Perspectives on Politics reviews More Parties or No Parties

I am deeply thankful to Todd Donovan for this review of my book. It introduces points I have not been able to cover in public-facing writing. These include parts of the theory, what happened with STV between its adoption and repeal, and the spending effects as linked to campaign strategy.

Like the book, the essay draws on the fields of urban and comparative politics. Todd’s own work on the topic is very much worth reading.

“Downward cascade” under RCV in Heber City (UT)

“Downward cascade” refers to a potential one-person-one-vote violation in the block-preferential form of ranked-choice voting (BPV). Ben Reilly introduced me to the term when we wrote this piece on BPV.

BPV aims to find the majority winner for each seat in a multi-seat district. It does so by breaking the election into “tabulations” — one for each seat. All votes from tabulation t proceed to t+1 and so on. The key word there is “all.” The winner of the first tabulation does not proceed to the second, but the votes that elected that person do.

So we say that votes can “cascade downward” from the first winner to others. This is not the same as a “transfer” in any of the other transferable-vote systems. Those transfers aim (in theory) to give each vote equal weight.

KPCW radio has a story on the outcome. Here is the key bit:

Candidate Christen Thompson ranked second in the race for each of the three city council seats, so he was not elected. While he said he’s disappointed, he still supports the ranked-choice system.

“I really like ranked choice, because it really gives people the chance to vote for what they believe in… without being afraid of losing their vote,” he said.

The city website lets us verify the district magnitude.

It also lets us see a BPV count in action. Pay attention to the final-round count in each tabulation. (It may help to follow the fate of Thompson above.)

The data suggest that downward cascade from Johnston and/or Cheatwood helped Ostergaard beat Thompson. Ostergaard was in fifth place at the end of the first tabulation.

Had the city used the “bottoms up” form instead (again see), the top three candidates from the first tabulation would have won the seats.

Alas, “bottoms up” is not popular with those who insist on theoretically majoritarian reforms. Nor is single transferable vote, since it is widely seen as (semi-)proportional.

Australian Senate elections were by BPV for three decades.

What a journalist might watch for in different kinds of RCV elections

I recently wrote a post for 3streams on ten types on RCV. What sorts of campaigns might they engender?

The working assumption here is that two sides will emerge in politics. They may not track party lines, but they should be identifiable if one looks at the right data in a context where the system is ‘settled.’

To summarize the 3streams post, these systems can be used to try to get any of three things: single majority winners, majority-slate sweeps, or both sides represented in a multi-seat district. It is a bit more complicated than that, but this serves to introduce the ideas that follow.

“Anybody but X” campaigning and/or electioneering. Look for this in STV and maybe AV/IRV when they are working ‘well.’ Laver (2000) pointed to this logic in a chapter on government formation.

Slate formation. Look for this in any of the multi-seat systems. Savvy candidates would want to benefit from their “vote pooling” properties. Maja Harris has been following this in Portland (OR).

Spread-the-preferences (STP) strategies. This term is from the comparative literature. It means optimizing two imperatives: run a number of candidates that can win, and ensure a more-or-less even distribution of their first-choice votes. Neighborhoods are therefore good for recruiting candidates, doing GOTV, and possibly targeting policy benefits. Watch for STP in STV and bottom-up. I need to think more about BPV. I don’t see it as a factor with numbered-post.

Fragmentation in primaries. I need to think more about this. One, running for a nomination often is not the same as running to win power. Two, that is what our best source on the history reports. Three, most papers on “exhaustion” (IIRC) point to non-majority winners emerging from fragmented fields. Four, the game theory I have seen suggests that candidates appealing to the same group of voters may not have an incentive to encourage ranking (among other issues).

Nonpartisan primaries (so-called). I have no clear prediction beyond “anybody but X.” And yet there is the game theory I just mentioned.

I may update this later. Thanks to HB for the suggestion.