Saturday, May 27, 2023

Why Ranked Ballots Make Sense

...and we can't act as if they were ranked after the fact!

I believe that WRDSB has a committee formed to determine the process to appoint two new trustees. I've been actively avoiding following the news on all this, but I do want to respond to the suggesting floating around that an appointment is undemocratic. 

Voting is typically the most democratic method, but a byelection is costly (about half a mill!!), and a July election for just two trustees (or three trustees including one for the WCDSB) will likely be poorly attended. The municipal election last October just provoked about 25% of the voters to the polls. We'd be lucky if we got even half that number for just a trustee election and in the summer. Does 10% of the populace in attendance make for a solid democratic decision?? Is it really much of a democratic system anymore if nobody cares to vote despite being offered the chance? 

The other option the trustees voted down, to just choose the next candidate on the voters list from last fall, doesn't seem remotely democratic to me because it wasn't originally set up as a ranked ballot where people explicitly chose their fourth option (after the three elected). 

To illustrate the problem with taking the next person on the list, let's assume people just voted for one person for simplicity's sake. If 70% of people pick person A, and 5% each choose person B, C, D, E, and then 5.1% choose person F, it's clear that person F isn't really the democratically elected second choice despite getting the second highest percentage of votes. Right? It's one reason why at least all municipal elections should be by ranked ballot.

I discussed this in my classes when a retired political science prof, Dr. Peter Woolstencroft, explained that taking the next person in line mistakenly treats the original election as ranked, back in 2015 when we had a council vacancy. Here he's arguing against a call to take the next highest votes from the previous election:

"The document declares that the election is in effect a rating system. The voluminous academic literature on voting would deny this declaration. Kitchener voters were asked to vote for up to four candidates; each vote cast is equal to every other vote. Voters were not asked to mark a preferential ballot so vote differences between candidates reflect relative popularity. Further, since voters may vote for fewer than four candidates it is totally inappropriate to think of the election as a rating system. In point four a new version of this concept of an election is introduced 'in that it easily argued that the ballot is a preferential ballot form the top down given that electors had four votes on this ballot.' Again, to the contrary; it is an impossible interpretation as voters were not asked for relative preferences. Simply, votes were cast and candidates received more or less votes than others, thus producing winners and losers." 

He argued in favour of a byelection, which I agree is typically most democratic, but, as I explain above, it's not in this particular case. 

With an appointment, it saves the cost of an election, and it's a more attentive choice from a list of proposed candidates. It's also not ideal, but if a byelection won't work, then it's definitely a better option than that 4th or 5th person on the list. 

BUT, just spitballing here, maybe what could happen, even though it's a bit out there, is collecting a random sample of voters -- a sortition -- to choose among the appointments. Instead of just nine trustees voting on the appointments (assuming student trustees will be gone by then), randomly choose 1,000 citizens to be given the chance to give up a day to study all the candidates and make an informed choice. Probably 100 will respond to the email, agreeing to participate. Then they can make the final decision. OR we could give up on signs and fliers and walking door to door and just post information on candidates on one website, with questions and answers from each, and then have people vote online. It doesn't have to cost half a million dollars!! 

Also, while we're at it changing things, can WRDSB choose whether trustees are officially in wards or not? It feels like they're straddling a weird middle ground. In Ottawa-Carleton, the school board has wards, and I believe (it's not really clear) that potential candidates have to live in the wards they run in, and they're responsible to the constituents in that ward. They don't have to live in their ward in Upper Canada. In Waterloo Region, we have cities intermixed with townships (Waterloo/Wilmot, Kitchener, Cambridge/North Dumfries, and Wellesley/Woolwich), but candidates can live anywhere in the region to run ("any geographic area in the district . . . regardless of that district the person may be qualified to vote for" 2.5.2.). I could have run in Cambridge! The idea is to have people represented from across the region, but that totally falls apart since they could technically all live on the same street! And once in, they're officially responsible for the entire region anyway. So curious. 

In other news, there are 102 names to choose from on Toronto's upcoming mayoral election!!! It's possible to win with less than 1% of the vote!

This really should be a ranked ballot. If two frontrunners are equally liked, it might split the vote permitting a third, less liked candidate to win because the more candidates, the more watered down the votes are. See this two minute video for a better explanation:

ETA: After a heated board meeting about going with the appointment option, student trustee Kenzy Soror added this point in a twitter thread: 

"In my opinion, the majority voted for Trustees Meissner and Snyder's values and agendas, so respecting voters' choices would mean appointing those most closely representing those values and agendas - executed irrelevant of appointing Trustees' own personal ideologies." 

The delegates who spoke against appointment, who wanted to be chosen from the list of people who weren't voted in previously, all have values and agendas that are decidedly antithetical to those of Fred and myself. So, there's that

From the meeting minutes (p. 62-63): Prospective appointees will complete an application and proof of qualifications (that they live in the region) by June 15th. Trustees will review and rank applications from June 16-20. All candidates who previously ran in the vacant riding are invited to present in person on June 28th plus an additional 10 applicants for each riding (I don't quite get this bit, but it sounds like potentially 30 people could be presenting that night). Candidates get 5 minutes each to present on a question previously provided. Trustees will vote by secret ballot. The application form asks them to write (up to 500 words each) on these topics:
1. What do you understand to be the role of a school board trustee?
2. What do you believe are the opportunities and challenges in public education today?
3. What would you like to accomplish as a trustee in the next three years?

The fact that this appointment process was decided, by a majority vote from democratically elected trustees chosen in a free vote to represent the people hasn't stopped delegates from showing up to try to undo that decision two weeks later, which makes it clear they either don't understand the process and/or actually hope to override a democratic process. Sorer also said, 

"The rhetoric that Trustees cannot be trusted to do the right thing regardless of their own ideologies is very dangerous and damaging."


ETA more: Michael Davenport's explanation:

"If an elected official steps down, let's appoint the next runner-up" is a stance which feels more democratic than it actually is. It naively ignores network effects, and that candidates don't exist in a vacuum. Let me explain. 
Let's say there's an election, and in the end there were four candidates for three positions. The candidates were A, B, C, and D. A, B, and C won. But, no person is an island. These candidates all represent various views and communities. And, these communities talk. B's community involves lots of folks. Folks like β, b, ℬ, 𐌱. (Even folks like δ and Δ; they're inclusive like that.) There's a person, β, who was considering running for office. But, then they learned B was running! β thought B would represent them perfectly, so instead of competing for votes, β volunteered on B's campaign. And B won. The winners were A, B, and C. 
Some months later, personal tragedy struck and B had to resign from office. There is a seat which needs filling. The best way to fill that seat is a by-election, but if deemed "too expensive", what's the second best way to fill that seat? Is the best choice "give the seat to D"? No, not really! Appointments are not magically more democratic just because you're choosing someone the electorate already rejected. My contention is (short of by-election) if a B has to resign, next most democratic option is "find β". It is not "appoint D". "Appoint D" is one of those simple, naive answers which seems sensible, but ignores what candidacy and/or what democratic representation means. I mean, maybe β *is* D.  That's possible! But it's also possible that D is a crank, who only got a couple of votes from other Ds. 
I repeat: Appointments are not magically democratic more just because you're choosing someone the electorate already rejected.Anyway, just a thought experiment to throw out there. Democracy is hard, sometimes. One of those "sometimes answers are easy and wrong" things. Does this pertain to anything? I dunno, I don't really pay attention to local politics. 🙃😉

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