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
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.
(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
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.
- Not all candidates can win.
There are usually (and hopefully) more candidates than offices, so voters
for candidates with the fewest votes must choose their next favorite.
- Representatives should have equal support.
(This doesn't apply to single-winner elections.)
Because representatives have equal voting power, they should each represent
an equal number of voters, in order to satisfy the first goal listed
above. In pursuit of this, if a candidate receives more than enough votes
to get elected, the extra votes will be counted toward their next
favorite candidate instead.
- 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:
|Seats||Votes per ballot||Enough ballots to win||Ideal ballots per winner|
|3||12||25 1/12||33 4/12|
|6||42||14 13/42||16 28/42|
|7||56||12 29/56||14 16/56|
|8||72||11 9/72||12 36/72|
|9||90||10 1/90||11 10/90|
Votes for "none of these" are removed from the totals after every elimination round.
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.
- Counting votes
Votes from each ballot are assigned to its highest-ranked candidate, constrained as follows:
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").
- Each candidate has a prescribed maximum number of votes per ballot, initially equal to the total number per ballot.
- If there are leftover votes, they are reassigned according to (A) as if they were a separate ballot.
- A ballot that cannot be assigned is counted for "none of these".
- Adjustment of maxima
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.
- 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.
If no maximum reductions are possible, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Ties encountered here are broken randomly.
- Repeat steps 1 through 3 until no further changes can be made.
- 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
- 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!
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