Random Elections

I’ve meant to post this set of videos for a while. Remember Infinite Series? They did a pair of videos on voting methods, which do a great job of outlining just how difficult the subject is.

Voting Systems and the Condorcet Paradox

“What is the best voting system? Voting seems relatively straightforward, yet four of the most widely used voting systems can produce four completely different winners.”

Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem

“The bizarre Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, or Arrow’s Paradox, shows a counterintuitive relationship between fair voting procedures and dictatorships.”

My only complaint is that they never mention my favourite voting system: one ranked ballot is selected at random, and determines the entire election. It’s impossible to vote tactically and cannot result in a tie, though it’s a great way to increase everyone’s blood pressure.

While I was waiting for an opportunity to post those videos, though, something else worth sharing popped up. Bruce Schneier did a quick post on election security, and brings up a good point: you don’t need to change a single vote to undermine democracy.

Democratic elections serve two purposes. The first is to elect the winner. But the second is to convince the loser. After the votes are all counted, everyone needs to trust that the election was fair and the results accurate. Attacks against our election system, even if they are ultimately ineffective, undermine that trust and ­by extension ­our democracy.

Besides linking to two other people who concur, he also linked to something else that’s been in my “to blog about” pile: a report giving specific recommendations on how to secure the US voting system. A quick tease:

  • Replace Antiquated Voting Machines with New, Auditable Systems. Our election infrastructure is aging. It is time for Congress, states, and local governments to assist election officials in replacing antiquated equipment that is costly and difficult to maintain, has an increased risk of failure and crashes, and remains a significant security risk.

  • Conduct Audits of Paper Ballots or the Voter Verified Paper Record. Paper records of votes have limited value against a cyberattack if they are never used to check that the software-generated total has not been hacked. Today, only 26 states require that election officials conduct post-election audits of paper records.

  • Upgrade and Replace IT Infrastructure, Including Databases. The Brennan Center estimates that 42 states are using voter registration databases that were initially created at least a decade ago.

It’s rare to come across a topic that both relies heavily on math and philosophy, yet is vital to the functioning of society. If you aren’t yet interested in the topic, I recommend digging into some of the above links.