American in Spain

Voting Systems

January 7, 2008

I would like to call your attention to the stars at the top of each of my blog posts. These stars allow you to rank how well you like each post, thus giving me feedback when you think I'm being a genius or a jerk. Not that this blog is remotely democratic in content, but your feedback does mean something.

Since installing the plugin that enables this rating system, WP-PostRatings, and having seen it almost never being used, I have almost disabled it a few times. I have a theory that, at least for internet content, a "thumbs up or thumbs down", Digg-style, voting system is probably best. Due to the hyperlinked nature of the internet, once you're done reading a page, it's so easy to leave and go somewhere else that no one ever sticks around long enough to place a vote of any sort on what they've just experienced. So if someone is voting, that means that they so strongly approve or disapprove of the content that they've taken time to vote. I begun to formulate this theory when I was noticing that all my blog post votes were either 1-star or 5-star. And that makes perfect sense. If you're indifferent about the content, you just don't vote! It's very rare to see a 3-star vote.

I've just read this very interesting interview with author William Poundstone about voting systems and how the one used by the United States elections, "plurality voting", is the absolute worst voting system ever invented. I won't go into what Instant-runoff (you go, Cary!) and the other alternatives are are; go and read the interview for that. What I found particularly interesting is what the mathematicians that work on these things have to say about my post ranking theory described above. Obviously the way they are judging the voting systems is based on the assumption that you are choosing one victor from a handful of candidates, but I suspect that their analysis probably carries over to ranking the best blog posts.

My blog uses what is called "range voting". You give each story a grade as if it were a preschooler, by assigning it a number of stars. The thumbs up/down, Digg-style, voting is called "approval voting". According to Mr. Poundstone and his research, range voting is the most fair voting system we have come up with so far. Approval voting, a simplified version of range voting, seems to be a close second.

The internet, and sites like Digg and YouTube, are doing a lot to provide examples of alternative voting systems. What would be really great is if a game show like Weakest Link or Survivor would use, say, range voting. Then, when it came time to introduce the general public to the new voting system, we could just say, "You know, like what they do on Get Off My Island!"

At the moment, however, even if we could remove all the dirty corruption surrounding the democratic voting process in the United States and count every vote fairly, the horribly inane voting system we use would still put the second best candidate in office.

Something tells me Dubya wouldn't have won a Nobel Prize if he'd lost not been given the 2000 elections.