Pete makes $500

In looking at the blog history it would seem this is becoming the Pete Buttigieg fan blog but I assure you its not.. Its just that he is capturing the zeitgeist right now and I’m pretty excited about it because he’s one of the few candidates I really like in this race so far.

By capturing the zeitgeist, I mean that he is gaining traction every single day and everybody seems to be talking about him and when he talks to interviewers he blows them away. Every Single Time. It’s fairly incredible.

The most recent interview (a great one) was with with Mehdi Hasan on the Deconstructed podcast. I urge you to give it a listen.

Anyway, all this energy has ignited his fundraising (which, weather you like it or not is a great way to tell who is making headway) and they just blew away their March 31 goal of $500,000 which is a big deal. They are hiring new staff and building a lot of institutional foundations. I urge you to drop him a few dollars if you can.

Anyway I just want to reinforce to you how crazy it is that we show support for candidates by giving them money. At high dollar levels (for rich people and businesses) this makes complete sense since their money buys them access (read : bribery). But at our level it essentially means: “I want this person to be president and I want to help them get there so I’m throwing them a few of my hard earned dollars”. Think for a second how crazy that is. That our voting system is so messed up that we can’t expect the best candidate to win on their own so we are putting up our own money to help them. Why do we do this??

Mayor Pete

Nobody so far has captured any kind of real energy this election cycle than Mayor Pete Buttigieg. This guy is pretty incredible. As an example, just read this interview with the Washington Post from the other day and tell me that he doesn’t make you feel like “oh, this guy knows what’s up and I have total faith in his leadership”.

The sad thing is that even though everyone I speak to totally loves him, none of them think he can win.

It seems to me that mostly they feel this way because he’s not got name recognition or because he’s gay and America isn’t ready for a gay president or because he hasn’t raised a lot of money or because he’s a small town mayor and not a Governor or Congressman.

I say all those reasons are stupid and short sighted. If the Trump election taught us anything its that people can beat odds as long as their message resonates with people and Buttigieg _resonates_ with everyone who hears him speak.

I will say that he is at a significant disadvantage when you consider the way we vote. I will continue to say this over and over again until you become outraged enough to speak out about the evils of plurality voting yourself when talking with others about this election. Of course if you haven’t read about it, see my post here.

Warren Town Hall

So I watched the Elizabeth Warren Town Hall last night on CNN. Here’s the deal.

I thought it was ok. Nothing special, but just ok. I really like Warren and I think she would make a fine president and I agree very much with many of her views and her plans. However, there is something odd about her that I can’t put my finger on yet. I think it has to do with genuineness. There is something kooky about how she comes off.

First off, know this: I firmly believe she is a genuine person and she believes in what she’s saying. But still, she seems like she’s trying to get across her points and all her interactions with the people asking questions are just stepping off points to get to where she wants to be. It’s like she’s a politician, even though I trust her.

This was demonstrated perfectly with her “I’m gonna go get a beer” moment. I mean, I think it was genuine? Maybe? I don’t know. But if it was staged, why do it? She doesn’t need to pretend to be a regular person because she already is. What’s going on here?

Like I said, I love her and I’d love to see her win, but I feel she needs to just drop the act and be herself because she’s coming off fake. It this is the way she is (also possible) then its a bit kooky and I need to get on board with it I suppose.

As an aside, one thing she talked about yesterday was the repeal of the Electoral College. This is a great idea and something I’ve been begging for for quite some time. Interestingly, it’s not very hard (relatively) to do since it doesn’t actually require a constitutional amendment. There is an effort underway that has currently passed in 13 states including New York and California (in PA where I live the bill is stuck in committee and has been for a 2 years now). The effort is called “The National Popular Vote interstate compact” and the way it works is simple. States pass a bill saying that if a point comes where enough states (equaling 270 electoral votes) pass bills, then they all will immediately switch to allocating their electoral college electors based on the proportional vote tally of the popular vote. This is because the constitution allows the states to determine how to allocate their electors.

So, if you want to know more you should head to the NPV website here.

PSM episode

I dig the Pod Save America podcast and listen to it often but sometimes its not as substantive as I’d like to be. The latest episode “I’M GONNA REGRET THIS SPEECH.” is not that. In fact it’s the opposite. After some discussion about the batshit crazy CPAC speech by the Donald, they dig into 2020 and talk about polling, issues and voting and elections in a really interesting way. It’s totally worth a listen if you’re into this kind of stuff.

 

You can’t always get what you want

I’d like to start this post with a quick detour into voting systems. And by that, I mean, the systems we use to count our votes to determine who wins. There is an _amazing_ book that should be required reading for all voters called Gaming The Vote. This book goes into a bit of history and demonstrates why the current way we count votes is completely terrible and often leads to results that do not reflect the will of the voters. The central thesis is that when you have more than two candidates in an election, the plurality system (she who gets the most votes wins) totally breaks down in many un-obvious ways.

One of those ways is that candidates can get elected with a small percentage of the vote total. Think about that one factor. There are 4 candidates and you love A, B is ok, C is eh but you hate D. In fact, the D candidate is pretty different than A-C in what they believe and A-C are pretty interchangeable to a large group of voters. (eg. D voters hate candidates A-C and A-C voters hate D).

The totals end up 30% A, 19% B, 17% C and 34% D. Is it right that D wins with only 34% approval? If the people who voted for B and C knew D would win and A had the best shot they would have gladly voted for A and thus A would have clearly won. If you think about it as A-C vs D (which is kind of is when you consider the platforms of the candidates) it’s clear.

The above problem not only shows you how shitty the results can differ from the real will of the people they also demonstrate another problem with plurality voting: strategic voting. People start to cloud their decisions by thinking about who actually can win the election rather than who they want to win the election. You can probably see a ton of examples in the past where this was an issue and imagine a ton more where it will be an issue.

I won’t get deeper into this, but this kind of stuff, to me, is extremely fascinating and the subject of many, many studies. What I will tell you is that while the studies often suggest differing solutions _all_ of the studies say that our current system is the worst. Two of the most popular systems that I’ve heard about are Approval Voting and Ranked Choice.

Approval Voting is beautiful in its simplicity. It requires (almost) no changes to machines or the math. When you go to vote, you vote for all of the candidates you approve of. So in the example above if you were an A, B or C voter, you’d vote for all 3. If you were a D voter, you’d vote for D alone. At the end, whoever gets the most votes will be the winner. Just take a second to think about how incredible this system is. Its so clean and elegant, it’s the system (last I checked) that the International Society of Mathematicians uses to pick their officers.

The other system that I like a little less is called Ranked Choice. The reason I don’t like it as much is because it’s a bit more complicated and I think that may turn off some voters and voter turn out is low enough. However, it’s gaining some traction (I think it was used in Maine in the last election) so I am totally for it. In this system you rank your choices when you vote (eg. A, C, B, D) and they use a bit of math to compute who wins based on runoffs: If no one has 51%, they drop the lowest vote getter and reallocate their votes based on their rankings and then recompute then repeat if necessary. This system again is _way_ more representative of the will of the people. I think this Radiolab episode (which I heard 2-3 months ago) talks about an election in Ireland that uses this system.

Ok. So where am I going with all of this?

The way we choose our presidential nominee is terribly unfair and will not reflect the will of the people.

This is not only based on the voting system (see above) but also on the fact that we do primaries on different dates and also a bit on the fact that our elections are not publicly funded (maybe we dig into this another time).

So, assuming that we had our primaries on the same day, what would happen is that the field would be incorrectly split up based (mostly) on ideological leanings, on the ways the candidates are different and also the same.

In very broad strokes:

by Economic beliefs : (Bernie and Warren) vs. (Kamala and Gillibrand) vs. Booker vs. Klobuchar

which would mean that the election would be between Cory and Amy since the others would split each others votes.

by Sex: (Bernie and Booker) vs. (Kamala, Gillibrand, Warren, Klobuchar)

so this would come down to Bernie v. Booker.

etc.

Of course its a lot more complicated when you come up with different venn diagrams and put them all together, but I feel that the election will be decided in these ways. This is how Trump became the nominee. He was so different than the rest of the field that they all split up the opposition to him in every primary. Will this happen if Joe Biden joins the race?

The moral to this story is that I feel that unless we change the way we vote in America, we will never get the candidate we all are happy with. And that’s sad because in every election, such a candidate does exist.

Fixing our Voting System : part 1

Whether you were happy with the results of the election or most likely you weren’t (like most of the people who may read this) one thing I think we all can agree on is that the way we vote in America is terrible. And this, this is one of the few ways as citizens that we get to participate in our government. I mean, of course, if we don’t like how things are going, we have the ability to vote out the people who are governing. Right?

But how fair is our current system of representation? How easy is it for us to vote? How fair is the math involved in counting our votes? Hopefully I can show that the answer to all of those questions is : not at all. And hopefully I can motivate you to do something about making change in our system of voting.

Let me get an easy one out of the way right off the bat. It is hard for most Americans to vote. We have to Elections are held on work days. Elections are held during (mostly) working hours. We have to register to vote which in some states only happens at an office that is also open during working hours. Registration deadlines vary by state. Sometimes you need to get registered 90 or more days before election day. Once we are registered and finally get time to to the polling place to actually vote we find huge lines awaiting us.

None of this needs to happen this way. There should be little or no hurdles to voting. We should be registered automatically when we turn 18. The state knows who we are when tax time rolls around so they should know who we are when we vote. For national elections we should have a federal holiday. Why don’t we?

And now for something that I spent a lot of time studying and talking about voting systems. If you do any amount of research in this area you soon learn that everybody who studies voting agrees on one thing : Plurality Voting (our current system) Is The Least Fair System We Could Choose to Use. And I know you’re going to get bored fast so I will try to explain this simply. If a group of people have to choose someone from another group of people (more than 3) there are many ways they can do it. Currently we give each person (each _elector_) a vote for one of the candidates and the person who has the most votes is the winner.

At first this seems fair and in the field of voting theory there are many ways to define and measure “fairness” but I’m not going to go into them here. But at first, this seems a fair method because clearly the candidate with the most votes is the one the group prefers. But do they? A simple example would prove this wrong right away:

In this election there are 3 candidates: A, B and C. (You can substitute in whoever you’d like for those letters). A is hated by most of the electorate, B and C are universally liked by the group that hates A. If I can show you a case where A wins would you be convinced that plurality is bad? Ok. Here you go:

Election Results: A gets 100 votes, B gets 99 votes, C gets 99 votes.
Out of the 298 voters this means: A gets 34%, B and C each get 33%

Candidate A is the winner even though they did not gain a majority of the votes. Is that result fair? Is it acceptable to you if you are a B or C voter? Of course not. But variations of this effect occur all the time. Look at any primary that Donald Trump won in the very beginning of his campaign. As an example look at South Carolina

Election Results: Trump 32.5%, Cruz 22.3%, Rubio 22.5%, Bush 7.8%, Kasich 7.6%, Carson 7.2%

Could you tell me that all of the supporters of Cruz, Rubio, Bush, et. al would have preferred Donald Trump to be their nominee? What if they knew the eventual outcome of the presidential election? Would the Bush, Kasich and Carson voters have banded together with some of the Rubio voters to defeat Mr. Trump?

In what world can we say that someone who gets ⅓ of the vote should be the winner of an election? But we do it all the time. Shouldn’t elections strive to reflect the wishes of the voters?

There is a number of ways to run elections that are more fair and more accurately reflect the will of the people. One is Ranked Choice where you list who you prefer to win in order of preference. This is often combined with Instant Runoff where the votes are counted in successive rounds. Another is called Borda Count where you assign points to various candidates. There are countless systems that mathematicians consider to be more fair but my preference is one that is simple, fair and easy to implement with our current voting machines.

It’s called Approval Voting and it’s so perfect that a number of scientific and math societies use it to elect their leadership. Here is how it works : When you go to vote, you vote for _all_ of the candidates you ‘approve’ of and the candidate with the most votes wins. How amazing is that?

Let’s apply it to my hypothetical ABC election above. I said there was a large number of B and C voters that hated A and were equal in their like of B and C so they would vote for B _and_ C so the totals could be something like this:

Election Results: A gets 100 votes, B gets 198 votes, C gets 198 votes.
Out of 298 votes: A gets 34%, B and C get 66%

Of course this is not considering that some of the A voters would maybe approve of B or C and some of the B and C voters may have just voted for B or C alone. But what you see here is that A wouldn’t win and B or C would. Most importantly B or C would also have a majority of the votes in the election! This would mean that the candidate elected would more likely be the will of most of the electors! Wouldn’t this be an amazing system?

Having a system like this would also minimize the effects of strategic voting and reduce our chances of voting for ‘The lesser of two evils’. Imagine if we used this in just the 2000 presidential election: The ‘Nader effect’ would not have mattered and Al Gore would have won. Imagine we used this in our primaries. If we did and we had these huge fields of candidates we would more accurately see who the people would be happy with instead of seeing who can just convince 20-40% of them.

These changes I’m proposing make great sense so why don’t we have them now? I would say that there are a lot of reasons but the main one is that the two dominant political parties don’t want them. They right now control everything. The Democratic and Republican parties (which are not government institutions but private entities) enjoy enormous power in keeping things as they are. They can dominate the message, they can consolidate the power and they effectively make elections feel like we the people have a say when in fact we don’t.

Letting more poor and working people vote, and making election day a holiday would add more control of the system to more of the people the system is aligned against. Changing the voting counts would allow other parties and other candidates a chance to be counted which would dilute the power the D and R’s have over the system.

But we can pressure for change here. We as citizens can and should study up and learn that there are other ways to elect our leaders. We can and should advocate for a system that puts the control over who is elected back into our hands. It is our moral imperative.

All of the things I’m talking about start on the local level. You need to go visit the office of State Senator and go visit the office of your State Representative. You need to talk to them and find out how you can physically help make these changes happen. You need to talk to your friends and convince them of the changes I’m proposing here.

What is happening is that we as a people are being distracted by these huge important issues that we have little direct control over. This is by design. Please understand that making change starts with this simple, wonky boring changes. We need to get control over our government.

There is a lot more I want to say about our electoral system and I will be talking about gerrymandering, primaries and the Electoral College in later posts so please stay tuned.

Go California

voterCalifornia is a kind of a cool state when it comes to Democracy. Unlike every other state, the voters there have the ability to propose referendums and then vote them into law – totally skipping their representatives. In 2010 they made two very significant changes to the electoral system.

The first was that all districts were drawn up based on geography and they were made by unaffiliated professionals. This contrasts almost everywhere else in America where the politicians get to draw the lines of their districts which has led to districts where the politicians almost cannot be removed from office. See this from 2010 as an example of the gerrymandering I’m talking about.

The second change was that the state primaries were to become non-partisan where everyone regardless of party could vote for anyone running in the primary and the two top vote getters (regardless of party affiliation) would face off in the general election.

These two changes are HUGE and will go a log way to making elections more fair in California. This year there are a number of candidates running for congress there that would never have had a shot otherwise. I urge you to read this short article from Time magazine explaining the current election cycle there.

Before I tell you what else needs to happen I want to take a second to applaud the voters of California for these changes. They are game changers and they need to be implemented universally across the country and I urge all of you to publicize these changes and write to your representatives to beg them to make these changes. Sadly we won’t see this happen almost anywhere else because the people able to change things are the ones who benefit the most from keeping them the same. There’s always revolution…

Anyway, California needs to go further and I’m going to take a second to tell you why. For years now, mathematicians and others have studied voting and have pretty much unanimously decided that plurality voting for more than 2 candidates in a field is the worst system one could possibly use . The reasons are many. But they mostly boil down to the fact that not all of your wishes as a voter are being counted in the math deciding the winner. If you simply choose who gets the most votes, that candidate may very well not be the one most people would choose.

For example, lets take an election with 3 candidates. One (candidate R) is a hard core Right Wing candidate, another (candidate D) is a hard core Left leaning candidate and one (candidate M) is right in the middle. Say that many of your voters are strongly biased towards candidates R and D and that all of those strongly biased voters would gladly vote for M if they knew that R or D would win.

 

Say that after the results are in the voting comes out to something like : 40% R, 30% D, and 30% M. Is this a fair result? Is it the right one? The only happy voters are the R voters. The D voters are thinking “we would totally have taken M, we hate R”, the M voters could be thinking the converse “if we had chosen D instead of M we’d be in great shape” (remember the Nader voters who swung Gore out of the presidency?).

A system like this leads people to strategically vote : They vote for a candidate they don’t really like much because they think they have the best shot at beating a candidate they hate. This is called Tactical Voting and it pretty much kills third party candidates that would have a legitimate shot if people had a way to say “I want D but I’d also accept M.. just not R!”

Here’s another example that’s illustrative. Imagine if there are 10 candidates and they get 11%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, and 9% of the vote. Who should be the winner then? Would that be fair?

There are many other problems with plurality voting, just do a tiny bit of research and you will see what I’m talking about. This is the problem in California that they need to fix and there are many ways to do it.

The way I propose is called Approval Voting and it’s so fair that the American Society of Mathematicians use it for their elections (at least they did last time I checked). The way it works is simple. You vote for all the candidates you like and you don’t vote for the ones you don’t and the one with the most votes wins. It’s not perfect, but it’s 100 times better than what we do now.

There are other systems like the Borda Count and other Ranking systems, but in terms of simplicity and ease of implementation Approval is by far the clear winner. So California, you are almost there, just change your primary voting system and I will move there!