Let's rank presidential candidates

No, this is not a way too early post on the 2012 race.

With the government program including an electronic voting pilot project to be implemented in the 2008 municipal elections, it's time to consider going to ballots that allow the voter to rank the candidates in presidential elections. Such voting methods are more time-consuming to count by hand, but if we move to electronic voting, that ceases to be an important issue. A hand count can still be done to verify the result - just make a paper trail a required feature in the voting machines - but the preliminary machine-counted results would be available immediately. There are two big advantages to this: Firstly, we'd need only one round of voting since people can express their full range of preferences in one ballot. Secondly, it would eliminate the need for tactical voting, which is a common feature in two-round elections. Why organize two votes when you can get to an accurate result in one?

The French presidential election, which uses the same two-round method as the Finnish one, illustrates the incentives for tactical voting that often arise in that system. A voter who prefers the environmentalist candidate Voynet but above all is opposed to conservative candidate Sarkozy should vote for centrist candidate Bayrou, because according to polls Bayrou has the best chance of beating Sarkozy in the second round. On the other hand, a supporter of communist candidate Besancenot should consider voting for the socialist Royal to ensure that there'll be a left-wing candidate in the second round. The common thread is that neither can vote for the candidate they feel is the best. If France used an election method based on ranking the options, they could.

If you want to get fancy about it, you could use some Condorcet method. If you want to keep it simple, go for the tested Single Transferable Vote.


Phil said...

I prefer the "Approval voting" methodology....


Voters simply vote for multiple candidates that they approve of. No complicated ranking order - I'd would be worried that people would say, "Well I hate the Left Alliance the most, but since they have little chance of winning, I won't put them last, I'll put SDP last since they're the most likely to win."

Ari said...

I wouldn't characterize ranking candidates in the order of preference as complicated. You need to know how to count, but that's about it. The calculations for finding the winner can get complicated, but the act of voting would be pretty simple.

I imagine I'd wouldn't like voting in most elections using the approval voting method. Even if I approved of some candidates and not of others, I'd still want my vote to favor my favorite candidate.

In your example, what would the voter gain by ranking the Social Democratic candidate last and the Leftist candidate (presumably) second to last? In a Condorcet election, that choice would only hurt the Social Democrat in relation to the Leftist. In an instant run-off election, the choice would come to play if those two candidates were the only ones left in the election.

(Under the current system, the Left Alliance of course doesn't run presidential candidates because by donating their votes to the Social Democratic candidate, they can ensure a centre-left candidate in the second round. In effect, they don't even give the voters the chance to vote tactically.)