Range voting

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Range voting (RV) is, in the most general sense, a voting system in which each voter assigns a score to each of the possible choices for a given decision. (Wikipedia defines it strictly in terms of voting for candidates in a formal election, but it need not be restricted to this usage.) The score must be within a predetermined range, so that everyone knows what the numbers mean (does "10" mean "acceptable" or "I love this"?).

My preferred system goes from -10 to +10, so that it's more obvious which numbers represent a vote against rather than for. Ten possibilities on either side of zero (neutral = don't-care ≈ abstain) also make for a relatively intuitive, simple, clickable user interface (no typing needed).

Advantages

The key advantage to range voting, as I understand it, is that it more or less completely does away with the aggregation anomalies created by coarser voting systems, including:

  • the two party "system"
    • minority rule (the winner may only have the support of a small percentage)
    • "strategic voting" (voting for "the lesser of two evils")
    • "vote splitting" (a majority position losing its representation by being split across two or more candidates)
    • the "spoiler" effect (3rd-party voters are punished)
  • gerrymandering is rendered ineffective

It also results in the minimum net error of all the voting systems I'm aware of, where net error would be calculated as something like RMS:

SUM(([voter preference]-[final vote])^2)^0.5) (summed across all votes for a given issue)

Disadvantages

The main disadvantage of RV is that it involves the aggregation of much more data than traditional voting techniques. (This is an unavoidable consequence of what is also its greatest basic strength: the fact that it gives the system much more information about what each voter wants, making it possible to come much closer to satisfying everyone.) In the internet era, however, the difficulty posed by this added complexity vanishes to insignificance.

The other disadvantage to RV is that people aren't used to it, and tend to object to it on the basis of misunderstandings or false assumptions.

Objections

CRV has a good collection of objections, and answers for each. (I'll add more information here about any objections that seem to be especially popular.)

Refinements

  • Hidden "advanced" mode: Studies apparently show that exactly ten levels of approval work best for most people, but many people (such as myself) might want a bit more granularity. It would be simple enough to display ten levels by default, but to allow individual users to enable more choices (either via a control on the page or via a global "preferences" setting).
    • (This concept could be applied to many other UI elements as well; there is no need for one-size-fits-all UI design.)
  • Descriptive labels: Different levels of approval could be labeled descriptively to give more of a sense of meaning, e.g.:
    • -10: I cannot believe any sane person would choose this.
    • -1: I don't think this would be a good choice.
    • +5: I'm pretty certain this would work quite well.
    • +10: This would be absolutely fabulous.

The +/- symmetry seems rather essential to me (despite some puzzling objections), but I'm open to a finer or coarser default granularity via the proposed "advanced" mode.

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