W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-w3process@w3.org > May 2014

Voting again…

From: Charles McCathie Nevile <chaals@yandex-team.ru>
Date: Sun, 04 May 2014 19:04:10 +0200
To: "public-w3process@w3.org" <public-w3process@w3.org>
Message-ID: <op.xfcho8cey3oazb@chaals.local>
TL;DR: AB (and TAG) elections are broken, if we find out exactly how  
broken it won't really affect the ability of each group to do their work,  
but it isn't hard to fix this and we should. A simiarly broken system is  
being proposed for Webizens, whereit is likely to be even more important  
to have a decent system.

There is an election (for the Advisory Board), where there are a dozen  
candidates. As far as I can tell all of them are qualified for the  
position, although of course Ihave preferences for whom I would prefer to  
see on the AB.

But the existing system for voting makes a total mess of this. Given  
candidates of roughly equal quality, more than half the votes cast will be  
completely wasted. If we see (as we have in the last two TAG elections and  
the last AB election) a campaign for a slate of voters, even if they are  
running on a single "party" platform and proposing exactly the same  
things, the system is likely to elect the entire slate, rather than a  
diverse group of people representing the diverse preferences of the whole  
AC.

The only sensible way to vote, then, is to vote for one candidate. I waste  
80% of my right to vote, but increase the odds that my vote is actually  
useful in helping elect one of the people I *really* want on the AB. I do  
this repeatedly, but reluctantly, as the least-worst of a set of bad  
options in how to vote under the current system.

This is why for the last few years (and more so since the beginning of  
last year when it started being an issue in practice as slates of  
candidates were run in elections) I have been trying to get some traction  
on a change in the voting procedures.

There have been a number of arguments raised against such a change, and I  
would like to address them:

== It ain't broke, why fix it?

When a slate of candidates standing on a single position ("reform all the  
thingz") gets elected in each of the last 3 elections it may mean that we  
face only one important problem. I doubt that - and as a candidate (and  
someone many other candidates have turned to for advice) I understand the  
pressure to align oneself with that "platform". I think this is an  
anti-democratic result, and that we are seeing an artificial reduction in  
the diversity of the AB, and how representative they really are of the  
membership.

In addition I *believe* that an increasing number of votes are "strategic"  
- people voting for far fewer candidates than they could, in order to try  
and maximise the chances that their vote counts at all. Without an open  
count it is hard to know for certain, but the W3C team at least has those  
numbers.

== Don't deligitimise the AB / TAG

I find this argument illogical. The voting system we use effectively  
deligitimises the results as being representative of us, the AC. This is a  
simple mathematical property of a choice made a decade or so ago, based on  
a aprticular view of a century and a half of research into and deployment  
of voting systems designed to ensure fair outcomes (and also those  
designed to favour incumbents or other sectional interests).

While running an experimental vote system that showed the results we get  
in our elections are not a very good reflection of the real intentions of  
the community would indeed suggest that we have "the wrong people" on the  
TAG or AB, I don't think this is a huge problem in practice. First,  
because while I believe the AC gets misrepresented by election results, I  
also believe that the candidates who are elected but would not have been  
under a fairer system are actually widey regarded as well-qualified for  
the task.

In other words, what we have now is a somewhat random system for selecting  
representatives, that doesn't actually choose what we want, but whose  
impact is balanced by the fact that at least most candidates are  
reasonable. In which case, why bother with the election instead of a  
random selection?

== No voting system is perfect, so why swap?

Arrow's theorem is one of those that demonstrates that it is effectively  
impossible to get a system that cannot be gamed (e.g. allowing a slate of  
candidates to effectively shut out diversity), and that entirely reliably  
represents the interests of the voters.

However, it is one piece of a large body of work going back to at least  
the mid 19th century on how to provide *better* systems. And it is  
generally accepted that some systems are significantly better than others  
- and we happen to have on of the worst.

== STV is really complicated…

Well, it does require the ability to rank candidates in order of  
preference. Which in turn means being able to count perhaps as far as 12.  
I believe that all members of the AC can manage that task without getting  
terribly confused.

Even the most complex voting systems could be hand-calculated for the AC -  
but luckily we also have computers that can simplify this process,  
providing a result effectively instantaneously for an election the size of  
those we run in W3C.

== How do we select a new system?

Obviously, unless you have a decent voting procedure in place, you're  
unlikely to get one by voting on it! However, while I think the level of  
candidates for W3C elections is generally high enough that it isn't a big  
deal whether we vote or pull names out of a hat, that isn't true of voting  
systems.

Pretty much any STV or ranked-pair voting system is so much better than  
the current one that it would be a big improvement.

However, David Baron did some research a while ago. He expressed interest  
in approval voting[0], which unfortunately is still subject to most of the  
problems of our current system. His eventual conclusion (which matches  
mine, unless I have misinterpreted him as merely proposing a strawman) was  
that there are a couple of systems seriously worth further consideration.

Of those David suggested were most worth further investigation, the  
"qualification" is that they are highly resistant to managed voting,  
ensuring that the best voting strategy is to say exactly what you want.  
And of them, the Shulze system[1] has a couple of very interesting  
properties:
  - You can try it on the Web[2], where there is an explanation of how it  
is a big improvement, and
  - there is open-source code[3] to implement the counting, which means we  
would require a minimal effort to implement it in e.g. WBS (assuming we  
don't 'outsource' our voting to the open web).

Since David's suggestion and subsequent discussion a year ago, I haven't  
seen *any* suggestion that we should not use the Schulze system in any  
discussion. I would like to know if there are any alternative candidates.

== Conclusion

There should be a call for consensus on whether we should adopt an STV  
system for voting. At this stage, I am thinking of simply an up/down vote  
on the Schulze system (primarily to help defuse the "but it's all so  
complicated - and which system would we choose" argument that is  
occasionally raised), but before I do anything I welcome further thoughts,  
suggestions, ideas and opinions.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schulze_STV
[2] http://www.modernballots.com/
[3]  
https://github.com/bradbeattie/python-vote-core/blob/master/pyvotecore/schulze_stv.py

cheers

Chaals

-- 
Charles McCathie Nevile - Consultant (web standards) CTO Office, Yandex
       chaals@yandex-team.ru         Find more at http://yandex.com
Received on Sunday, 4 May 2014 17:04:49 UTC

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