August 12, 2016

On Voting

My basic rule is: vote as if what you vote for will be adopted. This assumes that you actually want it to be adopted. That seems simple, but some people vote for secondary reasons. What does that mean? I offer two real-world examples. Some years ago, a bishop was elected on the first ballot — not unheard of, but at least unusual. He was a widely admired figure in his diocese, but it emerged after the election that a number of people reported they had voted for him as an expression of their admiration and support for his good work as a priest, but had intended to switch their votes on the second ballot to the person they actually wanted to be bishop. The second example is more recent: a number of those who voted in favor of Brexit reported that they had voted for it not because they wanted it to succeed, but to "send a message" to Europe that there was a substantial minority of people who weren't entirely happy with the European Union.

So what are the implications for the present presidential cycle? Vote for the candidate you wish to see elected, as if he or she will be elected. That includes third party candidates — don't vote for them as a symbolic act, but as if they will be president. It also means withhold your vote if you don't want to see any of the candidates elected. (I have supported all elections having a "none of the above" option so as accurately to gauge electoral discontent — mere abstention is a nullity, and one cannot distinguish between dissatisfaction or nihilism. This approach also allows for voting for "the lesser of two evils" in a pragmatic sense — not as a protest vote but a conscious choice of between two or more imperfect options with a view to choosing the least damaging.

But don't vote to "send a message" or to "show support" for a lost cause you would not want to see in power.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


wdg_pgh said...

I would carry your "none of the above" suggestion one step further. I have long thought that the best voting process would be to have each voter vote "yes", "no", or "don't care" for each candidate on the ballot (not voting at all for a particular candidate would count as "don't care.") The votes would then be totaled as +1 for each yes, -1 for each no, and zero for "don't care." The candidate with the largest positive score would be the winner, but if every candidate got a negative score there would be no winner, and the election would be repeated with an entirely different set of candidates.

One major advantage would be that candidates would have to campaign primarily on their own desirability, not on how bad their opponent is. Another possibility might be to eliminate primaries; although a party could endorse a particular candidate, there could be multiple candidates from each party in the general election.

Bill Ghrist

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Bill. I have long favored a form of preferential voting that allowed for a greater expression of support (or lack thereof). A number of such systems exist, and I think any of them are to be preferred to our current system (especially the winner takes all electoral college). I like your proposal as one way to accomplish a greater sense of where the voters are. Another is to give each voter multiple "points" (one more than the number of candidates) to award as she sees fit -- giving them all to one candidate if a strong supporter, or giving some to one and fewer to another to indicate ambivalence. A plurality of points would be indicative of support, and a majority of all points awarded would be a very clear sign of significant support.