Toward a Low Key Voting System Where Votes Are Actually Considered | Adrian Massey

While reading A Very Short Introduction to Game Theory, I came across the following passage,

“If you want people to vote, we need to move to a more decentralized system in which every vote really does count enough to outweigh the lack of enthusiasm for voting which so many people obviously feel…Simply repeating the slogan that ‘every vote counts’ isn’t ever going to work, because it isn’t true.”

I was jarred. For me, anecdotally knowing that the voting system was problematic kept the problem out of sight and mind. Learning that its mechanics are flawed made the problem immediate, actionable, and personal. If the official Oxford University Press book on game theory (the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers1) was proclaiming that our presidential election process doesn’t have a fair mathematical equilibrium, then I wanted to understand why. The first question I needed to ask was, “Does the government actually want people to vote?” Nowhere does is it state that the President is the representative of the people. Rather, the President is obligated to recite,

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

In turn, the Constitution vests all of its powers in Congress, which itself is composed of state representatives. The Electoral College, the body that elects the president, is composed of electors nominated through the state. The combination of congressional and presidential appointments guarantees that all power rests in the organization of the state. As a result, people can migrate between states freely, but the value of their vote for president can not. I won’t go into detail about how the Electoral College works, but if you’d like a simple animated explanation, you can watch this cute video by C.G.P Grey.

So, even if the government was organized to value the popular opinion of its citizens for president, the Electoral College blocks our opportunity to collectively vote on a single representative. At the same time, the alternative to the popular vote has problems of its own. If the popular vote were used to elect the President, we would immediately encounter the problem of establishing a national, interstate voting system—but let’s save voting systems for later.

Once a national voting system is engineered and deployed, we’ll have to contend with a two-party tendency wherein voters are scared into dichotomies by vote splitting. Vote splitting reduces the chances of winning for multiple, similar candidates and increases it for single, dissimilar candidates. This is called the spoiler effect. Again, if you’d like a simple explanation of vote splitting, watch this other video by the C.G.P. Grey.

There are many strategies for reducing vote splitting and its spoiler effect—the most highly praised are those that use a Condorcet Method. A Condorcet Method allows voters to rank candidates in order of their preference. The fairness of a voting system varies depending on the exact implementation of a Condorcet Method. For example, conducting a vote using multiple rounds of a Condorcet Method is more fair than using just one round, or an instant run-off. If you’d like to learn about instant run-off voting, I recommend watching this stellar explanation by C.G.P Grey.

The following Wikipedia articles provide a great inventory of information about Condorcet and other voting methods, as well as explanations of a variety of systems and their mathematics.

Voting System Wiki

Condorcet Method Wiki

Many of these alternative methods have problems as well–in fairness or in the economy of their implementation. A voting system using an exacting Condorcet Method would run multiple rounds of elections. Now let’s return to voting systems. There are research systems that are capable of capturing multiple votes inexpensively and verifiably.

The Cornell Civitas project is looking at blockchain technologies to securely collect votes.

BitVote is exploring a time-based blockchain solution for voting.

These technologies are unproven, but they represent an opportunity to change the meaning of our vote by changing the way we vote. Instead of anxiety-ridden, single votes, we could have low-key multiple votes that are more fairly considered. A decentralized, multiple-round voting system which uses a Condorcet method would quell the two-party system, affording more challenging political groups. The Evangelicals could separate from the Fiscal Conservatives and Libertarians to create God’s true party—a party that would get rid of all of the people that the Bible doesn’t like. The Rainbow Coalition could separate from the Green Party (because, Green-Rainbows?). As the importance of party strategies decrease, the quality of individual candidates must increase. How will we identify quality representatives within a sea of options? Of course, this question doesn’t matter yet, because your vote is still merely a symbolic gesture.

Special thanks to Dillon Petito, Ouida A. Biddle, Samuel G. Cormier, and Nathan D. Bartholome for editing. Also, without the content of Ken Binmore and C.G.P. Grey this piece would be a difficult-to-decipher mess, like most policy pieces.

Recent Posts

A Conversation about Ergonomic Futures

Lafayette Anticipation associate curator Anna Colin talks to artist Tyler Coburn about Ergonomic Futures, a speculative project engaged with art, design, science, anthropology and writing. In this interview, Coburn discusses the research, production process and network of collaborators of a multilayered project ultimately concerned with the futures of humankind. Anna Colin: When one comes across your museum seats Ergonomic Futures (2016—) in contemporary art exhibitions—and soon in natural history, fine art, and anthropology museums—they look… [read more »]

nils lange + saliva : l’eau des algues

L’Eau des Algues Two alchemists already aware of each other’s Instagrams meet for the first time in a gay sauna. They are swimming; it’s the Hood By Air afterparty in Paris. They are Lukas Hofmann and Nils Amadeus Lange. Months later, they meet again. They are on the edge of yet another steaming pool; it’s the Manifesta Biennale closing event at Cabaret Voltaire. They are performing the perfume titled “L’eau des Algues.” Head notes: Zürich… [read more »]

Tough Luck | Tyler Reinhard

When life is being super unfair, just do what we all do: suffer the consequences. I wake up and the first thing I do is check my phone. A convenient euphemism for using Facebook’s machine learning techniques to discover which 300 entries are statistically most likely to stand out from the tens of thousands of brain dumps my friends and family have produced over the last 48 hours. Impressed by what Facebook provides, I think… [read more »]

America Is Hard to See: A Guide to not being depressed about US electoral politics this November

In order to make sense of state politics in the birthplace of statistical marketing and the internet, one has to be wary of the effects of these technologies on the country’s popular media. In a time when our news and advertisements are tailored to our pre-recorded political opinions, it can be especially difficult to empathize with differing political views. Likewise, learning about the histories of state politics is not encouraged by platforms that profit from… [read more »]

On self-care and the election | Eva Saelens

We can get together and laugh about it. We can heave sighs and express disbelief, but it’s never enough. This presidential election year has lasted for years, and they sit on citizens like a slick film. We feel touched by an unshakable germ, invaded by a blood-sucker, afflicted by a social cancer, drained of the plump vitality of life and the amazing liberty of choices, and transformed into a cynical, depressed shrivel. After being touched… [read more »]

Swarovski Crystal Meth at National Sawdust

Swarovski Crystal Meth, a collaboration between Ser Serpas, Daniela Czenstochowski and Gia Garrison for the National Sawdust “Selkie Series” performances, curated by Alexandra Marzella. Music composed and produced by Daniela Czenstochowski Poem by Sera Serpas Sound Edit Mateo Majluf Vocals Sera Serpas, Gia Garrison and Daniela Czenstochowski All Images Olimpia Dior i went to the desert con mi mama outlet store shopping is fried onto mi conciensa, big bags, wins bigger losses fragmented lux economy… [read more »]

Hasbeens and Willbees Auction @ Romeo Gallery

Shop items from the most recent Hasbeens and Willbees luxury auction now! Featuring Bjarne Melgaard, Bror August, Women’s History Museum, Lou Dallas, Hermes, Gautier, and more. All photography Dillon Sachs Styling Avena Gallagher Hosted by Rome Gallery NYC


What is a piece of clothing that “works”? Who is working whom? Is the one who poses the one who actually “works” hardest? The S/S 2017 collection of Berlin-based, Swedish- Vietnamese designer NHU DUONG entitled ‘WORK COLLECTION’ plays with the ideas of professionalism, leisure and appropriateness through a range of garments that are inspired by work outfits and hobby uniforms. Overalls, raw denim outfits, kung-fu pyjamas, biker pants, baggy tights and gloves, bomber-jackets, bomber suits,… [read more »]

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene | Agustina Zegers

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene is a text made up of living exercises to accompany Haraway’s theorization of the Chthulucene and her upcoming book Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Haraway posits that not only should we name the Anthropocene carefully (including the terms Capitalocene and Plantationocene within its narrative) but that we should also be using this crucial ecological timeframe to move towards a dynamically multi-species, “sym-chtonic“, sym-poietic future: the Chthulucene.… [read more »]

Laboria Cuboniks in Conversation

Laboria Cuboniks is currently a group of 6 women working together online to redefine a feminism adequate to the twenty-first century. They collectively wrote Xenofeminsim: A Politics for Alienation in 2014. Here, in conversation with Postcontemporary Issue guest editors Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik they discuss the dissatisfactions and limitations of historical feminism and the importance of theorizing “the future” as a feminist project. Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik: The initial formulation of your political… [read more »]