About the DemoChoice Web Poll

What's the basic idea?
DemoChoice web polls are designed to produce satisfactory representation for everyone, with majority rule.

If your favorite candidate has too few votes to win, your vote will be transferred to your next favorite, if possible.

If your favorite candidate has more than enough votes, some ballots may be partially transferred so that all winners represent roughly equal numbers of voters.

What is DemoChoice for?
In a democracy worthy of the name, everyone's voice is heard (or represented with their explicit consent), and decisions require at least majority support: more people should support an idea than oppose it.

If you elect your representatives by majority vote, and they make decisions by majority vote, a small group can overrule the will of almost 75% of voters - and up to half of all voters don't even have representatives who will express their protest.

Usually we (Americans) elect people by "most votes wins" instead of majority, so it can be even worse. And worse than that, the people in power can group you with others who will vote against your favorite - they can decide which voters gain representation. No wonder so many people have lost faith and don't bother to vote: this approach miserably fails to meet our goals.

But it can be done! DemoChoice gives you the freedom to express your preferences in detail among many viable choices, and then counts your votes in a way that pursues the democratic goals noted above. It can usually accommodate almost everyone. As a result, voting actually becomes a fun, positive, and rewarding experience!

How does DemoChoice pursue its goals?
DemoChoice attempts to assign everybody to their favorite representative. To make this work, a few adjustments need to be made.

How are the results tallied?
It's easiest to understand this by just watching how the votes move on the results pages, but here are the detailed rules for the count. The method takes advantage of the rich information provided by each voter about their preferences through a list of rankings. First, some numbers with some special properties:
Votes per ballot: Seats*(Seats+1)
Each ballot counts as several votes, which can be split among several candidates during the count, though this is done in moderation. The number of votes per ballot is the smallest where a winner with too many votes can let each voter transfer a whole number of votons, and always end up between Enough and the Ideal Number of votes (which are also whole numbers of votons).
Enough votes to win: Ballots*Seats+1 or Votes/(Seats+1)+1
If all winners have at least Enough votes to win, it is impossible for too many candidates to win.
Ideal Number of votes: Ballots*(Seats+1) or Votes/Seats
If all winners must have more than the Ideal Number of votes, it is impossible for enough candidates to win. If each winner has exactly the Ideal Number, the voting power of members of the legislature is exactly proportional to their number of supportive constituents.

So if 100 votes were cast:

SeatsVotes per ballotEnough ballots to winIdeal ballots per winner
1250 1/2100
2633 3/650
31225 1/1233 4/12
42020 1/2025
53016 21/3020
64214 13/4216 28/42
75612 29/5614 16/56
87211 9/7212 36/72
99010 1/9011 10/90

Votes for "none of these" are removed from the totals after every elimination round.

  1. Counting votes
    Votes from each ballot are assigned to its highest-ranked candidate, constrained as follows:
    1. Each candidate has a prescribed maximum number of votes per ballot, initially equal to the total number per ballot.
    2. If there are leftover votes, they are reassigned according to (A) as if they were a separate ballot.
    3. A ballot that cannot be assigned is counted for "none of these".
    For each candidate, a record (histogram) is kept of how many ballots contribute a given fraction, sorted in decreasing order of those fractions (each pair of numbers is a "bin").
  2. Adjustment of maxima
    1. If any candidates have Enough votes to win, they are declared elected. If there are exactly enough remaining to fill all seats, all are declared elected. If all seats are filled, but there are still more candidates than seats, skip step B.
    2. Maximum reduction
      The maximum number of votes that can count for each elected candidate is reduced as far as possible while ensuring that the candidate has enough votes to win. If all seats are filled, the target number of votes increases to the Ideal number.
      Procedure (easier done than said): The maximum is adjusted to the number of votes and ballots in successive histogram bins, and the number of votes and ballots above that maximum are summed until removing those votes would put the candidate at or below the target. If below, the maximum is increased by the difference between the target and the number of votes that would remain given this adjusted maximum, divided by the number of ballots summed, rounded up.
    3. Elimination
      If no maximum reductions are possible, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Ties encountered here are broken randomly.
  3. Repeat steps 1 through 3 until no further changes can be made.
If the election is an "instant runoff" for a single winner, rules 1B and 2B have no effect. Traditionally, the process stops immediately if any candidate obtains Enough. Results are typically shown in terms of ballots and not votes.

Hey! This is too complicated!
The rules behind DemoChoice appear complex, but only because they put nearly all of the electoral controls within reach of the voter. With currently used methods, the outcome of most elections is determined primarily by political consultants who use sophisticated computer algorithms and large databases to manipulate district boundaries and reduce competition. Casting a DemoChoice vote is straightforward, but with current methods, voters must fret over strategy to avoid wasting their vote on a loser or on someone who would win anyway. Don't give up!

In a multi-winner election, how do you choose which votes stay with a winner?
Transferring votes from winners ensures that all winners represent constituencies of similar size, and that people don't avoid voting for popular candidates, thinking that they will get elected anyway.

There are several ways to do this, depending on the situation. They can be randomly chosen, taken as a fraction from each ballot, or chosen based on the distance between the winner's home precinct and the voters' precincts.

If we minimize the number of times ballots are split into portions that count for different candidates, we establish a clearer connection between voters and legislators. DemoChoice accomplishes this by giving transfer priority to ballots that count larger fractions toward the winner. A maximum fraction of a ballot is determined that transfers a maximum number of votes without putting the winner below the Enough or Ideal threshold, as appropriate. This makes it likely that most ballots will be sliced, but few will be sliced more than once.

What happens if there is a tie?
Ties are not a very significant issue in public elections, because the number of ballots is large and ties are statistically rare. However, in a demonstration poll like this, they can happen frequently, especially among unpopular candidates. Ties are only an issue during eliminations, and usually involve candidates with few votes that do not affect the course of the election. Here, ties are broken by choosing a candidate with the server's random number generator.

Is this the same as Instant Runoff Voting?
Yes, if there is one winner. This method works well for electing mayors, governors, or presidents. IRV usually stops when two candidates remain, but IRSA eliminates the last losing candidate as a clearer measure of depth of support for the winner.

The multi-winner version should be used for boards, councils, and legislatures. This gives more people representation than the usual method of dividing voters into districts and using single-winner elections in each.

How well does it work?
DemoChoice can routinely assign more than 90 percent of voters to representatives they support. This usually means that a decision by a majority of representatives reflects the will of a majority of voters. Winners receive nearly equal shares of votes, so that each vote corresponds to a nearly equal amount of legislative power. Each representative has the unanimous support of his/her voters. Voters have a large number of options because there is no appreciable 'spoiler' or 'vote-splitting' effect to scare away candidates. See for yourself by looking at the results pages on the DemoChoice site!

Where did you get this newfangled idea?
The basic concepts of this method of voting were first proposed in 1821, within a generation of adoption of the US Constitution. Similar methods were proposed independently in the US, Britain, and Denmark, and were used in a few public and private elections in that century. John Stuart Mill, the most well-known scholar on the theory of representative government, tried unsuccessfully to enact it when he served in the House of Commons. Australia and Ireland have used this method since the early 20th century. The closest relative of IRSA is the method proposed by Hugh Warren in 1983, which combined the concept of maxima with the iterative surplus transfers of Brian Meek's 1969 version.

About two dozen US cities including New York and Cincinnati elected their city councils this way in the first half of the 20th century. It was very effective, but the principle of an equal voice for all was ahead of its time - women had only just been allowed to vote, and this was well before the civil rights movement - so it was repealed in almost all cases. The only remaining case is Cambridge, MA. In 2002, San Francisco adopted instant runoffs to determine a majority winner for mayor and other offices.

Let's do this in our local, state, and federal governments!
If you are interested in promoting this method of voting, the Center for Voting and Democracy can provide more information and help you find like-minded people. Also, browse the DemoChoice library.

How can I print (or save) the results?
To print the bar charts, you may need to change your browser settings to enable printing of background colors. For example, in Microsoft Internet Explorer, choose "internet options" from the "tools" menu, go to the "advanced" tab, and check the "print background colors and images" box. If the dotted threshold line doesn't print, add "&thickdot=on" (without the quotes) to the page's web address.

If the poll has a large number of candidates, the results may be broken into pages. To disable this in order to save or print results, use "&page=0" (no quotes) in the page's web address.

Why didn't the totals change after I voted?
They did - try pressing your browser's 'Refresh' button.

I still don't get it!
We want to make sure that everyone who uses this site leaves with a comfortable understanding of how it works. Please feel free to ask a question. Our library has many links to other explanations and discussions where you can learn more.

What do you do with my email address in a private poll?
Your email address will be used to send a confirmation of your vote. In the rare event that your vote is not properly recorded, you may be contacted. Voter address information is not used for any other purpose.

Send us your feedback!
DemoChoice is an ongoing project, and user feedback is an essential part of it. Everybody has a slightly different experience and it helps to hear what parts you found illuminating and what parts you found confusing or cumbersome. Please share your thoughts!

Acknowledgements

Steve Willett created the first web-based instant runoff poll in 2000, as an interface to ChoicePlus Pro. DemoChoice evolved from this into its own project. Steve and the Center for Voting and Democracy helped provide web space for the first two years. Many others have provided helpful advice and encouragement. Further comments would be appreciated.

DemoChoice Web Polls ©2001 Dave Robinson