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.

Who is Tulsi Gabbard

I really want to learn more about TulsI Gabbard. She was the first candidate that I was interested in when she joined the race and she’s struggling to get any traction with the big names like Harris and Warren.

I went to her webpage for more info and there wasn’t much of substance there (other than some nice photos and a decent ‘about‘ section). What I’m looking for is her platform. I want to know what she believes in, how she stands on the issues, etc. Nothing yet. So I’ll wait a bit on that.

Maybe it would be useful to dig into who gives her money. I have been using OpenSecrets.org to look up things. For her 2018 Congressional election she got money from mostly benign sources as far as I can tell from a quick look. This includes a decent amount from independent donors. OpenSecrets did a nice article recently digging in a bit more deeply that shows that she got some money from the defense industry. What does this mean? We will need to dig into her support of their agenda.

I found a couple nice ways to check voting records. My favorite is called Ballotpedia which gives voting as well as a ton of other useful info  (including her platform from the 2018 election). One issue is that it only has the 115th congress for now but I urge you to dig into her page which is here. (Note on foreign affairs she wasn’t a total hawk). This site actually does a really nice job of summarizing a politicians political life.

The second voting record site is Votesmart. This has more up to date info including her vote for us to pull out of support for SA in Yemen.

Tulsi is off to a not great start

I’ve been wondering when Gabbard was going to make her announcement. This article tells me a bit about maybe why I haven’t:
https://www.politico.com/amp/story/2019/01/29/tulsi-gabbard-2020-election-1134055

This is a stark contrast to the well oiled rollout of Harris, and it says a lot. If Gabbard can’t manage her campaign then can she manage the country?

You only get one shot to make a first impression.

Tulsi Gabbard

Before I begin, I want to say that yes, I know that Elizabeth Warren announced her intensions before Tulsi and in 2016 I said that if Warren were running I would have strongly considered voting for her so by rights she should be a shoo-in for my early attention but I can’t help it, something is interesting to me about Tulsi Gabbard.

I’m not going to dig deep in this post, but I was really struck by how fast people started demonizing her right after she announced her intensions. Here’s what I posted at first:

The next day I read this thread:

Why was I seeing this and many, many other negative pieces about her? Who was this woman I’d barely heard of before? I needed to do at least a little research. But then I saw that she was on Joe Rogan so I downloaded the podcast and gave it a listen. I suggest you do as well!

After listening I was pretty impressed with how she approached things. She didn’t come off as too disingenuous (although it was clear she was indulging Rogan who has his own opinions that I’m not sure she shares) and she had some solid answers. But she still had a record of being anti-LGBT. What’s up with that?

Apparently she was raised in a pretty strict religious household and we all know that people growing up like that can totally be impressed. But we also know that once they get away and see the world there is hope that if they are smart, they can change. That seemed to happen with her and it’s discussed in this Politico article (referring to her recently released video below).

What’s the truth here? After hearing her on Rogan and reading this and seeing her video, I could be convinced she’s turned around on this issue. (though it could be cause she’s running and needs to cover loose ends).

So. That’s my initial peek at Tulsi. I kind of like her and I think that I need to look more at some of the things others are bringing up and I need to look at her voting record and speeches, etc. But for now, she’s got my attention.

I think I’m going to start right here with this piece on Medium. You should too.