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.


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.

Kamala Town Hall

I can’t find a link to the whole video (maybe it’s on youtube?) but last night CNN gave Kamala Harris a “Town Hall” in Iowa. Here is the CNN updates from the event.

First of all, I want to say that it feels a bit weird that they didn’t do this for Warren (maybe cause she hasn’t officially declared?) and also for Gabbard (who I think has declared) but maybe they are in the works?

Kamala has made a smart move by officially declaring and also by doing it early. She is setting the race rules and issues all by herself and she’s making her answers be the standards that others will have to compete with. I like her bravery and intelligence here.

So how did she do? I’m sold. She came out and kicked some ass and directly answered questions. Green New Deal? She is totally into it. Healthcare? Medicare for All and let the private health insurers die thank you. The Wall? Are you kidding me? Get that shit out of here!

She also did a pretty good job defending her prosecutor past. I’ve come across some tweets that have videos of some of her old speeches that I haven’t looked at yet, but they could be an interesting contrast.. When I get back from vacation in about 10 days we will circle back.

For now, she’s looking serious and ready.

Also, the same question came up 2 times: We are willing to give up on our beliefs and accept a Democratic nominee who we don’t agree with as long as they can beat Trump. Can you do it?? Let me just say this: I am 100% sure that anyone competent can beat Donald Trump in 2020. If the election were tomorrow, Hillary would beat him hands down. This is a relevant question, but not an important one. Donald will be beaten, that is a total lock.

Kamala was a “cop”

This is going to be a giant issue in the beginning of her campaign, no doubt. Not only was Kamala a DA but she was also AG for the state of California. That made her the “top cop” in the state. That in itself isn’t an issue at all. What is at issue is what she did when she was there.

Vox put up a really good post that gives an into to the conundrum. It walks through her entire history from a policy perspective. As with everything in politics, its a balancing act : in order to change things, you need to “work the system” a bit and give on some areas and take on others. In other words, the job requires a nuanced approach.

Our job is to try and see through all of this and determine what is in Kamalas heart. What does she actually believe? Once we have a handle on that, we can predict with a little bit of accuracy what she will do in the future as president. Of course, we have seen instances where the candidate was somewhat more progressive than the actual president (see Obama, Barack).

This article in Mother Jones from a year ago gets into this stuff more and I recommend you read it. One thing that strikes me is how as AG she defended some things that are kind of shitty. But the question is this : What is the job of the Attorney General? Does the AG set policy? Or do they defend the policy decisions of their state? Can they move things in the right direction? Or should they try and win cases where they know they can win and let the others die? I’m inclined to give her a pass for her work as the AG (in terms of policy).

After reading the MJ article, one thing comes clear. Kamala is a big believer of changing things from within. Her family background and her time before she became a prosecutor tells the story of a person who is very much born into values around civil rights. The more I read, I think I’m digging her more and more. We need someone as president who is able to get things done using the traditional tools of US politics. We need someone pragmatic while still being idealistic. Is this who Kamala is?


Kamala Harris

fightingforca_1524There was an Intercept story about Kamala Harris the other day. It talked about how she’s going to deal with the baggage of being a prosecutor.

The problem isn’t that Harris was an especially bad prosecutor. She made positive contributions as well — encouraging education and reentry programs for ex-offenders, for instance. The problem, more precisely, is that she was ever a prosecutor at all.

This is a good point. And the article goes on further to talk about Larry Krasner who is my city’s DA and someone who is literally changing the oppressive system from the inside. Did Harris? Did she head in that direction? We will need to dig deep into that. Can we trust someone who was a part of this system?

Today there was another piece I read on Buzzfeed about her book in 2009 about crime and her thoughts. But that book was in 2009. Has she evolved her beliefs? That’s something I will need to dig into further. For what its worth, the article does get some comment from Shaun King (who I think is on top of this stuff):

King, for his part, has been won over by Harris’s time in the Senate, and what he calls her “evolution” on criminal justice. “I was a little slow to trust her as a reformer on criminal justice, but I think she’s proven herself to me,” King said.

King said he disapproved of much of Harris’s “moderate” work as California’s attorney general. But as a senator, he said, empowered by her intimate knowledge of the justice system, “I think she’s become one of the better spokespersons for really serious criminal justice reform in the Democratic Party.”

I like Kamala Harris. I think she’s smart and tough and she appears to care about issues that I care about. She announced her candidacy today and she is on my radar so we shall dig into this further.