Facebook Voting

posted in: Political Science | 3

facebook like button thumbs upYou know how on Facebook you can click “Like” on any particular item you find pleasing to your eye? A post, a note, a photo, a weird comment; a game, sports team, product, place, celebrity, bizarre habit, fetish, whatever? You can “Like(tm)” as many things as you want in ANY category; over time, certain things become clearly “more liked” than others.

Imagine, for a moment, that you could do this in an Election.

If New Hampshire’s HB-240 bill passes, that could be the future of voting for local and state elections. I would love to see this extend even further, all the way up to the national elections.

In a nutshell, here is how it works:

You walk into the voting booth, pull the curtain back, and sit down with your ballot. You’re given a #2 pencil (remember those?) or a black-ink pen to make your selections. Browsing through the ballot, you see that each row shows an office (“County Clerk”, “Representative”, “State Senator”, etc.) with all of the candidates listed for each of those respective offices.

Starting with the first line, let’s say “County Clerk”, you see 4 names. Adams, Bixby, Charles, Dundee. There’s also a blank space with the label “Write-in”.

Each name has a checkbox next to it.

2 voting ballots,compared

Looking over those names, you start to mull over each one. Adams and Charles you’ve heard of; they both have policies that you like and although you like Adams better, you think Charles is ok too. Dundee you’ve also heard of, and he scares the crap out of you. Bixby is an unknown — perhaps he didn’t campaign very hard in your circles, or maybe you’ve heard of him but don’t know enough about his policies to know for sure whether or not you like him.

In a traditional single-vote system (like what we use now), you would have to decide between Adams and Charles. You like Adams more, but perhaps he’s not as popular with others. Now you’re forced to decide whether you’d prefer to vote for the candidate you truly prefer, or the one you don’t mind but is more likely to win. (This is also known as the “spoiler effect”).

In the Approval Voting system, you would not be faced with this dilemma, as you could select ALL the candidates you liked: both Adams and Charles, in this case. When the votes have all been cast, the candidate in each running that has the most “Likes” is the winner. While this may seem to be identical to how our current election system is, the main difference is that the so-called “spoiler effect” is virtually eliminated and as a result the potential for more political diversity is introduced.

Consider the 2008 election, for example. Remember the crazy grassroots viral campaigning for Ron Paul? I heard his name a countless number of times on the Internet, the street, and from friends, before I even knew any of his policies or his stance on the issues. I helped campaign for Ralph Nader, the candidate I truly felt was the best one for President. I was lukewarm on Obama, but I didn’t hate him. If everyone that heard of Ron Paul had been able to vote for him, in addition to their other preferred candidates, it’s quite possible he could have snuck under the radar for a victory.

This voting method is a bit better than other pluralistic systems, such as Instant Runoff Voting, simply because it’s easy to understand. It challenges the tight grasp of the two-party system, which may mean some resistance in its implementation, but not impossible. The potential for diversity and fairplay in politics is more than worth the change.

Candidates would no longer be able to simply smear the only opponent they have, since smaller third-party candidates (with smaller budgets) might be able to eke out a victory through grassroots and viral efforts of promoting things that voters can identify with. Negative-campaigning would become more costly than affirmative campaigning; I can either spend advertising money bad-mouthing 2 or 3 competitors, or I can spend that money trying to reach as many people as possible with my stance on the issues.

If this is a topic you find interesting, and would like to see it in your state, there are organizations with more information available, such as the Center for Election Science, or Big Think.

3 Responses

  1. Rob Richie

    I hope the New Hampshire legislature advances this bill and good to draw attention to it. That said, the odds are that they won’t. One reason is that while it deals with one kind of “spoiling”, it introduces another — you can’t indicate support for a second choice candidate without that counting equally with your first choice. That’s a problem for a lot of people who most want their first choice to win. But let’s see what happens…

    • Rob,

      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, you are correct, but if people don’t like that risk, they can always limit themselves to one choice, right?

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