Declaration of Election-Method Reform Advocates
A Call to Move Beyond Plurality Voting
We, the undersigned election-method experts and advocates from around the world, unanimously denounce the use of plurality voting in governmental elections. In this declaration we offer several ready-to-adopt replacement election methods that we agree will reliably produce much fairer results.
We are confident that adopting any of our recommended methods will reduce the gap between what voters want and politicians do. Government will become more accountable because voters will have more influence, and campaign contributions will have less influence. In other words, adopting any of our supported election methods will increase the fairness of election results.
We agree that there are no significant political or economic risks associated with adopting the election methods recommended here. In fact, we believe that the indirect benefits of better democracy will be substantial. Just as plurality-based democracies tend to be more prosperous than monarchies, we expect that higher levels of democracy will lead to higher standards of living, reduced conflicts, and widespread increases in prosperity.
Unfairness of plurality voting
"Plurality voting” refers to the commonly used counting method in which each voter marks only a single choice on the ballot, the number of marks for each candidate are counted, and the candidate with the most marks is regarded as the winner. In some nations this method is called "First Past The Post" (and abbreviated FPTP or FPP).
Although plurality voting produces fair results when there are only two candidates, the results are often dramatically unfair when it is used in elections with three or more candidates.
"Vote splitting" is a key weakness of plurality voting. If there are two similar candidates, their supporters will split their votes between the two. If the opposition concentrates all their votes on a single candidate, that candidate may win, even though either of the similar candidates would have won instead if there had been a one-on-one election. Vote splitting also happens in primary elections and nominating conventions.
In many countries that use plurality voting, vote splitting in major elections is relatively rare because almost everyone votes for the nominee of one of the two dominant political parties, while ignoring other possibly-better candidates. This avoids vote splitting, but the resulting two-party monopoly causes many problems. Citizens become frustrated and fewer vote. Third-party and independent candidates are discouraged from running, and mostly ignored if they do. Any issues not promoted by one of the two main parties are scarcely debated publicly. And elected politicians are less accountable to voters, more dependent on their biggest campaign contributors, and harder to remove if they become corrupt.
In spite of its well-understood weaknesses, plurality voting is far too widely used in governmental elections throughout the world.
Unanimously we agree that the kind of ballot used in plurality voting – which in this declaration is called a "single-mark” ballot – is not appropriate in governmental elections. When there are more than two candidates, such ballots do not collect enough information to reliably identify the most popular candidate. This lack of information helps to hide the unfairness of plurality voting.
There are three kinds of ballots that collect enough information from voters to clearly identify the most popular candidate. These are, in alphabetical order:
- Approval ballot, on which a voter marks each candidate the voter regards as an acceptable choice, and leaves unmarked the candidates who are not acceptable. Another variation allows the voter to mark “approved” or “disapproved” for each candidate.
- Ranked ballot (or “1-2-3 ballot”), on which a voter indicates a first choice, and can indicate a second choice and additional choices at lower preference levels. For the election methods we endorse, the additional rankings are optional, and tied or skipped rankings are allowed.
- Score ballot, on which a voter assigns a number or grade for each candidate. The most familiar versions of such voting are to rate something with 1 to 5 stars, or rate a choice with a number from 1 to 10, or to rate each choice at a named grade (such as "excellent", "good", "fair", "poor", or "reject"), but any range of numbers or grades can be used. Another variation allows the voter to leave some candidates unscored.
Any of these three better ballot types will provide the information needed for fairer results — and for proving how unfair plurality voting has been.
Fairer counting methods
Unanimously we agree that the four counting methods listed below will produce significantly better results compared to plurality voting. For each counting method we identify the main advantage claimed by that method’s proponents. (The methods are listed in alphabetical order to avoid any appearance of bias; the signers of this declaration have different preferences among them.)
- Approval voting, which uses approval ballots and identifies the candidate with the most approval marks as the winner.
Advantage: It is the simplest election method to collect preferences (either on ballots or with a show of hands), to count, and to explain. Its simplicity makes it easy to adopt and a good first step toward any of the other methods.
- Most of the Condorcet methods, which use ranked ballots to elect a “Condorcet winner” who would defeat every other candidate in one-on-one comparisons. Occasionally there is no Condorcet winner, and different Condorcet methods use different rules to resolve such cases. When there is no Condorcet winner, the various methods often, but not always, agree on the best winner. The methods include Condorcet-Kemeny, Condorcet-Minimax, and Condorcet-Schulze. (Condorcet is a French name pronounced "kon-dor-say.”)
Advantage: Condorcet methods are the most likely to elect the candidate who would win a runoff election. This means there is not likely to be a majority of voters who agree that a different result would have been better.
- Majority Judgment uses score ballots to collect the fullest preference information, then elects the candidate who gets the best score from half or more of the voters (the greatest median score). If there is a tie for first place, the method repeatedly removes one median score from each tied candidate until the tie is broken. This method is related to Bucklin voting, which is a general class of methods that had been used for city elections in both late 18th-century Switzerland and early 20th-century United States.
Advantage: Majority Judgment reduces the incentives to exaggerate or change your preferences, so it may be the best of these methods for finding out how the voters feel about each candidate on an absolute scale.
- Range voting (also known as score voting), which also uses score ballots, and adds together the scores assigned to each candidate. The winner is the candidate who receives the highest total or average score.
Advantage: Simulations have shown that Range voting leads to the greatest total “voter satisfaction” if all voters vote sincerely. If every voter exaggerates all candidate scores to the minimum or maximum, which is usually the best strategy under this method, it gives the same results as Approval voting.
This list of supported methods may expand in the future as we continue to analyze and test newly-developed methods. One new method that some of us currently favor is Simple Optionally-Delegated Approval (SODA) voting, which combines Approval voting with vote delegation to simplify the voter’s task.
All of our supported methods are "single-winner" election methods, which means they are ideal for electing an executive such as a mayor or governor. All of them have been used to elect officers such as presidents, treasurers, and secretaries in non-governmental organizations, and the fairer results have been widely appreciated (except by some incumbents who were not reelected).
Why do we not support a single "best" election method? Different experts place different degrees of importance on the relative advantages and disadvantages of each method, and we expect different methods will be adopted in different circumstances. To express these significant differences, some of us state our personal preferences in the list of signatures. Moving beyond these differences we have reached a consensus. Unanimously we agree that all of these supported methods are significantly better than plurality voting, and we endorse using them in governmental elections.
"Instant-runoff voting" – or "IRV" or "the Alternative Vote" – is a method that is used in some governmental elections throughout the world. IRV uses a form of ranked ballot that disallows ties. The IRV winner is identified by repeatedly eliminating the candidate who is highest-ranked by the fewest voters compared to the other remaining candidates, until only one candidate, the winner, remains.
Many people appreciate IRV’s apparent similarity to runoff elections. Although IRV also has a possible advantage called “Later-No-Harm”, which means that adding further preferences after the election winner cannot hurt the winner, evidence shows that Later-No-Harm is not a necessary characteristic for a good voting method. Most significantly, many of us agree that IRV can often give better results than plurality voting.
However, IRV has significant disadvantages, including:
- In some elections IRV has prematurely eliminated a candidate who would have beaten the actual winner in a runoff election. This disadvantage may be why several cities, including Burlington, Vermont, repealed IRV and returned to plurality voting.
- To avoid premature eliminations, experienced IRV voters vote in a way that produces two-party domination, causing problems that are similar to plurality voting. In Australia, where IRV has been used for more than a century, the House of Representatives has had only one third-party winner in the last 600 individual elections.
- IRV results must be calculated centrally, which makes it less secure.
Our lack of formal support for IRV does not mean that all of us oppose it. After all, we and IRV advocates are fighting against the same enemy, plurality voting. Yet IRV’s disadvantages make it impossible for us to unanimously support it.
To fill legislative seats, such as seats in a congress or parliament, many nations use "proportional representation". This term refers to methods that match the proportion of legislators from political parties or certain other groups with the proportion of voters who, on their ballot, associate themselves with each of those parties or groups.
If a government uses the "closed-list" version of proportional representation, we unanimously support switching to either a "candidate-centric" or "open-list" version. We oppose closed-list methods because they disregard voter preferences for specific candidates, transfer power to party insiders who are not elected, and reduce transparency and accountability.
It is not yet proven which is better: electing seats using a good single-winner system such as those we endorse, or using some form of proportional representation. We believe that increasing proportionality is important, so we encourage wider discussion and research about proportional methods, but we do not offer any universal recommendations regarding proportional representation.
We unanimously oppose the use of plurality voting in any aspect of filling legislative seats, so if plurality voting is used to elect legislators, it should be replaced. If a proportional method is not appropriate, any of our supported single-winner methods should be used.
Using the fairer methods in organizations
Our recommended better voting methods can be used not just in public elections, but also to elect a private organization's officers, to elect corporate board members, to make group decisions, and to elect delegates to political-party conventions. Such use will make these non-governmental elections and decisions more fair, and help educate more people about better voting methods and their advantages.
Multiple rounds of voting
Many current elections use multiple rounds of voting. This includes both “primary elections” to narrow the choices before the main vote, and second-round “runoff elections” to ensure a majority if one is not obtained in the main first round.
Some of us believe that improved voting methods mean that only one round of voting is needed. Others of us support multiple rounds. For instance, a runoff between the winners determined by the old versus the new election methods could ease voter concerns about reform and allow more in-depth debate between the top candidates. (Of course such runoffs would be unnecessary when the two methods pick the same winner.)
The ease of switching to our supported methods varies according to the method. A switch is simplest with Approval voting, as this method is compatible with virtually all existing voting equipment and ballots, and both voting and counting can be done without computers. Switching to Range Voting or Majority Judgment would require redesigning paper ballots, yet existing ballot-scanning equipment may be able to count them. Also, typically, though not necessarily, these two methods would use computers for both counting ballots and finding winners. Switching to a Condorcet method essentially requires the use of computers for both counting votes and calculating results, although hand-marked or computer-generated paper ballots are still recommended to keep a secure audit trail.
All of our supported methods allow precinct-level counting and reporting, which enables fast, secure, and transparent access to the results. Voting authorities could easily release enough information to let citizens verify the results, without compromising the secrecy of individual ballots. Also, evidence suggests that at least three, and possibly all, of our four supported methods will result in fewer ballots needing to be rejected due to a marking mistake. These advantages do not apply to some unsupported methods such as instant-runoff voting.
Most of us regard the adoption of our supported methods as merely one step toward improving democracy, and we view further reforms, such as improved campaign-finance reporting rules, as also desirable. Similarly, many of us believe that government bodies can make wiser decisions through reformed legislative procedures or by using decision-making aids such as deliberative polling. The election-method reforms we advocate here will both facilitate and reinforce such other reforms.
The following Wikipedia articles provide detailed descriptions, characteristics, and comparisons of our supported methods:
Some of us signing this statement edit these Wikipedia articles to keep them accurate and unbiased. Also, many of us participate in the "Election-Methods" forum at www.electorama.com/em, and we would be happy to answer your questions about any of these methods.
Benefits for all
Those of us signing this declaration have very different political views, yet here we have joined together to look beyond narrow, partisan interests. We see no good reason to oppose election-method reform. In fact, we agree that better election methods can help all political groups: both conservatives and liberals, both business and labor, both incumbents and upstart campaigners, both centrists and extremists, both larger and smaller parties. We believe that each of these groups can benefit in very concrete and specific ways, and many of us are available (as indicated above) to discuss how and why for each case.
Politics is often viewed as a “zero-sum game” in which one side can gain only if another side loses. In contrast, we view election-method reform as taking the next step up the ladder of democracy. Just as plurality-based democracy has proven to be much better than dictatorships, higher levels of democracy will help us reach even higher standards of living. We do not pretend to offer a utopia, where conflicts of interest disappear; elections will always have winners and losers. Yet current plurality-based political systems are often so dysfunctional that they serve no one well. By helping ensure that the winners better represent the electorate, a healthier system will benefit all groups.
We address this statement to all citizens. Regardless of your political orientation, we urge you to help educate yourself, your friends, and your representatives about the advantages of better voting methods, and to organize with other like-minded citizens to reinforce your effectiveness. To specific groups, we offer these recommendations:
- If you are active in a political party that uses plurality voting, you can increase your party’s chances of winning in the main election by using better voting methods to choose your party's candidates, delegates, and officers.
- If you feel that “your” political party wants your vote and your money, but doesn’t care about your priorities, you can move towards having a real voice by focusing your support, including donations and volunteer time, on candidates who support election-method reform.
- If you are involved in a small political party, you can urge the adoption of one of the methods here as part of your party platform and an important strategy for growing your party.
- If you are an independent voter, you can use your flexibility to favor candidates who help promote election reform.
- If you are a member of an organization that elects officers using plurality voting, you can help your organization increase election fairness, and run more smoothly, by requesting the use of a better election method when an election involves more than two candidates.
- If your organization promotes government transparency or similar reforms, you can help make politicians more receptive to your concerns by taking actions that promote better election methods in government, starting by using such methods internally.
- Most importantly, if you are a policymaker, you can better represent your constituents, reduce your need to constantly raise funds, and discourage negative campaigns, by introducing legislation to replace plurality voting with a better election method.
The unfairness of plurality voting has been known for centuries, yet we still use it. Why? Plurality voting uses single-mark ballots that collect insufficient preference information, thus hiding its failures. And computers only recently became available to easily study and implement better ballots and better ways to count these ballots.
We, the undersigned supporters of diverse election methods, united through recently developed digital-communication technologies, join our voices to denounce plurality voting and express our full support for superior replacements. We declare that it is time to begin putting the most primitive voting method – plurality voting – where it belongs, namely in historical records as an early step in the progress toward higher levels of democracy.
The signatures page lists the signatures — and explains how you can add your signature!
© Copyright 2011 by the Election-Methods forum at www.electorama.com/em. Permission to print or distribute copies of this declaration (without signatures) is granted on the condition that it is not changed and this full copyright notice is included in every copy.
Here is a link to the original Declaration of Election-Method Reform Advocates including all the latest signatures, which is a Google Docs document that requires a Google account to access.