In most cases I feel the best fixes would involve simplifying law, language and procedure since a highly complex and arcane system ends up being understood only by those who can profit by exploiting it. It's hard enough to balance a system with five players and ten pages of rules, let alone one with millions of players and enough rules that one can earn several degrees simply by trying to learn them. However there's one area of policy for which I believe the beautifully simple and elegant way of doing things is in fact horribly misguided, and that's the First Past the Post voting system. I delivered a speech at Toastmasters a while back on this subject, and since I made some cute slides I figured I'd throw it up here as well. (A shout-out to CGPGrey's excellent YouTube videos on the subject for inspiration.)
The spoiler effect is a very real thing that happens. There was a quiet little town in Ontario that decided it would let its citizens vote on what it should be named. The ballot included three options: "Lakehead," "The Lakehead," or "Thunder Bay." Of course they used First Past the Post and the final result looked like this:
The Lakehead - 8,377 votes
Lakehead - 15,302 votes
Thunder Bay - 15,870 votes!!!
If this vote were held semi-annually, it can be assumed that the people who liked "The Lakehead" would quickly jump on the "Lakehead" bandwagon. This spoiler effect, and the reactionary bandwagoning, is why nobody bothers voting for Ralph Nader (or the Green Party), and why all political system that use First Past the Post are doomed to devolve into a two-party system where everybody votes for the side they hate the least.
So clearly voting systems are more problematic than one might assume. How does one construct a one that gives fair results in all situations. Short answer: you don't.
Arrow's Impossibility Theorem is a mathematical proof that all voting systems imaginable are, in some instances, horribly flawed and unfair. The criteria given for "fairness" are:
- If every voter prefers alternative X over alternative Y, then the group prefers X over Y.
- If every voter's preference between X and Y remains unchanged, then the group's preference between X and Y will also remain unchanged (even if voters' preferences between other pairs like X and Z, Y and Z, or Z and W change).
- There is no "dictator": no single voter possesses the power to always determine the group's preference.
So remember, the next time someone complains that both the Democrats and the Republicans are terrible and yet no other party will become a serious force in American politics in the foreseeable future, the problem is not that politicians are corrupt and greedy scum who have created a stranglehold on the nation via their control of the media or what have you, the problem is that First Past the Post is a terrible, terrible voting system.