Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Majority Judgment - the new & fair voting/ranking system

Could Al Gore have been the President of the United States if the electoral voting system were different? Could we have had a different world champion in figure skating if the ranking system were different? “Maybe”, says Michel Balinski, a distinguished, multi-award winning professor and now the Directeur de Recherche de classe exceptionnelle, Ecole Polytechnique and CNRS, Paris. The pending US patent of the proposed majority judgment voting system by Balinski and Rida Laraki is claimed to be more accurate in reflecting people’s (or jury’s) true desires, and the process is promised to be more fair than the traditional voting/ranking systems.

Balinski describes the traditional voting/electoral system as trying to elect the Condorcet winner. Wikipedia says, “The Condorcet candidate or Condorcet winner of an election is the candidate who, when compared with every other candidate, is preferred by more voters. Informally, the Condorcet winner is the person who would win a two-candidate election against each of the other candidates”. However, such a winner may not exist because of the Condorcet’s paradox and Arrow’s impossibility theorem. Besides, doesn’t it strike people as odd that in a world where there is a lot of gray area and not just black or white, that we are basically casting a yes/no vote for the most important person in a country? Balinski argues that we could do better with the majority judgment voting process.

The process would list all electoral candidates on the ballot, and ask voters to rate each candidate as one of the following by providing a tick mark in the grid, for example: excellent, very good, good, acceptable, poor, to reject. This experiment was conducted in the 2007 Presidential election in France, and these rankings are of “common language” to all French voters, because the schools have always used them. Similar common languages include star ratings (1 to 5 stars) for movies and restaurants, and letter grading (A to F) for school grades. Summing or averaging the scores wouldn’t make sense, because it is not an interval measure, according to Balinski. Therefore, he proposes that the set of grades each candidate receives should be ordered from the best to the worst, and obtain the median grade (the 3rd of a total of 5 grades for example, or the 4th of a total of 6). If all candidates are tied in the first round, then repeat the method until the tie is broken, but each time with the median grade (the 3rd or the 4th grade) removed for each candidate’s set of grades. The final grades would become the majority grade.

It should be noted that for such a method, a common language of grades is essential, or there would not exist a collective decision. However, Balinski claims that this voting system would produce a much more reflective result of the voter’s desires. So much so that the experiment done in 3 of the Orsay’s voting bureaux in France, the French voters were able to tell who each of the 3 candidates was simply by looking at the final majority grades of the top 3 presidential candidates,.

When studies show that a third of the voters do not state a single preferred presidential candidate, one questions whether it is correct to force voters to vote for only one candidate on a ballot. And if such existing systems do not work well, shouldn’t we be inclined to change and try out new methods? After all, we are an adaptive and ever-changing society (even though the human nature is afraid of change). But hey, if it doesn’t work, we can always chuck it away. What’s there to lose?

Credits: The talk was given at the INFORMS 2008 conference in Washington DC as a keynote talk. Speaker is Michel Balinski, a distinguished, multi-award winning professor and now the Directeur de Recherche de classe exceptionnelle, Ecole Polytechnique and CNRS, Paris. The talk was titled "One-Vote, One-Value: The Majority Judgment".

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