B1 Intermediate US 47 Folder Collection
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Imagine we want to build a new space port at one of four recently settled Martian bases, and are holding a vote to determine its location.
Of the hundred colonists on Mars, 42 live on West Base, 26 on North Base,
15 on South Base, and 17 on East Base.
For our purposes, let's assume that everyone prefers the space port
to be as close to their base as possible, and will vote accordingly.
What is the fairest way to conduct that vote?
The most straightforward solution would be to just let each individual
cast a single ballot, and choose the location with the most votes.
This is known as plurality voting, or "first past the post."
In this case, West Base wins easily,
since it has more residents than any other.
And yet, most colonists would consider this the worst result,
given how far it is from everyone else.
So is plurality vote really the fairest method?
What if we tried a system like instant runoff voting,
which accounts for the full range of people's preferences
rather than just their top choices?
Here's how it would work.
First, voters rank each of the options from 1 to 4,
and we compare their top picks.
South receives the fewest votes for first place, so it's eliminated.
Its 15 votes get allocated to those voters' second choice—
East Base— giving it a total of 32.
We then compare top preferences and cut the last place option again.
This time North Base is eliminated.
Its residents' second choice would've been South Base,
but since that's already gone, the votes go to their third choice.
That gives East 58 votes over West's 42, making it the winner.
But this doesn't seem fair either.
Not only did East start out in second-to-last place,
but a majority ranked it among their two least preferred options.
Instead of using rankings, we could try voting in multiple rounds,
with the top two winners proceeding to a separate runoff.
Normally, this would mean West and North winning the first round,
and North winning the second.
But the residents of East Base realize
that while they don't have the votes to win,
they can still skew the results in their favor.
In the first round, they vote for South Base instead of their own,
successfully keeping North from advancing.
Thanks to this "tactical voting" by East Base residents,
South wins the second round easily, despite being the least populated.
Can a system be called fair and good if it incentivizes lying
about your preferences?
Maybe what we need to do is let voters express a preference
in every possible head-to-head matchup.
This is known as the Condorcet method.
Consider one matchup: West versus North.
All 100 colonists vote on their preference between the two.
So that's West's 42 versus the 58 from North, South, and East,
who would all prefer North.
Now do the same for the other five matchups.
The victor will be whichever base wins the most times.
Here, North wins three and South wins two.
These are indeed the two most central locations,
and North has the advantage of not being anyone's least preferred choice.
So does that make the Condorcet method an ideal voting system in general?
Not necessarily.
Consider an election with three candidates.
If voters prefer A over B, and B over C, but prefer C over A,
this method fails to select a winner.
Over the decades, researchers and statisticians have come up with
dozens of intricate ways of conducting and counting votes,
and some have even been put into practice.
But whichever one you choose,
it's possible to imagine it delivering an unfair result.
It turns out that our intuitive concept of fairness
actually contains a number of assumptions that may contradict each other.
It doesn't seem fair for some voters to have more influence than others.
But nor does it seem fair to simply ignore minority preferences,
or encourage people to game the system.
In fact, mathematical proofs have shown that for any election
with more than two options,
it's impossible to design a voting system that doesn't violate
at least some theoretically desirable criteria.
So while we often think of democracy as a simple matter of counting votes,
it's also worth considering who benefits from the different ways of counting them.
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Which voting system is the best? - Alex Gendler

47 Folder Collection
Celine Chien published on July 6, 2020
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