Friday, October 20, 2017

Guest Post: Free Voting Method and Bad Apple Sorts

This is a guest post from Mike Sawyer who runs a blog at Dare to Ask! and who collaborates with Prof. Brian Zurowski of Davidson College.  Mike has some great ideas to promote ranked-choice voting and also how to allow voters to express more information about their preferences.



When Brian Zurowski and I started a project on voting theory, we needed a mission statement to keep us on track and avoid duplicating the good work of so many others.  Our mission statement is:

To familiarize the public with and build trust in Ranked Choice Voting 
thus paving the way to better group decision making at every level.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

STV with Constraints

The single transferable vote (STV) is an amazing voting system because it naturally provides proportional representation. This means that the demographics or interests of the elected candidates will tend to match the demographics or interests of the voters.

Some organizations want to use STV for their elections, but also want to require that the elected candidates meet a specified requirement. For example, an organization might want to require that half the elected candidates are women and half are men.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Customer Support at OpaVote

I'm using this blog post to expand on how you can get customer support for using OpaVote and our philosophy of customer support.

Customer support is a tricky thing. Most customers are great and a pleasure to deal with, but then there are those customers... The ones who probably spend their free time writing vitriolic comments on blog posts and news articles.

 First off, we provide top notch support. When you contact us for support, you reach me, an expert in online voting who knows the OpaVote product upside down and backwards. I can understand your question and quickly provide a clear and concise answer.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Elections with a Small Number of Voters

Elections with a small number of voters can be tricky in terms of determining a winner in a reliable way. I experienced this recently in doing a KwikVote (our new website for doing quick polls) to select a restaurant for dinner among a group of 9 friends.

By small number of voters, I mean a small number of voters relative to the number of candidates or options. If you are deciding between two things (e.g., go out to dinner or stay home and cook), then the number of voters doesn't really matter, but if you are selecting a restaurant from 10 possible restaurants, then it is hard to get a good result with only 9 voters.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Implementing Waterfall Elections with OpaVote

Some OpaVote customers want to implement waterfall elections, and in this post, I explain how you can do this with OpaVote. Full disclosure, I just made up the name "waterfall election," but it needed a name and I kinda like it.

In a waterfall election, you are electing multiple positions, say president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. The key difference from regular elections is that people can run for more than one position. A person may want to be president, but if he doesn't win that election, then he might want to be vice president.

There are two main types of water fall elections, and I'll explain each below. You can use any of OpaVote's counting methods to do a waterfall election, but it works best when voters can rank all of the candidates, such as ranked-choice voting.

Monday, July 3, 2017

How to break free from the two-party system

Image of an American flag on cracked pavement.
The U.S. political system is broken. Voters all over the spectrum agree. The brands of both major parties are in the toilet. Trump speaks for himself. Hillary is widely disliked even by members of her own party and lost to the most incompetent and embarrassing candidate for President in history (oops, I guess I just spoke for Trump).

Why is the brand of our only two viable parties in the toilet? Because they don't represent most of us.

The 2016 Presidential election clearly showed that the two parties do not truly represent us. Democratic voters were divisively split between the Bernie camp and the Hillary camp. Republican voters were so fractured that it is hard to identify all the factions, but we have establishment Republicans, Trump supporters, libertarians, evangelicals, and whatever it is that Ted Cruz represents (people that no one likes?).

Sunday, June 25, 2017

OpaVote now has Guaranteed Email Delivery

Image of a blindfolded archer illustrating the difficulties of email delivery.
OpaVote is excited to announce a new feature that we call guaranteed email delivery. For an election manager, it is extremely important that voters receive their ballots, and OpaVote now goes to the extreme to make this happen. This is necessarily a complicated topic so please read to the end to understand our guarantee.

OpaVote provides managers with detailed information regarding the delivery of each email that is sent. Emails are in one of 4 states:
  • Pending -- OpaVote hasn't yet sent the email. Emails get sent at a rate of 2 per second so it may take a little time for all the emails to be sent.
  • In Transit -- OpaVote has sent the email but the receiving mail server hasn't decided whether to accept it yet.
  • Rejected -- This can mean one of three things: (i) the email bounced, (ii) the voter opted out of receiving emails, or (iii) the voter marked the email as spam.
  • Delivered -- The receiving mail server accepted the email, and nearly all of the time, the email will reach the voter's inbox.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Manual Tie Breaks for Counts

We've added a new feature to our OpaVote Counts that has been a long time coming...

An OpaVote "Count" is the online equivalent of the old OpenSTV software that is no longer available, and a Count lets you count ranked ballots with 23 different counting methods (e.g., ranked-choice voting, instant runoff voting, or the single transferable vote), a variety of counting options, and withdrawing candidates.

With an OpaVote Count, you can now break ties manually. When you initially count the votes, any ties will be broken randomly. After the initial count, you can recount the votes, and in doing the recount you have the option to manually specify how ties are to be broken.

Screenshot showing how to break ties with OpaVote.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Elections in español, français, and português!

Flag of Argentina Flag of Brazil Flag of France Flag of Mexico OpaVote gets customers from all around the world running elections in many different languages. Previously, when election managers provided text in their own language, voters would see a mix of their own language and English.

We are excited to announce that OpaVote now fully supports elections in Spanish, French, and Portuguese! When setting up the election, the manager can choose his or her language, and this will cause OpaVote to send voting emails in that language and also present voting pages in that language. Your voters will see only their own language.

Here are some statistics I found regarding the number of people who speak a language (including non-native speakers):
  • 510 million who speak English
  • 420 million who speak Spanish
  • 213 million who speak Portuguese
  • 130 million who speak French
With this update, we've more than doubled the number of voters who can use OpaVote entirely in their own language.

These are the top candidates for future languages to be added to OpaVote:
  • 1 billion speak Chinese
  • 255 million speak Russian
  • 230 million speak Arabic
  • 229 million speak German
  • 127 million speak Japanese
I've left off Hindi and Punjabi because I'm thinking many of these people speak English.  Let me know if I should add those to the list as well.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

OMG, All Voting Systems are Flawed!!!

XKCD comic about Arrow's Theorem.
Sorry, for the silly title, but I couldn't think of good one for this post... In this post, I'll present a simple example of a set of 34 ballots where three different voting systems (plurality, instant runoff voting, and Condorcet) each select a different winner.

There are two points to showing this example.

First, the title relates to Arrow's Theorem, which loosely speaking, proves that all methods of counting votes are flawed in some way. It sounds fatalistic at first. How can we possibly elect our leaders if there is no right way of doing so?

Well, no voting system is perfect, but many of them are good. There are lot's of differences of opinion as to which voting system is "best" or should be used for different applications. Your organization needs to consider the options and select what you think is best (we have recommendations here, here, here, and here).

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

By-Elections or Filling Vacant Seats with RCV

Image of ballot box.Sometimes it happens that an elected office becomes unexpectedly vacant. The person who held the office may resign, be kicked out, or have died. When this happens, the office may remain vacant until the next scheduled election or a special election or by-election may be held specifically to fill the vacant seat.

One cool feature about ranked-choice voting is that it is REALLY easy to reuse the ballots to fill a vacancy. This avoids the expense and hassle of having people come out to vote again to fill the vacancy. We'll address single-winner and multi-winner elections separately because there are different considerations.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Why We Love Online Voting Tools (And You Should, Too!)

Making the switch to online voting can prompt some understandable concerns. Voters who are used to physical ballots may wonder what happens to votes that are collected and tallied with the help of online voting software. But as the advantages of online voting tools quickly reveal themselves, your voters will love online voting as much as we do.

Online Voting Is Convenient for Organizations and Voters

You can set up and distribute ballots in minutes, rather than the days or weeks it can take to get ballots printed and mailed or completed at a polling location. OpaVote's ballots are easy to read and voters can vote from any device at any location.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Proportional vs. Majoritarian Representation

Image showing distribution of seats of Congress among 9 hypothetical political parties. When electing a group of people, such as a congress, council, or committee, you need to decide which philosophy of representation that you would like to use. At a very high level, there are two basic options: proportional representation or majoritarian representation.

Proportional Representation

As an example, we'll use a hypothetical election of the U.S. House of Representatives described by Daily Kos and illustrated by the diagram above. The Daily Kos article hypothesizes what the House might look like if U.S. elections used proportional representation. You can see 9 different political parties with different levels of support.

With proportional representation, the percentage of seats held by a party will be approximately equal to their percent support by the voters. In this example, about 6% of voters prefer the Green party, so the Green party gets 26 of the 435 seats or about 6% of the seats.

The most common voting methods that provide proportional representation are the single transferable vote (STV), party list voting, and mixed member proportional representation. STV is the only one that makes sense for non-government elections since the other two are based on political parties. OpaVote provides several variations of STV including Scottish STV, Meek STV, and ERS97 STV.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Meek STV Explained

Photo of Brian Meek, the inventor of Meek STV.
Brian Meek
Meek STV is the creme de la creme of STV counting rules. For you math nerds, I would even call it a beautiful algorithm! To appreciate all that beauty, we're going to have to get our hands dirty. I'm going to assume that you have a solid understanding of STV and that you've read our previous post describing Scottish STV. Feel free to brush up on STV and come back later if you need to.

Meek STV is named after Brian Meek (1934-1997) who first came up with these counting rules. I spent a lot of effort tracking down a photo of him to give him some publicity for his work!

As with all STV rules, there are two types of vote transfers: (i) vote transfers from eliminated candidates and (ii) transfers of surplus votes from candidates who have too many votes.

The magic of Meek STV is in transferring the surplus votes. Recall that STV rules have a winning threshold or a quota, and any votes held by a candidate above this winning threshold are surplus votes that need to be transferred.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Common Misconceptions About Online Voting

When organizations introduce online voting or make the switch to an online voting service, their voting members naturally voice their concerns about the change. These concerns stem from the need to have accessible, accurate, and secure voting processes for every voter.  For those organizing the election, reliable results are crucial to maintaining confidence in the organization's governance. When weighing your options for voting systems, you may encounter the following questions.

Is Online Voting Easy to Use?

If your voting members aren't tech savvy, this may be a significant concern, but a needless one. Voters will get an email containing a link for the ballot. If your voters can receive and reply to email, they can use our online voting service.

Is Online Voting Anonymous?

Organizations that are used to secret ballots should know that emails are never used to violate the anonymity of the ballot box. If voters are having trouble accessing, completing, or submitting their ballot, OpaVote can address these concerns without ever needing to ask about their ballot choices. Managers have no way to associate specific ballot choices with a specific voter.

Is Online Voting Secure?

On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog. But our security measures can prevent an unauthorized user from gaining access to your election or a voter from submitting a duplicate ballot. Once you are done with your election and remove it from OpaVote, we delete the information we collected to maintain and secure your privacy. Emails are not used for any purpose outside the election so your voters need not worry about being bombarded with spam for using our online voting service.

Is Online Voting Affordable?

For the price of a latte, you can run an election for up to 100 voters for two weeks. Small elections lasting a week with up to 25 voters are free. Our pricing schedule offers plans that will accommodate up to 10,000 voters for an election cycle lasting nearly two years, leaving you with enough money and plenty of time to plan a victory party.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Why we love the Borda count

Photo of Jean-Charles de Borda, the inventor of the Borda count.
"My scheme is intended only for honest men."
The Borda count is a great voting system that doesn't get enough attention. It is really easy to understand and is very useful for certain types of elections. It does, however, have a serious flaw that you need to be aware of before using it. More on that later.

A quick bit of history. The man credited with inventing the Borda count is Jean-Charles de Borda. He invented a lot of things and has a crater on the moon named after him.

How the Borda count works

The Borda count is really simple. Suppose 5 candidates are running in the election. The voters rank the candidates, and each candidate gets 4 points for every first choice, 3 points for every second choice, 2 points for every third choice, 1 point for every fourth choice, and no points for last choices. You count up the points, and the person with the most points wins.

Sometimes you will see other point systems. E.g., 5 points for a first choice and 1 point for a last choice. Sometimes it is reversed and you get 1 point for a first choice, 5 points for a last choice vote, and the person with the fewest points wins. You get the same winner either way so it doesn't matter.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Why use ranked choice voting over Condorcet voting

Example ranked-choice voting ballot.
This is a follow up article to my previous article explaining why I prefer ranked choice voting over approval voting. The task here is to explain why I prefer ranked choice voting (RCV) over Condorcet for most elections.

To not keep you in suspense, I'll tell you up front. It is MUCH harder for voters to understand how Condorcet ballots are counted than to understand how RCV ballots are counted. In my view, it is very important for voters to understand the counting process. For this reason, I recommend that most organizations use RCV and not Condorcet.

With both RCV and Condorcet, voters cast the same exact ranked ballot. The difference is how the ballots are counted to determine the winner, and I'll explain this next.

Counting RCV Ballots

With RCV, the ballots are counted in rounds, and here is an example of RCV results. For the first round, each ballot is allocated to its first choice. For each subsequent round, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and the ballots of the last-place candidate are transferred to the next choices on the ballots. The counting is complete when a candidate has a majority or only two candidates remain.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Why You Should Run Your Election Online

Whether it's to decide the flavor of ice cream to serve at the church social or decisions of international import, election time is always exciting! Seeing people line up for the polls or eagerly awaiting ballots by mail, counting the votes and finally announcing the winners. But elections are also nerve-wracking for those who run them. Keeping track of the ballots, ensuring voters have access to information, and keeping returned ballots safe until counting makes voting day a long one for election staff. If your organization has a small staff, OpaVote's voting software make voting day a breeze while losing none of the excitement.

We offer multiple voting methods, so that voters can rank their options, or choose more than one option to get the most information about your voter's preferences. We will send your voters a link to an online ballot and you have the option of submitting paper ballots into the count, making voting accessible to all voters. Our voting software is highly secure, preventing tampering and accidental duplicate votes. The emails we collect for your voters are discarded as soon as you close the election. We have the deepest respect for the privacy of your voters.

Some voting software companies offer the same service we do, but at a much higher cost. If you're running a small, fast poll or election, we offer a free package with the same quality of service as our packages designed for thousands of voters. For the price of having pizza delivered, your organization can cut back on the amount of paper and printing you need and have a smooth, secure voting process.

If you're a regular voter, you see how much paper and time is used in getting your vote. Candidates sometimes send out flyers months ahead of elections, or go from city to city offering the same talking points to different people, and spend millions of dollars. But wouldn't it be much easier if you could sit down, peruse the relevant materials and vote at your leisure? This is the convenience you can offer voters with OpaVote's voting software.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ranking Electoral Reforms

Electoral reform is near and dear to my heart, and I started OpaVote to help promote betting voting methods, such as instant runoff voting and the single transferable vote.  There are many other important electoral reforms, and some are more important than better voting methods.

Below I present a U.S.-focused list of electoral reforms roughly in order of the importance that I place on them.  Others will certainly have strong disagreements, and I'd love to hear from you.  I'll update this post over time with additional explanations for the other electoral reforms.

Top-two primary

The 2016 election for U.S. President is a shining example of the problems with conventional primaries (likely producing the most disliked major-party candidates ever).  Although voters are increasingly identifying themselves as independents rather than being affiliated with a political party, the Democratic and Republican parties hold enormous control over the electoral process.

For most elections, the Democratic part has a primary to elect its candidate, the Republican party has a primary to elect its candidate, and later an election is held to decide between the Democrat and the Republican (and sometimes third party or independent candidates).

Conventional primaries produce bad election outcomes because (i) they elect partisan candidates rather than moderate candidates, (ii) the parties have too much control (e.g., "super" delegates), and (iii) third-party or independent candidates are essentially shut out of the electoral process.