Thank you so much @briannaljohns for the announcement, happy to hear that there is another community call. I will do my best to attend.
You can see what’s been accomplished so far by browsing through our notes on the forum.
I read a couple of the most recent notes (very detailed, thanks!) including the one from 9 February (meeting #15), and just like to confirm a few things:
- Election models
- To discuss on community call: simple vote count vs ranked choice?
- Other methods are available, such as Schulze method
Have these options been set in stone, i.e. are we only choosing between “simple vote count” vs “ranked choice”? Or are they just examples and we can discuss other options?
I wrote a post in this forum analysing election mechanisms near the beginning of the governance process last year though it didn’t get much response at the time. I’ve been following the latest developments in election reform for several years, and in the post I argued against a simple majority vote for elections (aka first-past-the-post/presumably what “simple vote count” meant from the 9 February meeting notes). Such a voting method would be the opposite of the inclusivity that GOSH strives for.
At the time, I was hoping to spur a discussion and consequently didn’t want to push too strongly for any particular alternative method. However, since my original post didn’t gain much traction and/but the community call is coming up, I’d like to respectfully make a few points for your consideration.
“Ranked choice voting” (RCV) is actually a broad term that encompasses a variety of voting methods. I don’t know which one the meeting notes refer to, but the most common variety that people mean is instant runoff voting (IRV). I’m happy to go into details if there’s interest, but empirical evidence from real-life implementations of the instant runoff flavour of ranked choice voting shows that it rarely lives up to expectations. In a notable instance in the US city of Burlington, Vermont, the instant runoff voting for mayor - despite the best of intentions - led to the election of someone that most voters ranked last on their ballots. Burlington voted to repeal this voting system soon afterwards. There is a newly released study that examined 96 different implementations of ranked choice voting across the US which showed this kind of unintended consequence is sadly not the exception.
In case there is further interest, there are also peer-reviewed academic publications that demonstrate the unintended, but substantial pitfalls of ranked choice voting:
Burnett, C. M., & Kogan, V. (2015). Ballot (and voter) “exhaustion” under Instant Runoff Voting: An examination of four ranked-choice elections. Electoral Studies, 37, 41–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2014.11.006 (PDF)
Ornstein, J. T., & Norman, R. Z. (2014). Frequency of monotonicity failure under Instant Runoff Voting: Estimates based on a spatial model of elections. Public Choice, 161(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-013-0118-2
The good news is that there are better methods avoiding the problems of instant runoff voting (the most common variety of ranked choice voting), a few of which I listed in my post. The even better news is that these replacement methods are easy to implement, online and offline.
One promising method is score-then-automatic-runoff (STAR) voting. With STAR voting:
- Voters are asked to assign a score (such as from 0 to 5, with 5 being the highest support; or even on a Likert Scale) to each choice just like book rankings on Amazon or the marks/grades you receive on homework.
- Voters are allowed to give the same score to more than one choice.
- The choice with the highest cumulative score wins. This is much easier to tabulate than ranked choice voting: Just add the numbers!
- In case more than one choice ends up with the same score, an automatic runoff round happens where the choice that got the most preferred votes wins.
In practice, the main difference for voters is that they score instead of rank the options. Turns out this is easier for many because the concept is easy to understand, and often it is hard to assign ranks outside of your most preferred couple of choices (“I’ve ranked my favourite candidate highest, but I don’t really care for the other two options, how do I pick which one to rank higher???”). Score-based voting such as STAR provides far more flexibility. Most importantly, it is more expressive and inclusive of different opinions.
Luckily, there is a web implementation of STAR voting that we can use immediately. From what I’ve read, there is a way to conduct an online STAR-voting election where each person is only allowed to vote once (this is a feature that not all voting platforms offer). The development team behind this platform is fairly responsive, and I would be happy to reach out to them with any questions/concerns that we may have.
On that note, the 9 February meeting notes also state:
Considering OpaVote and Helios options for voting
Again, are OpaVote and Helios the only two we are choosing from or are they just examples? My post from last year listed several options that are 100% open source (including Helios). On the other hand, as far as I can tell OpaVote is not open source (please correct me if I’m wrong). Considering the principles of GOSH and the sacred nature/sanctity of elections, I strongly urge against adopting any proprietary (i.e. closed source) solutions because they are, by definition, a black box controlled by others. It should also be noted that OpaVote is a paid service where it is only “free of charge for elections with up to 25 voters and 10 candidates.” I personally have no problem paying for a service, but OpaVote is likely closed source and does GOSH have a dedicated budget for running elections? If there is a budget, the money is much better spent supporting open source solutions.
Helios itself is fully open source, but “to create and administer an election [on their main instance], you will need to log in using Google, Facebook, Yahoo, or Twitter.” These log in options are not only proprietary, but also extremely invasive of privacy and do not respect our digital rights (I mentioned this in my post). To overcome this limitation, we would have to self-host an instance of Helios (maybe the tech people improving the GOSH website can help?). In addition, it is not clear from the Helios website which voting method(s) they implement. Can someone chime in on this?
Fortunately, there are other fully open source options. One is STAR voting, another is the Condorcet Internet Voting Service (CIVS) hosted by Cornell University. CIVS tries to improve on ranked choice voting by tabulating votes using pairwise comparisons between candidates (specifically, a Condorcet method using the Schulz algorithm mentioned in the meeting notes) to ensure that the winner individually wins against every other candidate. This is considered to be slightly better than instant runoff voting, but to my knowledge Condorcet voting does not alleviate all of the pitfalls of ranked choice voting. Lastly, my post also mentions other possible platforms such as Loomio.
Two frequently asked questions/comments I see are:
Q: Simple majority vote is terrible for democracy, surely anything else would be better? So we should just use ranked choice voting. Let’s not make perfect the enemy of the good.
A: Indeed most other options are better than simple majority voting. But since we know there are options more inclusive than ranked choice voting and that are just as easy (and often easier) to implement, we should seize this rare opportunity to reach for something better.
Q: We can argue over the finer details of different voting methods all day/month/year, but we need to be practical! So let’s just go for simple majority voting.
A: An exhaustive academic treatise analysing different voting methods (and I’ve only touched on a few prominent ones in this post!) would indeed take up multiple tomes but we don’t need to dig that deep for a good solution. GOSH is a prominent member of the open source community and the GOSH Manifesto lays out clear aspirations to improve accessibility, act ethically, democratise science, empower people, all with no black boxes. Adopting a better voting method ticks all of those boxes and would set a positive example for other open source communities.
With all of that said, I specifically suggest:
- We not use a simple majority vote for the upcoming election. It is the worst of all worlds, goes against the GOSH Manifesto, and sends a negative message that we do not care enough about an inclusive voting method.
- Instead, strongly consider STAR voting as an easy, more expressive and inclusive voting method compared to ranked choice voting.
- If, for some reason, the GOSH Governance Working Group decides against 1., we should at least avoid proprietary solutions (and certainly not pay for one!). Again, other solutions such as CIVS exist.
- If all of the above fails, GOSH commits to acknowleding this failure and seriously investigate and adopt a better solution for future elections.
To be clear, the above are obviously just my opinions with my own privileged biases and prejudice. Whatever GOSH does will of course be a collective decision, and like I said in my post most people here are far more experienced than I am in managing a community. But I just like to humbly submit these suggestions for your consideration.
I’m happy to discuss more, but given the limited time of the community call, hopefully this post provides a bit more detail. Looking forward to your feedback and/or critique.