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The day FairVote decided to vote on lunch

by Pauline Lejeune // Published April 27, 2010
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Tuesday lunch is a well-established tradition at the FairVote office here in Takoma Park. Each Tuesday, FairVote buys lunch for its employees, and it’s a perfect time for informal discussion and debate. Today was actually my last one, since my internship ends at the end of the week, but that is not my point.


Today, we could not decide on what to order and realizing that we are the voting system experts, we thought it would be great to cast votes before making any decision. So here were our candidates: Chinese food, Middle Eastern food and Pizza. Only one of them could win.

The main issue was: which system should we use, so that we get fair results? Different systems can indeed get different winners and this was a great opportunity to test their fairness and impact.

 

IRV

Range Voting
(rate from 0 to 10)

First-Past-
The-Post

Top-two
Runoff

Condorcet Method

Neal

1- Pizza
2- Chinese
3- Middle Eastern
 Pizza: 10
Chinese: 0
Middle Eastern: 0
 Pizza Chinese






Pizza vs. Chinese:
Pizza


Pizza vs. Middle Eastern:
Middle Eastern


Middle Eastern vs. Chinese:
Chinese

Adam

1- Chinese
2- Middle Eastern
3- Pizza

 Pizza: 0
Chinese: 10
Middle Eastern: 0
 Chinese  Chinese

Pauline

1- Middle Eastern
2- Pizza
3- Chinese

 Pizza: 7
Chinese: 0
Middle Eastern: 10
 Middle Eastern
Middle Eastern

Rob

1- Middle Eastern
2- Pizza
3- Chinese

Pizza: 5
Chinese: 0
Middle Eastern: 10
 Middle Eastern
 Middle Eastern

Amy

1- Chinese
2- /
3- /

 Pizza: 0
Chinese: 10
Middle Eastern: 0
 Chinese  Chinese

Winner

Chinese Food

Pizza

Tied Between
Chinese Food
and Middle Eastern

Chinese Food

No winner: tied

 

Because we were only five voters, the potential for tied results was high. And, even if there are different methods to decide who the winner should be in the case of tied results (based on the age of the candidate, or on a runoff between the top two candidates for instance), I thought that it would be more interesting to keep them tied, as a testimony of how split our votes were today.


In the case of the traditional system of first-past-the post, voters chose one candidate and the one with the most votes won. No choice received a majority of the vote, which means that resolving the tie results would not make a majority of the voters happy about the results. In either case (Chinese Food or Middle Eastern winning), 60% of the voters did not choose that possibility, which does not seem fair.

In the case of a top-two runoff, Neal was the tiebreaker: his first choice was out of the game, so he had the opportunity to refine his preference by choosing between Chinese food and Middle Eastern food. In that system, one choice had to win a majority of the vote, which seems pretty fair.



Then we had instant-runoff-voting (IRV), where voters ranked their choices according to their preferences. In the first round, Chinese Food and Middle Eastern Food both received two votes, and Pizza one vote. No choice got a majority, so Pizza was eliminated because it had the fewest votes. However, since Neal had expressed a preference by putting Chinese food as his second choice, the instant runoff determined that Chinese food now had three votes and Middle Eastern food, two. Consequently, Chinese food won a majority of the vote and was declared the winner.

Another method that we thought to use was range voting. With that method, voters had the possibility to score each of the candidates from 0 to 10. We added up the scores and the candidate with the most votes, Pizza, won. This system is worthy of note, because it enables voters to have a strategy: if you really want your candidate to win, you have an incentive to give him/her the maximum score and to give the minimum score the others. It is also interesting to see that Pizza won in that case: it was the preferred candidate of only one voter, but a good compromise candidate. However, Adam and Amy obviously both voted strategically, which makes it a bad system to use: we cannot make sure that people will vote sincerely.


 
Finally, the Condorcet method ended up with tied results. However, it is an interesting way of electing someone, since the winner would be the candidate whom voters prefer to the other candidates, when compared to them one at a time. This means that the winner would be the most preferred candidate overall, compared to the one being the first preference of most of the voters. This is a way to get the best compromise candidate.

So, there is obviously no right result, rather results that make a majority of voters happy or not. We went with instant-runoff-voting because we are convinced that it is the fairest system, were happy with Chinese Food and had a great Tuesday lunch!