Our First Election Hack That Doesn’t Involve E-ballots

Because some of Hackaday’s readers aren’t from America, let us fill you in on the US election process from the point of view as a voter. Over the next few weeks, political campaigns will dump millions of dollars into advertising, get-out-the-vote and canvassing efforts across the country. The airwaves will broadcast still more ads and political analyses until November 6th, when voters will go to the polls and pull the lever for whoever earned their vote back in July.

Despite how effectively public opinion can be swayed, there are still a lot of problems with the election process in the United States. A first-past-the-post, winner take all system guarantees there will only ever be two realistic choices for voters, but a group of philosophy students (and teachers) may have a solution to this problem.

The idea is fairly simple, really: take dissatisfied members of one party and match them up with dissatisfied members of another party. Normally, these voters would be inclined to vote the party line and not their conscience, for fear of throwing their vote away. After matching these voters up, they make a gentleman’s agreement with each other (either with a handshake or by mailing in their ballots together) to not vote the party line. The balance of power between (D)s and (R)s remains, but third-party candidates get a much-needed shot in the arm.

It’s an interesting idea with far more potential to effect some change than the numerous e-voting hacks that will pop up after the election. Sure, it may not be as effective as other voting systems such as the Condorcet method, but save for elected officials abdicating powers granted to them, this might be the best shot we’ve got.

47 thoughts on “Our First Election Hack That Doesn’t Involve E-ballots

  1. As a USA voter, I prefer “our” two-party system over the multi-party mix-mash (my perception) that some other countries “endure”; which leads to coalition governments that collapse and re-coalesce at a random times into random entities. Perhaps those coalition governments are the same ones currently facing serious budget shortfalls and austerity measures.

    But ranking the candidates by preference (Condorcet method, as defined in the Wiki link), would be favorable for local (school board, city, township, county) elections.

    1. “Perhaps those coalition governments are the same ones currently facing serious budget shortfalls and austerity measures.”
      They aren’t – not a a whole. Some of them have problems, but that’s a minority and their problems aren’t related to their voting system.

      1. I got to thinking (some more) after posting it, that our 2-party system certainly isn’t immune from budget shortfalls that will lead to austerity measures and/or collapse of the government.

      2. Especially when both parties are trying to please their voters by basically giving them money. Even though the republicans say they want to shrink down government, they’ve always increased spending because simple Keynesian economics says that it boosts up the economy.

        When government public spending is a significant portion of the GDP, it starts to matter in terms of votes. The more the government spends, the more the people can spend, which creates and maintains jobs; and no government wants to give its opponent the talking point of increased unemployment.

    2. Not really, those countries don’t have budget shortfalls. Not if you put the USA in the same picture (as the country with the highest debt in the world).

      Those countries just don’t have enough power (political, economical and military) to refuse the economical schemes they were forced upon.

    3. The point of the multi-party system is to represent as much of the population as possible beyond the 51:st percentile. That’s the point of the coalitions.

      In a multi-party system, you get something you want by giving the other guy something they want until you find a consensus and can happily coexist as a government, thus better representing the wants and needs of the people as a whole – as long as the representatives actually represent their constituents.

      In a two-party system, you get to decide everything and the other guy gets nothing, because the winning party doesn’t really have to compromize on anything. If the republicans have a majority in congress, they’re able to cockblock anything the democrats try to propose, and vice versa.

      1. “as long as the representatives actually represent their constituents. ”
        I think that’s the actual problem with any representative democracy.
        Very often the representatives represent just their own interests.

      2. More precisely, the system goes as follows:

        -People vote for different candidates and/or parties depending on the exact system they have.
        -Votes are counted and different parties are given different amounts of seats depending on the counting system in use
        -Usually the largest party in the parliament initiates negotiations about a government program and tries to get the other parties on its side. It has to get a majority, because all parliament members vote on it. If it fails, the next largest party gets to have a go, etc.
        -Those parties that are left out of the government form the opposition whose job is to make questions and criticize the actions of the government. They can’t propose policies directly, but they can vote on them, so the vote of the opposition matters if there is any splitting of opinion within the government.

        So in a sense, for highly polarized issues the system simplifies into a two-party government vs. opposition division, but for minor differences and compromizes, people can choose from a variety of options such as whether to vote for green conservatives or industrialist left. They don’t have to take bible thumping conservatives along for the ride just because they want some fiscal responsibility, which is the main problem of the two party system.

      3. Very often the representatives represent just their own interests.

        There’s also the variation where the representatives feel themselves like managers or babysitters instead of representatives.

        Everybody’s got an agenda, but when you stop believing in the average person’s ability and right to choose for himself, that’s when you become dangerous as a politician. You essentially stop believing in democracy, and start believing in voting for a dictator.

    4. which leads to coalition governments that collapse and re-coalesce at a random times into random entities.

      That’s not what happens at all; Parties are reluctant to breaks coalitions because they will be punished in the future, both by other parties who will be very reluctant to trust them in the future and by the public, who will most likely punish them in the election that follows in the aftermath.

      Coalitions can only be formed after an election, it’s not like the parties can rearrange into a new coalition overnight, a general election is automatically triggered, which is likely to piss off the public.

    5. Germany has a coalition government,
      they are doing pretty darn well.

      lower unemployment rate (%) than the US
      lower inflation rate (%) than the US
      and whilst the US has a lower debt vs. GDP percentage than Germany, it does manage to have the same debt/GDP percentage as Spain, which are firmly against the wall.

      if economic status, specifically debt is a measure of good government then.
      Russia, and China, and Cuba have better percentage rates:
      8.3% 43.5% 35.4% respectively… as compared to the US’s 67.7% debt s a percentage of GDP…

      Does that mean that the best government would be a socialist government?

      it’s amazing what you might learn if you looked at the facts rather than spouting your mouth off!

      as already pointed out. when politicians represent the people rather than themselves, is when the best policy and happiest society will prevail.

      1. “as already pointed out. when politicians represent the people rather than themselves, is when the best policy and happiest society will prevail.”

        They do here in the US, corporations are under the law considered to be people.

    6. That comment is so ignorant it makes me want to cry. You’re in the Unites States and talking down on other countries for “budget shortfalls”. Maybe you should look around and see the forest for the trees. We’re not being fiscally responsible in this country by even the most convoluted definition of “conservative”.

  2. Two problems: One, there are not enough dissidents to make a difference, and two, I would suspect anyone claiming to be a dissident would in reality be a party supporter trying to cheat this system (as long as you have a secret ballot, there is no way to enforce honesty).

    1. I think that your first point is wrong.

      the trouble with first past the post is that there are a lot of people who have a preferred small party. but also a least preferred big part.

      therefore rather than voting for who they want to vote for then vote for who the want to lose, (by voting for the main apposition)
      e.g. you might want to vote green.
      but greens will never win,
      you hate reps
      whilst you couldn’t care less about the dems, you don’t actively hate them, so they get your vote to keep the least preferred party out.

      if more people actively vote for who they want, rather than spending votes to keep out who they don’t want, it’d be clearer.

      I believe that there are far more “dissidents” or swing voters, or disillusioned not going to voters, that is they combined their power they could make a real difference.

      all that said, your second point is spot on. anyone who comes to me suggesting that I should vote a particular way, and promising that they will as well will only be met with suspicion.

  3. This could have an effect if it weren’t for the fact that there are really only two kinds of voters, The people who “think” they’re getting payed to vote and the people who actually “are” getting payed to vote.

  4. IMO the biggest problem with American elections is not the two party system, but the primary system. If you really break everything down, there are probably 25% hard left democrats, 25% hard right republicans, and 50% moderates. During the primaries candidates are looking to their bases for support. Combine this with lower turnout and it causes more extreme (left and right) candidates to be chosen for the general election. In a sense we are putting up candidates that are more conservative or liberal than what the majority really wants. It is terribly hard to elect a moderate as long as the two party system exists.

    A perfect example is the Illinois governor election of 2010. The democratic party ran incumbent Pat Quinn. He was very weak due to his association with the ousted previous governor and the fact that most of Illinois thought him incompetent. The republican party had quite a few (maybe 5?) people run in the primary and one of the most conservative, Bill Brady won narrowly. He was extremely conservative (borderline nutcase, IMO, and I am a republican.) He lost in the general election to Quinn. If one of the more moderate republicans or democrats would have run. They would have won in a landslide, but instead the candidates from the far right and left ran and nobody like either of them.

    1. Maybe locally, but nationally I haven’t seen a hard left candidate. I don’t mean what Americans call far left, but someone who is very far left by an international measure. An actual socialist, or even an anarchist, would shake up the system. A real communist would teach the mouth breathing loud-mouths of both parties what ‘communist’ actually means. Well, if they could teach, and if the extremists need it.

  5. One 800lb gorilla sitting in the corner of the US electoral room is the amount of money spent on elections which, together with the unlimited funds that corporations are allowed to throw into the pot, virtually guarantees corruption in any government you could realistically elect.

    The particular expression of this that I find breathtaking is that some corporate donors fund BOTH the Republican AND Democratic parties. That’s as bare-faced a buying of influence, rather than supporting of principle, as I’ve ever seen.

    Here in the UK it’s all more subtle. The fix is in waaay upstream via gerrymandering and similar, so the elections are pretty honest because otherwise “mistakes” might happen like last time.

    1. In most other western democracies campaign spending is strictly limited and regulated. In the UK (pop. 62m) for example the maximum (if they contested every seat) a party could spend on campaigning for the whole year up to the election date is approx US$32m. The amount spent/required in the US invites undue influence from big business and is a serious barrier to entrance by 3rd parties. Also a real waste of money.

  6. It might be trite, but in all the “let’s promote 3rd party” articles I’ve seen recently, very few articles (or comments even) suggest instant runoff voting. To me, that seems like the easiest way to introduce the reality of a 3rd party winner because it’s impossible to “throw away your vote” on a 3rd party candidate and the reason is simple: it’s a better mathematical representation of the wills of voters.

    If I vote for 3rd party candidate C, my vote implicitly states that A=B, even though I think A would be worse than B. With IRV (Instant runoff voting), I get to explicitly say that A < B < C.

    If people don't like IRV or are confused by it, then they just put a "1" by their choice, and vote as they always have and leave other preferences blank.

    Am I missing something?

      1. Canadian here, but same problem. I’ll take either system over fptp, personally. I despair, however, that we’ll ever get North America interested enough to change the system in either country.

  7. This system still ignores that the majority of people in this country don’t want either form of government. In recent history 40%-50% of the population has abstained, while another 10% is disqualified for one reason or another.

  8. Nah, our two party system is PERFECT. Option A, community organizer idealist with no real world experience, vs. Option B, vulture capitalist who made his billions squeezing $$$$ of already dead companies. Surely there has to be a middle ground in there somewhere….

  9. The problem with our “two party system” is that it doesn’t exist. The TPS is a big lie perpetuated mostly by the news media.

    There are in fact many political parties in the USA, but with the occasional exception of lavishing attention on far left nutwing candidates like Ralph Nader for the Green Party or wealthy independents like Ross Perot buying their own coverage – the media ensures “third” parties get few votes simply by never giving them any press coverage.

    It’s similar to the situation of many companies that survived the Great Depression. Ones that tried to save money by eliminating advertising went under in greater numbers than did companies that continued to tell the public they still existed.

    Another analogy is what I call the Pepperoni Pizza Principle. Is Pepperoni on sale so often because it’s the most popular topping – or is it the most popular topping because it’s almost always on sale?

    Anything that’s “put out there” more and more often will get more public attention. More people will buy it or vote for it. Don’t tell the world something exists and it won’t sell!

    Case in point, the Pontiac GTO that was built by Holden in Australia. The year of its introduction, Pontiac also started several other new models. For some reason GM thought I was super rich and sent me a fancy package touting “Meet the new Pontiacs!” with phtos and information on all their new models *except for the GTO*. Someone at GM did not want that car to be a success and they ensured it’s sales flop by deliberately not telling the buyers it existed.

    It’s exactly the same “conspiracy of silence” our media uses to ensure “third” parties have little success in getting their candidates elected. the public goes with the candidates they’re told about the most.

    As for our Electoral College system, it’s not perfect because the President essentially gets chosen by eleven out of fifty States and D.C.

    California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey = 270 Electoral votes.


    Hardly seems to be a fair method, eh? Should we go by direct popular vote? Oh hay-ell no! The election would go from control of the Office of President by the 11 most populous States to control by the largest cities.

    Somewhat current US Census data says there are 207,643,594 registered voters in the USA.

    285 cities in the USA with a population of at least 100,000. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by_population

    Sixty-nine of them are in one State, California.

    Number of cities of at least 100K pop, per State by alphabetical order.

    Alabama 4, Alaska 1, Arizona 10, Arkanas 1, California 69, Colorado 10, Connecticut 5, District of Columbia 1, Florida 20, Georgia 5, Hawai’i 1, Idaho 1, Illinois 8, Indiana 3, Iowa 3, Kansas 5, Kentucky 2, Louisiana 4, Maryland 1, Massachusetts 5, Michigan 7, Minnesota 3, Mississippi 1, Missouri 5, Nebraska 2, Nevada 4, New Hampshire 1, New Jersey 4, New Mexico 1, New York 5, North Carolina 9, North Dakota 1, Ohio 6, Oklahoma 4, Oregon 4, Pennsylvania 4, Rhode Island 1, South Carolina 2, South Dakota 1, Tennessee 6, Texas 32, Utah 4, Virginia 7, Washington 7, Wisconsin 3

    If your State’s not on that list, forget about having any actual impact in a direct popular vote Presidential election. A breakdown by total population would knock even more off the list.

    Pretty much it would come down to Texas and California and a handful of larger cities in other States deciding who gets to be President.

    The best fix would be somewhere between with the Congressional District Method where each Congressional district gets one electoral vote that must be cast according to the majority vote in that district, and the aggregate majority decides which candidate gets each States’ two Senate electoral votes. For States with only one Representative it would still amount to winner take all.

    With CDM, chances are that Northern California might go Republican, same for Eastern Oregon. Idaho might pop one vote Democrat.

    1. With the state of gerrymandering in places like, say Texas, voting by congressional district would result in the same skewed broken results with large portions of the populous having zero effect on the election.

  10. The simplest solution to all of these woes is to raise the voting age to 55. This will, as much as possible, eliminate the same mistakes being made again and again as, by that age, and until senility sets in, you have made most of the big blunders you are going to make. Of course, the corollary to this is that no politician be allowed to run for office until that age (they can, of course, be learning the trade by assisting, fetching coffee etc).

    1. How about an election based on the issues (7 of them seems like a decent number). You vote on the issues and the candidate that most closely matches your vote is the one who gets it. If it’s a tie, the candidate belonging to your party of registration gets the vote.

    2. But you need to make sure that old geezer get kicked out when reaching 65… the old generation is not that great. Because of my older coworkers I have to go though all kinds of compliance stuff – when I hear all those stories about hookers and whiskey I know why… and did Einstein not tell us that the same people that created the problems are not able to solve those.

  11. Politics? In my Hack a day?

    (Question is, can someone make a system that intercepts those political advertisements I keep finding in my mailbox and destroy them so I don’t hear about who is letting my country down by spending too much on something?)

    1. “Politics? In my Hack a day?”

      As regular comments are filtered for political content (one of mine was axed) it’s nice to have an occasional outlet to see why filtering is such a good idea.

  12. Meet my ‘…ISMS’

    When the time come that I can vote myself in control of your wealth, our REPUBLIC will be over!

    It IS a REPUBLIC. But for how much longer?

    A government BIG ENOUGH to GIVE you everything that you desire is also BIG ENOUGH to take everything that you have!

    Government cannot GIVE you ANYTHING that it DOES NOT TAKE from someone else.

    Socialism is GREAT. At least UNTIL we run out of SOMEONE ELSE’S MONEY.

    1. Thank you.

      I was wondering if anyone would have cahones enough to state what our current crop of politicians would rather we forget.

      “If you rob Peter to pay Paul, you can count on the support of Paul.”

    2. Governments can make money other than tax, by for instance speculating or selling of licenses for say cell phone spectrum or exploiting oil and such in public ground. Or toll roads (although some might interpret that one as tax).

      And they do all of that.

      And I’m only mentioning some stuff, they also make money selling off scrap materials too for instance from the army or the bureaucratic machine and all its waste paper.

      So you might want to adjust your shouting a bit.

  13. Nothing quite as dumb as the ‘throwing your vote away’ argument, really, if you fall for that, or worse; repeat it, then you are so dumb that you should not even get a damn vote.

  14. or how about Republicans get to be ruled by Republicans, Democrats get ruled by Democrats, and me and the rest of the Nonvoters get to do our own thing, seeing as we did not consent to the outcome of the vote by not participating?

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