Monday, January 12, 2009

"Gaming the Vote"

Received for the holidays, and quickly devoured, William Poundstone's Gaming the Vote. I absolutely loved this book, as its layout mirrored my own exploration of the issue of fair voting, and was filled with the sorts of great examples that grab and focus attention, written in a way that brings out the very human characters that underlie what seems, on the surface, to be a dryly academic topic. Basically, it's the book I would love to write, if I had Poundstone's experience, training, and writing ability.

Starting with an anectdote about Kurt Godel (one of my other favorite books is Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach), it lays out all the problems with our current voting system, with examples scatterd across American history, from Lincoln (and his 39.8% popular-vote win) all the way up to 2006's midterm elections. Once the problem is laid out, Poundstone starts searching for solutions, again giving us great real-life examples full of all-too-human characters, including Kenneth Arrow (winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics), Lewis Carrol (author of Alice in Wonderland), and Lee Atwater (Nixon's expert slime-man.) Along the way, he points out all the downsides of IRV, Condorcet's method, Approval voting, and even his favorite horse, Range voting. Most compelling is his diagram of Baysian Regret of various voting methods (basically, the sum total of how upset people are about an election's result), which strongly suggest that he's right: Range voting scores best.

The book ends by calling me out; asking if any municipality would be willing to step up to the plate and put Range voting into law. Well Mr. Poundstone, I accept your challenge. Tuesday, I'll be attending the local Drinking Liberally chapter, and begin gathering the help I need to make my next vote be a Range vote. I'll also be downloading Warren Smith's source code to try running my own Baysian voting simulations. Wish me luck.

1 comment:

  1. The more common term for range voting is increasingly "score voting", among the real advocates.