with appropriate examples (similar to this FAQ)

Niggling detail 2: Rules for "Do not transfer" and for party-only votes

  • If a voter chooses a local candidate and marks "do not transfer", their vote will be exhausted as soon as that candidate is eliminated or elected.
    • The same if a voter writes in a nonlocal candidate and marks "do not transfer". (Although this is expected to be rare)
  • If a voter chooses a party, their vote will go to any member of that party, in descending order of raw vote total; and then will be exhausted when all members of that party are elected or eliminated.
    • If a voter chooses a party and marks "do not transfer to local candidates", then it will be as above, except that their vote will skip over any candidates from that party running locally.
  • The boxes for "do not transfer" (next to local candidates) and "do not transfer to local candidates" (next to party/write-in slots) are considered equivalent; there are two and their wording is different merely as a convenience.

Niggling detail 3: Elimination and the 25% threshold

If a candidate gets more than 25% of the local vote, and/or the most votes, from a district where they are not running, they will not be eliminated, and will be considered to be running in all districts in which they passed the threshold. In that case, they will not be eliminated as long as they would survive in one of those districts. For instance, even if one of those seats is filled, they will not be eliminated until they all are.

Niggling detail 4: Ties and Simultaneous Winners

In the rare case that several candidates from separate ridings reach a full quota at the same time, the one with the fewest local votes is elected first, to allow the others to possibly accumulate a bigger surplus before winning. In the even rarer case that more than one candidate from the same riding reach a full quota at the same time, the one with more local votes is elected.

In other cases of ties, they are resolved by initial vote totals, or if that doesn't break the tie, randomly (by drawing lots or some other random procedure).

Niggling detail 5: Independent candidates

All independent candidates are considered to be different parties for the purposes of the "same party" grouping, but the same party for the purposes of the "same faction" grouping. The upshot is that a vote for an independent candidate will go first to other independents she endorsed, then to non-independents she endorsed, then will be exhausted. It will never go to other independents she did not endorse.

Niggling detail 6: Extra territory

Parties are required to assign extra territory in such a way that roughly balances the total party vote for each candidate's full territory. That is to say, it should be impossible to improve that balance by changing the assignment of a single district. Aside from that, they are encouraged to respect geographic or demographic communities when assigning extra territory.

PLACE voting: method design (why)

Who designed PLACE voting and why?

PLACE was designed by Jameson Quinn, who felt that new advances in mechanism design could allow a better FPTP replacement than existing PR options.

What are the design goals for PLACE?

PLACE is designed to ensure that voters get maximum impact for minimum effort. It is also meant to encourage healthy politics.

How does PLACE help voters get maximum impact for minimum effort?

  • Voters are free to vote for any candidate. Most proportional methods don't give that breadth of choice, because there isn't room for that many candidates on the ballot. PLACE finesses that by having only local candidates listed explicitly on the ballot, but still allowing non-local candidates as write-ins. In practice, this means that even if the candidate who most excites you is not currently in a nearby district, you'd still be able to vote for them. This increased freedom would also increase turnout, as more people would have somebody they're excited to vote for.
  • Voters do not have to make any decisions that might not have an impact. The best way to explain this is to contrast PLACE with STV (explained below). In STV, a diligent voter should rank almost all candidates, because theoretically some fraction of your vote might get passed all the way down your ranking to one of the final candidates. But it's also possible that your whole vote will be soaked up by your first-choice candidate, in which case all the work you're doing ranking beyond that is just wasted time. PLACE, on the other hand, doesn't ask you to make all those extra decisions about whom to rank second, third, etcetera, because when you choose your favorite you're making those decisions too. One important decision with maximum freedom is a lot easier and cleaner than a lot of less-important choices with less freedom in each.
  • Candidates cannot insulate themselves from accountability towards voters. Imagine the structurally "safest" incumbent there could be: running in a highly-favorable partisan district, and somehow able through crooked means to force most of her party to endorse her. Now imagine she does something to anger her constituents. Can they vote her out, while still favoring her party? In many proportional methods, the answer is "not really". But in PLACE, they can vote for any candidates from elsewhere who don't endorse her, or vote for her party but ensure that the vote doesn't transfer to her. Even if most of them don't do those things, as long as a substantial fraction of them do, she will probably be far enough back in the line for transferred votes that they won't trickle down to her. So they can indeed effectively hold her accountable.
  • The act of delegation itself can improve the bargaining power of minority groups and factions. Say there's a candidate who probably won't win, but has the support of a clear subgroup that amounts to a substantial fraction of a seat quota. Under FPTP, as individuals spread across many districts, that subgroup would have a very hard time getting their views heard (unless they are major political donors, of course). But under PLACE, the candidate can go to other candidates and say "Why should I endorse you? What can you offer my base? I'd like you to promise X." They'll take him seriously, because his endorsement is valuable. Essentially, union is strength; by simplifying the collective action problem for the subgroup, PLACE's delegation is making their voice stronger. As above, this should help PLACE boost turnout.

How does PLACE encourage healthy politics?

  • Breaks the two-party duopoly. This is huge. Because it allows voters to vote for a third party without fear of wasting their vote, PLACE breaks politics out of a zero-sum situation. Thus, cooperation (positive-sum thinking) will be rewarded, and intransigence and spite and mudslinging (negative-sum actions) will be punished. The two parties will have greater accountability, and won't take so many voters for granted.
  • Doesn't lead to excessive party fragmentation. On the other hand, too many parties can also be a problem, as narrowly-focused single-interest parties lose sight of the common good. (Consider, for example, the tiny religious parties in Israel who are more focused on literally parochial issues like maintaining their part of the monopoly on weddings than on the big issues facing the country.) PLACE avoids this problem because a party that can't reach at least 25% in at least some districts doesn't get seats. Those votes aren't wasted, they're transferred; but the party that gets those votes has to have a broad enough platform to appeal to more than one small group. Generally, PLACE should lead to an effective number of parties (ENP) of under 4; that is, two larger parties, one or two medium-sized ones, and a smattering of seats going to charismatic independents or tiny parties with a strong geographic base. Over time, parties can grow or shrink organically as they appealed to more or fewer voters.
  • Encourages both pre- and post-election coalition-building. Because votes can and do transfer between parties, there is an incentive to keep healthy relationships across party lines. Even though larger parties wouldn't have more than a fraction of a seat of leftover votes to pass along, they'd still have that much.

Arguments against PLACE (and responses)

I'll answer each question and concern by first playing "devil's advocate" and laying out why people might have that concern, and then responding with my own arguments for why the issue should not be a major worry.

Doesn't delegation give too much power to candidates?

Some people don't like how delegation works in PLACE. They believe that voters should directly control how their vote is transferred, not pass that control to candidates (and, within each transfer group, to other voters).

Still, I'd argue this concern is wrong, for the following reasons:

  • The reason you're voting for a candidate is that you think they're the best choice available to represent you in the legislature. To cast that vote, you have to trust them on some level to make many votes in your interest, votes you probably won't even hear about. Why, then, wouldn't you trust their public, predeclared endorsements of other candidates?
  • If you really don't want to delegate your vote, you can check the "do not transfer" option. PLACE still gives you just as much voting power as you would have had under FPTP, and more freedom to cast that vote for somebody you truly support.
  • Delegation in PLACE is limited. The candidate you pick merely divides their party into two groups ("same faction" and "same party") and also divides the candidates from other parties into two groups ("allies" and "opponents"). Within each of those groups, she does not choose the order; that order comes from the vote totals, that is, from other voters. Thus, candidates remain accountable to voters, even if they get endorsements.

Doesn't PLACE put too much emphasis on parties?

In PLACE voting, "same party" transfers come before "allies", so out-of-party candidates cannot get vote transfers before in-party ones. Also, the ballot has separate spaces for write-ins depending on which party they are from. Both of these design choices could be changed without breaking PLACE, and both appear to grant extra power to parties. So did I make these choices because I like and trust parties?

As you might suspect, my answer to such a rhetorical question is "no". These aspects of PLACE are both a way to simplify things for voters. Ensuring transferred votes don't leave the party until the party candidates are all gone helps voters know what will happen to their vote, without having to carefully cross-check endorsement lists. Party-specific write-ins help determine voter intent when write-ins are illegible or nearly so. I believe that both of these help ensure that the voters' will is respected. Rather than giving too much power to unelected party insiders, these rules are intended to keep the real power with the voters.

In the end, PLACE hugely reduces the unfair advantages for major parties, and leads to a more fluid party landscape. Opposing it because it keeps a role for parties would, in my opinion, be illogical.

Doesn't PLACE put too little emphasis on parties?

"#PropRep", and especially methods like STV (explained below), lead to more parties. Since voters don't have to worry about wasted votes, they can afford to split into a new party as soon as their current party does something they dislike. Taken to an extreme, this could mean many tiny parties, each focused on only one issue or subgroup.

As discussed above in the question about "healthy politics", PLACE avoids this problem because of the 25% local threshold. Splinter groups without a local base of support don't have to worry about wasting their vote, but they can't actually elect their chosen candidate; they'd have to work through a larger party. This helps ensure some degree of pre-election coalition- and platform-building, so that voters can make a choice between competing visions for the country's future, and not just single-issue parochialism.

Doesn't PLACE favor "third parties" and so end up electing too many extremists?

See the answer to the previous question.

Doesn't PLACE give an unfair advantage to "major parties" over "third parties"

Because of the 25% local threshold, smaller parties could end up getting less than their proportional share of seats.

I've run simulations of PLACE for a few past elections, using actual ballot data, and I think it's useful to look at examples of when this would have happened. One instructive example is the British Columbia 2017 provincial elections. In that election, the BC Green Party won just 3 seats under FPTP, though their proportional share was 14 or 15 seats. PLACE would have given them 10 seats, because that's how many districts they passed the 25% threshold in. The Green votes for the other 4-5 proportional seats would have transferred, so the Greens could have chosen to give seats to around 7 candidates from larger parties such as the NDP.

Another example is the UK 2017 parliamentary election. In that election, UKIP (an extreme nationalist party) had the votes for 11 proportional seats. But since they didn't reach 25% in any district, they wouldn't have gotten any seats. The regional parties, on the other hand (Scottish, Welsh, and Irish) all had local bases of support, so each of them would have gotten their full proportional share of seats.

In the end, I don't think this is really unfair to third parties. It's a huge step up from FPTP, because voters are free to vote for them without fear of wasting votes. This gives them a path to grow from minor party to major party over time, if they can find a way to appeal to enough voters. And even if they get less than a "fair" share of direct seats, they can still use that voting power to indirectly help elect representatives they like from larger parties.

Isn't there some downside to PLACE that's hard to foresee?

I have long experience thinking about voting strategies and finding pathological cases for specific voting methods. As theorems like Gibbard-Satterthwaite underline, no voting method is entirely free of such pathologies. Here's the worst I've come up with for PLACE:

Third parties could unseat specific enemy incumbents from major parties by endorsing those incumbents' major-party opponents. Say there was a third party that had enough votes for 3 seats, but only 2 of their candidates passed the 25% local threshold. So after they'd elected those two candidates, they'd still have one quota of votes to transfer. If they hated major-party candidate X, they could endorse X's major-party opponent Y in order to unseat X. Since those transfers would happen at the start of the counting process, when the third-party candidates were eliminated, Y could win before X had a chance to get within-party transfers. Because of the one-candidate-per-district rule, X would be eliminated, even if he was popular enough to easily win a seat without third-party interference.

There are a few ways this strategy could fail. If the third party candidates endorsed another candidate Z who's more popular than Y, the transfers would elect Z first and the votes would be soaked up. If in the X/Y district X were highly popular and/or Y unpopular, Y might be eliminated by the 25% rule. And if X got enough cross-district direct votes to reach a quota without vote transfers, X would beat Y no matter how many transfer votes Y got. Still, there is a real possibility this could work.

Other #PropRep options

How does PLACE compare to single transferable vote (STV) with multimember districts?

How does PLACE compare to mixed member proportional (MMP) methods?

How does PLACE compare to open list proportional methods?

How does PLACE compare to closed list proportional methods?

How does PLACE compare to other newly-proposed proportional methods?

Political strategy

Other related reforms

Notes and details

Who are you and why should I listen to you?

I'm Jameson Quinn, currently a doctoral candidate in statistics at Harvard. I've been involved in voting theory and voting reform activism since before the 2000 US presidential election. I'm on the board of the Center for Election Science, aka electology.org. I helped the members of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) redesign the nomination process for the Hugo Awards, using a specially-designed proportional voting method called E Pluribus Hugo to prevent a minority of voters from taking over the nominations. (That was a 2-year effort; the peer-reviewed paper I wrote about it with Bruce Schneier is here.)

But you should listen to me not because of any credentials I have, but because you can tell that I've considered this from many angles, that I'm being reasonable, and that this is a serious proposal. Or if you think I'm wrong somehow, write to me at firstname dot lastname at gmail.

What is the difference between "electoral system" and "voting method"?

The electoral system of a country (or state or city) is all the rules pertaining to elections: when they happen, who can vote, and how they are conducted. One key aspect of an electoral system is the voting method that is used: what information is in a vote and how votes are combined to find a winner. Thus, though the two terms are closely related, typically electoral systems are studied by political scientists and public choice theorists, while voting methods may also be studied as abstractions by mathematicians, game theorists, and social choice theorists.

Other related terms include:

Voting system: sometimes used to refer to what I've called "voting methods", but also sometimes refers to voting machines.

Voting procedure, voting apparatus, balloting method, etc.: The physical means used to register votes. This can be paper, mechanical, electronic, lots or marbles, or other.

Electoral method, election method, voting mechanism: synonyms for voting method.

Election system: Could mean any of the above. Best to avoid.

What about "district", "riding", and "constituency"?

These three terms are synonyms, used in the US, Canada, and the UK, respectively. I've used "district" because I'm from the US and it's annoying to always say all three.

What's with the randomness of the gender pronouns in this FAQ?

Every time in this document I needed to use a singular third person pronoun for a non-specific person, I used a quantum random number to decide which gender to use. So, if you believe in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, there's probably another quantum branch of the universe in which you're reading this document with different pronouns. Any bias towards one gender or the other is purely accidental.