systems thinking
Who am I?Interests Projects Politics
Pictures Favorite BooksFavorite Articles Writing/Creative
Humor Favorite Music Favorite Movies Favorite Quotes
Favorite Links Blog Contact Support Me

Subscribe to Get
My Free Newsletter

Sign up below to receive my free email newsletter. It's full of ideas to help you develop greater understanding and insight in many areas of life.
Share This Page


Hire Me for Coaching, Consulting or Training

Recommended Books,
Music & Video


Book, Music, Video,
Product/Service &
Website Reviews



Subscribe to Blog

 Blog Feed
 Blog Comments Feed

Subscribe to Blog by Email's Most Popular

Personality Types
Evolutionary Psychology
Inner Child Healing
Borderline Personality Disorder
Hypnosis in Medicine and Psychiatry

Recommended Products

Hostgator IconHostgator Web Hosting

Fastmail IconFastmail Email Service

NamecheapIconNamecheap Domain

Long Tail Pro IconLong Tail Pro
Keyword Research Tool

Relative Pitch Ear Training IconRelative Pitch Ear

Mega-Memory IconMega-Memory

View Sitemap

The Key Issue Suspiciously Missing from Ralph Nader’s “Table”

February 25th, 2008 by Howard Ditkoff

Yesterday, Ralph Nader announced that he will once again run for president. In explaining his reasons for running, he gave his usual litany of stances on a number of issues with which, in great part, I can’t argue. He summarizes these positions in this table on the Issues section of his campaign website detailing the solutions that he has “on the table” that none of the major party candidates has on the table:

Ralph Nader Issues that Matter for 2008
It is true that on these many key issues, Nader does, as his table reveals, have particular solutions on the table that none of the major party candidates have on the table. However, I’ve taken the liberty of adding the one line that Nader doesn’t show on his table that I believe goes to the very heart of what is missing in all of his campaigns for president:
Nader Missing Issue

Notice that I didn’t say addressing whether he, Ralph Nader, is or is not a ”spoiler.” I said addressing the issue of an election system in which “spoilers” are even possible. Nader is wise enough, as his own chart shows, to realize that open presidential debates and fairer ballot access for third party candidates are crucial issues if any of the other issues he cares about are to even be given the fair, widespread hearing that they deserve within the presidential campaign arena. However, in typical strange and suspicious fashion, he ignores the crucial leverage point role of advocating consistently and proactively for a majority election system, such as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), Range Voting and/or Approval Voting.

Even the debate issue, which he does put on his list, is greatly affected by the current voting system, since debate inclusion is based on polls and, in a plurality system like we have, far less people are willing to even consider voting for Nader, which lowers his poll numbers and plays a role in keeping him out of the debates. Still, even when asked directly about the possibility of “spoiling,” and despite his ability to bring greater attention to the issue than anyone in America with a major incentive to do so, he refuses to use it as an opportunity to advocate for these types of election system reforms.

I’ve written at length on the seeming conspiracy of silence regarding the true nature of the “spoiler” issue, most notably from Nader himself, in several pieces, including:

Now with him in the race again, I believe he must be pushed hard on this issue. I urge the press and voters to ask Ralph why, on the issue of advocating for a fair and inclusive majority election system, he, who should be most vocal of anyone in this country, is as silent as anyone else in this presidential race. The issue is particularly interesting this time around since all three of the candidates most likely to be in the race have explicitly expressed support for at least one of these reforms, Instant Runoff Voting, in the past:

I can only hope that, after the 2000 and 2004 Nader campaigns failed to make election reforms like Instant Runoff Voting household phrases, the third time will be a charm. And I can only hope that Ralph Nader, this time around, will commit to being a part of making that happen. While I absolutely support the right of any candidate to run for president, if Nader doesn’t use his campaign platform to speak loudly and consistently about the need for an election system that is “spoiler-free,” then to me he is either using a flawed strategy, which I doubt given his prodigious intellect, or I have to suspect that he has ulterior motives for running.

NOTE: With the addition of Matt Gonzalez as Ralph Nader’s running mate, it appears as if election reform may receive the spotlight that it deserves within the campaign after all! I guess you could say this is what Gonzalez “brings to the table.”

AddThis Feed Button   Trackback Address for This Post

If you found this page helpful, then:
Subscribe to My Free Newsletter
Get bonus content full of ideas to help you develop
greater understanding and insight in many areas of life.
Share This Page Donate Support Me

All of your support helps me continue writing and sharing information like this and is greatly appreciated!

Related Posts

  • Ralph Nader Running Mate, Matt Gonzalez, to Shine a Spotlight on Election Reform
  • Instant Runoff Voting Excluded: An Unreasonable Omission from An Unreasonable Man
  • What Michael Moore Really Teaches Us About Political and Social Change In America - Part 7
  • What Michael Moore Really Teaches Us About Political and Social Change In America - Part 8
  • Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

    Included in: This is not my Country: March, Rants -- March 1, Part 2, Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Edition 3.04, Carnival of the Libertarians - March 16, 2008

    66 Responses to “The Key Issue Suspiciously Missing from Ralph Nader’s “Table””

    1. Doubtom Says:

      If you’re going to publicly air your suspicions about an ulterior motive Nader is harboring, you should feel a concomitant responsibility to give more definition to your suspicions or we’ll suspect you also have ulterior motives. You certainly aroused my suspicions.

    2. Howard Says:


      I’m a bit confused. I thought the entire post, as well another post to which I link, give lots of definition to my suspicions. Nader’s conspicuous failure to address the flaws in the electoral system that make it difficult for third parties to run, all the while claiming that his purpose is to open up the system for third parties, is contradictory. When pressed on this issue, time and again, I have seen him dodge it. Why is Ralph Nader not America’s leading advocate for reforming our plurality election system to one that allows third parties to run without any possibility of spoilers? That is the basis of my suspicion.

      Thanks for the comment.

    3. Toma Says:


      The premise that your first inclination is to point out what Nader has left out as opposed to what he has included I think says more about your agenda than it does for Nader. Do you welcome his run for president, or are you already looking to discredit it?

      Ralph spent some considerable time addressing the issues facing a third party candidate in “Crashing the Party”. Don’t you think it would be fairly easy to marginalize Nader on the issue of electoral reform, especially as a man who is frequently accused of being somewhat self-serving? Do we really need IRV so we can see where the true conscience of the public lie, or do we really feel like it’s the only means by which a third party may become viable? Focusing on IRV at the national level isn’t something that would propel Nader to a presidential victory, but certainly could dilute the issue if his name were associated with it. IRV has to gain traction at the local level before it can become a meaningful topic on the national stage.

      Be well,


    4. Doubtom Says:

      Doubtom says, you spoke of “motive”;that’s what I wanted you to elaborate upon. What possible motive would he have for opposing reforms in our much flawed electoral system which, according to you, would have the effect of preventing third party candidates from achieving viability? Isn’t that somewhat contradictory?

      The term spoiler is a crutch for candidates who can’t manage to get elected on their own merits.
      It is most unbecoming of any candidate, who fails to attract enough support, to then look elsewhere for excuses to explain his rejection. Its also a bit cowardly.

      No person or political party has the right to look upon the votes of non-party members as their birthright because they might appear to be of similar mindset. The vote belongs to the one casting it, regardless of what effect it might have on the ambitions of the better connected party members.

    5. Josh SN Says:

      Hey Howard,

      First, I am against IRV, or any non-monotonic system. Schulze or Tideman beat IRV hands down for both simplicity (explaining it to the voter) and common sense results (fewer crazy results).

      So, I am going to defend Nader. I bet IRV is the Green party position, but that he barely understands what it really means. That Nader doesn’t know Duverger’s Law, and that the phrases “beat path” and “winning margins” mean nothing to him. As such, he avoids the issue not because he doesn’t support the issue, but instead because it is a topic he knows very little about.

    6. Howard Says:


      This requires some context. I consider Ralph a hero, as evidenced by my listing him as such on my website. I also was a huge supporter of him in past years. My inclination has been to defend him to great lengths. What finally started to shift my opinion was in 2004 when I asked him myself why he doesn’t speak about election reform more often and he dodged my question. Since then I have repeatedly urged him and his campaign to do it and they have not taken any action on it. Given that Ralph is wise enough to know that the system is blocked to third parties mostly by our plurality system, yet he doesn’t work to change that system, it raises serious contradictions. And no, this is not my “first inclination”. This is a stance it took me years to begrudgingly come to. This is quite obvious as, even in this post, I link to my essay “Fix the System, Don’t Blame Nader” where I was a staunch defender of his run.

      Furthermore, if Ralph would simply start addressing this issue, I would be very open to changing my mind again. So far, ever since 2004, every move he has made has confirmed the sad conclusion I had come to.

      I’m very familar with Crashing the Party and even wrote a huge review of it.

      Would it be easy to marginalize Nader on electoral reform? To me that’s a backwards question. He is marginalized, as all third party candidates (other than those with a billion dollars in their pockets) will be as long as we don’t have electoral reform.

      Yes we do need IRV (or any of the other much better majority systems) to see where the true feelings of the public lie. Otherwise voters remain split between their hearts and their minds. And election experts know from vast experience that plurality systems inevitably lead to duopolies. It’s quite well documented. You simply don’t get flourishing multi-party systems in a plurality election framework, and I’m sure Nader is aware of that, as well. Heck, Nader spoke at the Claim Democracy Conference which was devoted to exactly these kinds of issues.

      I agree, promoting IRV is not a way to win the presidency. And that’s exactly the point. If Nader would use his enormous platform to build awareness of the many local and state movements for election reform, he could help build a real platform that in the future could actually bring change for third parties. By doing what he’s doing now, he cannot and will not do that. He will both not win the presidency and will not help third parties in the long run.

      Keep in mind, I’m not saying he should not talk about other issues. But when he is directly asked about “spoiling” and doesn’t even take that opportunity to address the issue, he comes across as very disingenuous and, yes, self-serving. He seems more concerned with defending himself personally as to whether he spoiled in a particular race than about the overall issue of the possibility of spoilers in general. And that is not in keeping with his stated stance as being an advocate for a flourishing multi-party democracy.

    7. Howard Says:


      The reason Ralph opposes these reforms - or at the very least conspicuously refrains from talking about them very often - is that I believe he sees the potential spoiler phenomenon as a source of leverage for him. After all, if he didn’t have the potential to pull votes - or at least if he wasn’t perceived as such - would people pay any attention to him? All of his platform to speak comes from people’s awareness that he could be at least one factor in changing the dynamic in a way that in a majority system he couldn’t do.

      And this is exactly the selfishness of his stance. He would rather benefit from a flaw in the election system personally and for the short-term than change the system to a better one in the long run that might cost him some personal attention now.

      This is not just speculation. I asked him in person in 2004 why he didn’t speak about IRV, during a time I was coordinating a campaign for IRV and would have loved him to bring some attention to the issue to support us, and he said because then nobody would listen if not for the threat that exists within our current system. Furthermore, I’ve contacted many members of his campaign and have yet to have single person ever explain to me his reason for not speaking about this. I’m here and more than happy to discuss it with anyone. Their silence is deafening.

      The spoiler effect is not a particular charge of one candidate against another. It’s a very well-documented phenomenon that happens in plurality systems. We need to stop personalizing the issue and look at it simply as a mathematical issue. It is a simple fact that in a plurality system, vote-splitting does happen when two candidates who are similar run against one who is not as similar.

      Tom, you are interpreting me as saying “Nader is a spoiler”. That is not what I’m saying. I’m saying our election system is the spoiler in that it allows for multiple factors to cause a person to win that the majority don’t want whenever more than two candidates run. The loser is the voters. Voters right now cannot express their full preference. Furthermore, I am not saying that in any given election there is necessarily even one person who is a “spoiler”. The spoiler issue is a phenomenon in which, simply put, for a variety of reasons the candidate that most people would prefer does not get elected because a majority is not needed to win.

      So in order to perhaps depolarize the issue, let’s look at it this way. Everyone who is speaking with integrity should be able to agree that the best system is the one in which the most voters are the most pleased with who wins. Mathematically what we have now is far from that. IRV is far better at producing that outcome, and some other systems may be even better than IRV.

      So my question is, if Nader realizes that there are systems that are much more likely to get the best outcome for the most voters, why isn’t he fighting for it?

      Let me finish by saying I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong. And I welcome anyone who can bring me evidence that I am wrong. That would look like Nader or his campaign explaining why this issue, so important, is left off the table even though they realize that that the obstacles to third parties are the things that keep so many issues off the table in elections, and they focus on some of the other obstacles, but not this one which is the biggest one of all. If you can bring me such evidence, I will be happy to look at it.

    8. Howard Says:


      IRV is better than what we have now, but I’m perfectly open to other systems, which is why I mentioned Approval and Range voting. What I’d like ideally is just an open experimental approach where we try different systems and find the ones that work best. But any of them is better than plurality. The fact that we bicker more over which better system to use than we do over the desperate need to change to any of the better systems is very ineffective. I’m open to examining the systems you proposed and any others. Let’s open up the dialogue about all of the systems out there in which “spoilers” can’t even happen…and let Nader use his bullhorn to start the discussion.

      Nader listed IRV as part of his platform in his 2004 run. Nader spoke at the Claim Democracy Conference that Fairvote held. Nader was approached by me in person about IRV in 2004. He has had ample opportunity to be exposed to IRV and the man is a genius who understands every other political issue on this planet. If I can understand IRV, so can he. I’m not buying ignorance as an excuse for Nader on this, especially since there are any number of us more than happy to explain it to him if that was the case.

      If Nader is avoiding the topic because he doesn’t know enough about it, then I’ll be glad to explain it. I’ve explained it to middle schoolers and they understood. We explained it to the good people of Ferndale and they understood. I’m sure I could help Ralph Nader understand it. And I’ve written him and his campaign and approached him in person. What’s clear to me is that he doesn’t want to hear about it.

      But I wouldn’t insult Nader by pretending to need to teach him these things. The man is a towering intellect and I assure you he knows full well the role of the plurality system in what is going on. Quite the contrary to not understanding it, he is using that system to get himself a platform, which is understandable. The tragedy is that he doesn’t then use that platform to address fixing the flaw.

      Thanks for the comment.

    9. Josh SN Says:

      Only a handful of people on Earth have the mathematics background required to do what you attribute to Nader. By the way, as old as he is, he really can’t be considered a towering intellect anymore. Wisdom comes with age, that he has, but intelligence fades with age, which is why scientists don’t accomplish much after about 35 (younger if they get married).

      He simply is ignorant, as almost all of us are, of the mathematical implications.

      The two ways to go about it are to promote (your favorite system here) at the local level, or have Congress give the NAS the task of getting a definitive answer.

      There’s another reason why it is difficult for a third party to support alternative voting methods. It appears self-serving. Heck, it is self-serving. The fact that it also serves the public, well, that might appear secondary to the cynical minded among us, and surely there are those.

    10. Howard Says:


      It took Isaac Newton to mathematically explain the details of gravity. But everyone knew about gravity and understood the basics of how it worked.

      Does every person have to have a degree in economics to be basically intelligent about spending money?

      The same is true here. You don’t need a Ph.D. in statistics to see that our system right now doesn’t work when only 2 people run. It’s wonderful that the few who can do the math can do exact studies of every detail. But we can all see clear as day that a plurality system does not allow people to express their full choice on the candidates and leads to vote-splitting. And as I said - and this wasn’t exaggerating - many of us have explained these election reforms to middle schoolers and they understood them quite well in a matter of minutes. It’s insulting to claim Nader can’t understand how IRV or approval voting or range voting work because he’s too old. I believe you’re really stretching here to maintain a particular image of him you are hesitant to give up.

      I can relate because, as someone who still sees him as a hero, it was hard for me too to accept his unconstructive side, displayed most of all by this issue. But over the last four years, the evidence, some of it from direct personal contact, became too overwhelming to ignore.

      I’m sorry but the argument that Nader’s failure to speak about election reform is due to his inability to understand it doesn’t hold water. That is a tremendous stretch, especially given that his explanation of why he wasn’t a “spoiler” in 2000 is far more detailed and arcane than any explanation of IRV ever was.

      Many of us are promoting these reforms at the local levels. Just as local campaigns are aided by people with name recognition coming in to help bring support, same here. This isn’t an either/or. What is frustrating is that Nader is ignoring and not speaking up for those of us who do exactly that local work. He should be bringing attention to them and helping them because they are the ones truly working to bring about a system in which third parties can thrive while he fails to speak about the issues that could actually open up the system.

      The argument that Nader can’t support election reform because it’s self-serving is also hard to swallow given that it is his not supporting it that is obviously self-serving. It completely serves Nader to run within this system where, due to the threat of spoiling, he can have a huge impact with only a tiny bit of support - a much bigger impact than proportionally he could have based on his actual support. In a fair election system, if Nader had 10% support, he’d get the kind of coverage Ron Paul gets now. In this system, with only 2% support in one key swing state, he can be all over the news. Now that is self-serving. Promoting election reform would be putting the good of the people above his own in the short term so that in the long run our system could be better.

    11. Josh SN Says:

      Let’s pretend you explained it to Ralph, and he nodded and understood. That wouldn’t mean he would be competent to answer questions from me about it, surely you can see that.

      Perhaps someone once went up to Ralph and asked “Don’t other methods, like Tideman or Schulze, avoid the ‘push-over effect’ that makes IRV a bogus system?” I know your middle schoolers can’t answer that question. I’m guessing Ralph can’t either.

      By the way, the math isn’t statistics, it is the Social Choice branch of Game Theory. Kenneth Arrow proved the most important conclusion, which was that there was no perfect voting system. Like there is no perfectly efficient engine, still, some engines are better than others.

      I know Ralph is either a) not as smart as you say, or, as I said, b) someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about voting systems. I think he’s far more concerned with less technocratic issues, like health care and war.

      It is simply impossible for an expert in the field to come to the conclusion that IRV is the way to go. For a variety of historical reasons, it happens to be the first alternative (to first-past-the-post) that most people come across.

      As to why he isn’t promoting IRV, your point that it is self-serving to be the spoiler is well taken. Thanks for opening my eyes there.

      Please make sure only to promote Condorcet and monotonic systems, and why not throw in “independence from clones” while you are at it?

      All the links here:
      show that IRV isn’t really taken seriously by the people who spend the time to make whole websites about voting systems. You’ll find that other systems, which are simpler for the voter to understand, are also far less susceptible to strategic (insincere) voting. Join the public-serving “Josh is right” campaign (just made up now) and get off the IRV bandwagon.

      k? thx.

    12. Jack Says:

      Thanks for stopping by TDP earlier.

      Ralph’s silence on IRV can be frustrating, but at the end of the day, I think he realizes a theoretical likelihood deduced from the premise of politicians’ self-interest: changes to party systems precede changes to voting systems. So in that sense, his omission of IRV is irrelevant.

      But, I agree, it would be nice to see him talk about the reform at the same time he makes life hard from the reform’s beneficiary. Just in case there is a chance that Democrats don’t know about IRV - something I doubt, but a possibility we should not preclude.

    13. Howard Says:


      It is very interesting that you defend Nader’s not talking about these systems by claiming the reason is that he couldn’t answer every single academic question about the issue. By that logic, no candidate could talk about any issue until they knew every subject at the level of a Ph.D. in that subject. That is not how it works. It is their job to surround themselves with advisors who can help with the details and to know the basic issues around their policies. And there are plenty of us who would be more than happy to sit down with Nader and explain these election systems at whatever level necessary. If your claim is that he can’t intellectually understand them, then for me that would rule him out as presidential material. This is something that should be taught in school right along with the three branches of government.

      Furthermore, Nader, McCain and Obama all have endorsed IRV. Obama put through a bill in the IL legislature for it. Do you think Obama can answer the questions you mentioned?

      If the standard for supporting any measure is that you have to know every single detail of the measure that a Ph.D. in that field would know, nobody in politics could support anything. This is a real stretch to try to defend Ralph with this argument, especially since, as I said, he had listed IRV on his site during his last campaign. So either he listed it without understanding it or he understands it and doesn’t talk about it. Either way, something is off and he needs to be asked the hard questions about that.

      And hopefully that is where we can agree. The media should press him on the issue and make him explain himself one way or another. We shouldn’t have to speculate on this. Let him tell us why, in plain English, he isn’t speaking about these issues.

      Saying the field isn’t statistics but game theory is similar to saying the field isn’t math but physics. Physics uses math and game theory uses statistics, which itself uses math. In fact the wikipedia page on Game Theory says it is a branch of applied mathematics.

      You are correct, there is no perfect voting system. Plurality is one of the worst. IRV, range and approval voting are all better in terms of more voters being more pleased with the outcome.

      If Ralph doesn’t understand voting systems, as you claim, then, given the role he is playing, he - as well as the other candidates - should be obligated to learn about them. This is a basic civics issue in America. If you’re going to run for office, you should understand the election system. I don’t want a president who doesn’t understand how our election system works.

      I repeat, IRV is just one option, better than what we have now, but I’m happy to have any of the better choices out there if they are better. The first, most important thing we must promote is awareness that we need a majority system. If our bickering over which one is the best stops us from making any change at all, that is incredibly self-destructive. Improve the system and, if need be, continue improving it. Refusing to improve it because we might only improve it 20% instead of 50% is mindless.

    14. Howard Says:


      Nader is famous for talking about the importance of shining a spotlight on the many good solutions happening in little pockets across America but not getting enough attention. Election reforms like IRV are an example of that, and he should speak about them to help build that movement. What’s really suspicious, besides his not talking about it during presidential campaigns, is that in all of his many organizations, does he have a single one dedicated to helping support those of us working for such reforms? He must understand such reforms are the gateways to all of the other reforms he wants. But he expends no energy inside or outside the presidential arena helping bring his clout to those issues.

      The other problem I have is that not only is he not talking about these reforms, but he is also giving very disingenuous answers when the “spoiler” issue comes up. He spends his time giving detailed explanations of why he didn’t spoil while ignoring the more important fact, which is undeniably true, that voters are placed in a real dilemma in this system, one that is uncomfortable for them. Where is Ralph in addressing this voter issue? Where is Ralph to speak up for voters who feel trapped between voting with our hearts or our minds, forced to make a very unpleasant and unfair decision.

      This is ultimately probably my biggest problem of all with this issue with him. Where he could be such a great voice for the voter, he instead invalidates and ignores the concerns of the millions of us who feel trapped within this voting system into narrow choices by ignoring the very real bind that we are in. When asked about the “spoiler” issue, he deals with it as a personal insult to him, rather than a very valid question having to do with the accurate sense that many voters have of being forced into an unfair decision within this system that is not unlike the old question “Did you stop beating your wife? Answer only yes or no.”

    15. Clay Shentrup Says:

      IRV is has too much Bayesian regret to be an acceptable system. And considering it’s conduciveness to fraud, and the fact that it increases ballot spoilage rates by a factor of 7, I do not think it can be called an improvement over our current system, when you factor all those things together.

      Range Voting is incredibly simple and intuitive, and can be done on all standard voting machines, and achieves superior Bayesian regret:

      Approval Voting is just the simplest form of Range Voting, and is also excellent.

    16. Josh SN Says:


      I’m saying Nader is a normal human. If someone asked him about Bayesian regret, he’d look stupid, and he likes to avoid that. If someone asks him a detailed question on an issue important to him (something he’s taken a lot of his life to study) he’d have plenty to talk about.

      You’ve thrown up straw men, displayed a woeful lack of knowledge of voting systems, and on top of that you came up with that factually incorrect defense of your use of the word statistics. Couldn’t just admit you were wrong? The fact that they are both applied mathematics doesn’t fix it. Horses and fish are animals, but only horses are mammals.

      If Obama, McCain and Nader support IRV it is because they don’t know enough to talk knowledgably on the topic. It’s patently absurd.

      It’s like there you are trying to invent the wheel, and you have this square, and you are happy. I’m saying “nearly round” exists.

      Range Voting is another example of a bad voting system, since it is so susceptible to burying. Beatpath or Winning Margins (is that Schulze and Tideman, I’m not that much of an expert) are the only ones you should look at.

    17. Josh SN Says:

      Bayesian Regret has been shown to be the only important quality? No. There are lots of qualities.

      Range Voting is trivially susceptible to burying. I have a hard time believing that someone would support that for a real election (college football rankings are a special case, a small community, where it works).

      That said, there seems to be a proof on that site that the Condorcet methods I have always liked (based on this) are not monotonic. If they are not, then, well, it still won’t be IRV or monotonic.

      And Clay’s claim about ballot spoilage is entirely based on the fact that it is new to people. That’s further support for getting it started at local levels first.

    18. Howard Says:


      If Nader avoids a crucial issue because he doesn’t want to look stupid he has no business running for president. Beyond that, Nader seems obviously less concerned about his image among the public than anyone. None of these defenses hold much water. You seem to me to be stretching remarkably to try to defend something indefensible. Ralph has an obligation as a candidate to be informed about and to address issues. If he can’t address it, then let that be known. It is the media’s job to ask him the questions and if that exposes ignorance on his part, so be it. I don’t believe there is any ignorance involved here. But whether he is ignorant as you say or avoiding the issue as I say, the media should press him on it so we can find out which one it is. They should not let him avoid the topic and should not avoid it themselves.

      Instead of defending Nader and the media for not talking about this, how about join the debate and help educate us all about the systems you believe are best. You obviously agree that we aren’t using the best system. You yourself have listed two better ones. So how about joining us in pressing for these better systems to become widely known and for the media to focus on them and stop ignoring these crucial issues.

    19. Josh SN Says:

      Keep agitating for the methods you like. I’ll keep agitating for mine.

      And, like I said, when it comes down to it being used in Federal elections, the Congress has little choice but to pass the problem on to the National Academy of Sciences, and if they take less than a half decade it would seem like light speed.

      Most people don’t want to look stupid. George Walker Bush has a different issue, he never wants to look wrong. People have quirks. People who pride themselves on their intelligence have different quirks that other types of people. If Nader took a serious look at voting systems, he’d find that different people say different things about what is best. He is in no position to resolve the issue for everyone else. Knowing that he is ignorant of the answer, it isn’t something he, an intellectual, chooses to emphasize.

      I have to say that, compared to global warming, foreign affairs, certain domestic issues like health care and immigration, or the fiscal affairs of the US Government, the voting system lacks a lot. It isn’t sexy, it doesn’t (directly) kill anyone, and it won’t put more money in your pocket. And, if you hadn’t noticed, it really opens things up for third parties, so neither of the big two parties see much utility in supporting it. That, combined with the fact that to explain it _with_caveats_ (like the Range Voting site, or this one) requires specialized use of symbols and a lot of jargon.

      And for what? To make the system more accurately express the will of the public? Some people are bound to remember that 60% of Americans don’t believe in any evolution, and think people appeared just as they are now less than 10K years ago (even Intelligent Design people believe in evolution, they just say an intelligent force was behind the changes). Or that 80% of them believe in angels, ghosts and demons? On more practical matters, how many believe Saddam was behind 9/11? Or that al-Qaeda in Iraq is really al-Qaeda (hint: they aren’t getting their orders from the ‘real’ al-Qaeda and lots of the anti-Sawha types know that all you have to do is go up to a US soldier and point and say ‘al-Qaeda’ and you have one less problem in the world, and that Sawha types encourage three or four guys to say ‘yes, that guy’s al-qaeda’ so they look good and they get their insurgent friends off). (Sorry, check this out).

      So, when asked, I will say I support the NAS looking into it. And getting back to the American people within a decade. And I support communities and localities and even States experimenting with alternative voting systems.

    20. SystemsThinker Says:


      The difference isn’t in which methods we agitate for. I have repeated several times that I think any of the methods are better than plurality and we can decide which ones are best in which places. The difference I’m pointing out is that I am indeed agitating - pushing for Nader and the press and the other candidates to talk about this - while you are defending his reasons for not talking about it. Indeed, we should both be agitating for these methods and pushing for them to be discussed widely. I hope you’ll join in doing that.

      States can implement these mesasures for federal elections right now. Congress and the Academy of Sciences need not be involved at all.

      If Nader chooses how he looks over important issues then he is not fit to be president and we should not support him. It is strange that you are saying things like that as defenses of Nader rather than criticisms.

      You are correct that the leverage points aren’t sexy, yet they are in fact the leverage points. This is the very point I make in this post under the section called The Unemotional Center of an Emotional Spider-Web.

      As for your other comments, if you don’t trust the people to have the vote because you believe they are too ignorant to vote wisely, then basically you are saying you don’t want a democracy. That’s fine and you are entitled to that. But that’s another debate entirely. The issue with Ralph Nader is he claims he does want a democracy, yet isn’t focusing on democracy reforms.

      I’m glad that you support the people working on these issues. My complaint is that Ralph Nader isn’t doing so, while claiming that his major cause is opening up the system to more voices and choices. That is a contradiction in his words and deeds.

    21. Clay Shentrup Says:


      Range Voting is superior to Condorcet methods, especially when strategic exaggeration (0’s and 10’s for Range Voting, burial for ranked methods) is taken into account:

      Tideman’s strategy resistance figures are seriously flawed. The flaws have been pointed out to him.


    22. Clay Shentrup Says:


      Continuing, yes, Bayesian regret is the “only important quality” in that it is the sum of the combined effect of all a voting methods flaws. It is the difference in voter satisfaction between the candidate they got, and the candidate who would have maximized their happiness (the most representative candidate).

      Strategic voting is an issue for all deterministic voting methods, including Condorcet methods:

      As for ballot spoilage rates, IRV has been used in Australia for decades — it is not “new to people”.

    23. Brian Shapiro Says:


      To me, elections are not about winning and losing.

      There was a lot of complaint about Gore winning the popular vote while losing the electoral vote, and blame of Nader for that. Well, its not more clear that Gore won the national vote than the vote in Florida. The difference between Gore and Bush was about 0.4% wasn’t it. So if there were a national recount, that 0.4% could have swung the other way. The election could have also been different depending on what day it was held, or whether it was raining in some states or not. A meaningful election is not cheering a 50% + 1 vote win.

      A meaningful election is where there is a clear mandate from the people.

      If you lean left, like Nader, and you support the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate, you also have to ask what the Democratic candidate will be able to accomplish in office, if he isn’t able to win with a ’spoiler’ in the race. He probably will not be able to push through his leftist agenda. A Republican candidate probably will not be able to push through a rightist agenda.

      So, it comes down to, either way, what vote you think will achieve more. You can think McCain is so horribly bad on commander-in-chief issues because of the war that you support Obama. But the war issue has narrowed down into dumb rhetorical issues about timetables for pullout anyway. Everyone says they’ll get out of Iraq, and everyone says they’ll do it at the right time. Do you think its clear which is better on Iran?

      Still, you may think thats an important issue. Or you might think its more important to support Nader in challenging barriers for third parties.

      Nader’s bottom line, I think, is that he wants the voters to make up their own mind on this; and to trust their ability to rank their own priorities right. His view is the Democratic candidate shouldn’t complain, because his job is to work to win those votes, because he has no ‘right’ to Nader’s votes.

      Sometimes the issue of being a ’spoiler’ doesn’t even make sense. Some people claimed Perot was a spoiler. Ignoring that exit polls never bore this out, and assuming its right, wouldn’t Perot have had equal reason to call Bush a spoiler? Perot could have easily made the case that if Bush dropped out, he could have won. Thus, the spoiling is as much Bush’s fault as Perot’s. In fact some exit polls showed that Perot could have won the election of people voted for their first choice. But people talked as if Bush had more ‘right’ to be in the race than Perot, so thus, Perot should have been the one to drop out.

      This same situation somewhat repeated with Romney and Huckabee, with Huckabee angrily snapping back that Romney should drop out. It was assumed Huckabee only appealed to evangelicals, but he was one time leading national polls and coming second in California behind Giuliani. As the media narrative was written, it became too late for him to prove himself.

      Nader, of course, I don’t think, could ever get as much support as the Democratic candidate, but he could have a good showing, that would secure a third party ballot access and matching funds. Wouldn’t a lot of people on the left like that, more than some luke-warm Democratic term? They could start making inroads into government.

      I think this is why Nader talks about third party candidates being “second class candidates”. There is no reason why third party candidates should be considered as less deserving to run than major party candidates. Voters need to make their own decisions.

    24. Riverwolf Says:

      Howard, thanks for visiting my site and posting about Nader. I don’t know a lot about the alternative voting/election proposals, so this gives me lots to ponder–which is a good thing, since it keeps me out of trouble. Thanks for shedding more light (and deepening the mystery) on Nader.

    25. SystemsThinker Says:


      You start off by giving Nader’s classic argument about whether he spoiled. To me it’s a straw man. First of all, with many other third party candidates in the race in Florida, it isn’t a matter of any one person spoiling, but rather a “spoiler effect” that is embedded in the system. All of those factors contribute to a “spoiled election,” one in which most people didn’t get the winner they would have preferred. Secondly, what Nader should be focusing on is the possibility of spoiled elections in our system, not whether he happened to be part of that or not in a particular race. To me that’s like arguing whether in a particular case a car crashed or not, while ignoring the bigger problem - that cars were designed in ways that allowed lots of crashes. He is focusing on his own personal case and ignoring the general problems of the system that he should be addressing.

      I don’t deny that what you say is true - a candidate who can’t overcome another similar candidate in the race may not have as clear of a mandate. That doesn’t override for me the better case of having more people more pleased with the winner they get. In other words, I don’t think that one pro - putting more pressure on the winner to get a bigger mandate - warrants the huge possibility of a person winning that most people do not want to win (which happens a significant percentage of the time in our current system).

      You said:
      -”Nader’s bottom line, I think, is that he wants the voters to make up their own mind on this; and to trust their ability to rank their own priorities right.”

      That’s exactly what I want. But our system doesn’t allow voters to rank their priorities. It forces them to pick only their absolute highest priorities while their second, third and fourth priorities are not listened to at all. If you were choosing a pizza with your friends, you’d never use a system like that where you all can only say your absolute favorite choice and not throw in “but you know if none of you like pepperoni and we have to get something else, then my second priority would be mushroom.” It’s intuitively obvious in that situation that too many people risk being unhappy with the final choice if only their top priorities are factored in and not their other preferences.

      Your Perot example hits on my point again that we need to stop thinking of a particular person as a “spoiler” and think more in terms of the “spoiler effect” that happens in the election in terms of the outcome in which most people are unhappy with the winner. That is something that should never happen and objectively happens often when we have three or more candidates in a race using a plurality system. It’s not a personal issue, it’s an issue in the type of outcome that the system allows to happen.

      And I agree the Romney/Huckabee and Perot situations are just more on the list in which it’s highly likely voters did not get that candidate that most of them would have preferred. If we have several systems that can ensure that doesn’t happen, then every candidate who cares about the will of the people should be talking about this issue. But it’s especially hypocritical for Nader not to do so since he explicitly says he is running to enable more voices and choices.

      As far as matching funds and ballot access, this is just another case where Nader’s failure to speak out makes little sense in terms of his stated desires. I have no doubt that, if not for the plurality system and the “spoiler effect,” there are 5% of people in America who would absolutely support Nader. In other words, in this system, many people who truly do support his views still don’t become supporters. So we don’t have a true measure of his support. With a fair election system in which voters didn’t feel conflicted over stating their true views, Nader would then qualify for matching funds and ballot access much more easily - as he should.

      Let’s sum it up this way. Nader is correct that third party candidates have every right to run. That isn’t my concern. My concern is the contradiction between Nader claiming he is running to help build a robust democracy with multiple voices, and then not doing the things that accomplish that. In the end, this isn’t about even the third parties, certainly not about Nader himself, it’s about the voters. The voters deserve a system where at least the majority of people are happy with the winner. As long as we don’t have that, how can Nader claim to be the voice of the people, while doing nothing to change that situation?

    26. Brian Shapiro Says:


      You make a case for changing the voting system, but I think barring Nader proposing that, he’s right about taking the issue off him being a ’spoiler’.

      I think in Perot’s situation, Perot didn’t really spoil at all, according to all indications. And what hurt him was just the rhetoric of being a ’spoiler’ that was unfounded.

      Often what candidates do when they claim another candidate to be a ’spoiler’ is they try a divide-and-conquer strategy.

      Even in 1992, it wasn’t believed that Perot hurt Bush more, it was generally believed that Perot hurt Clinton more; although some late polls, after Perot’s re-entry, were starting to show more of a split. Either way, Bush couldn’t have expected to get a high enough percentage of Perot’s votes to push him over the top.

      But it was a divide-and-conquer strategy to get as many of his votes as possible. Republicans after the election sought to blame Perot, because it was an easy excuse to why they lost, they didn’t have to own up to the fact that they lost because the public didn’t want to re-elect Bush. The same reason Democrats like to blame Nader, because it was an excuse to them, and they didn’t have to own up to mistakes of their own.

      Likewise, polls have shown, despite conservative griping, conservative Republicans favor McCain, and he held wide margins of support that couldn’t be overcome once he had a surge and became seen as electable.

      My opinion is that, in most cases ,the perception of something being spoiled is due to divide-and-conquer rhetoric that isn’t true.

      You do make a well supported case for changing the voting system to avoid this type of perception.

      But my view is that a lot of the problem could be solved through other election reforms, because it would break the type of politics where we have become accustomed to appealing to two pre-fabricated coalitions.

      If conservatives really had a problem with the direction the Republican Party was going, they could start their own party without fearing it would be political suicide. I worked with the Reform Party in the 90s, and we received communication from different Congressmen and Senators that they wanted to jump ship and switch parties, but knew about all the obstacles and were afraid they would risk their careers.

      But politics is about electing coalitions that could actually govern, and that may be one argument against range voting. You can say the current election process, which selects some candidates over others due to strategic votes, is a dynamic process of coalition building that involves the voters. It ensures to voters that the party in power is actually capable of governing, because its power depends on coalitions built in the voting process. We aren’t, after all, a parliamentary system, where coalitions are usually built after people are voted in, rather than before.

      Opening the balloting and participation process could address a lot of the pitfalls of our system without voting reform.

      Still, I’m aware of the fact that arguing for voting reform could get people on board supporting ballot access reform and opening up debate participation, because they don’t have to worry about the perception that minor party candidates will just spoil the election.

      I’m not necessarily against voting reform either, I just think other types of reform are more important.

    27. SystemsThinker Says:

      I have no problem with Nader defending himself against being a “spoiler” if he doesn’t do it by trying to ignore that there is a problem with the “spoiler effect”. I would have no problem with him saying “Yes there is a problem with spoiled elections, but it isn’t due to any particular person being a spoiler, but rather the whole structure of the system that allows plurality winners.” Instead, his response makes voters who accurately feel torn and conflicted about their votes feel invalidated and that he isn’t really addressing their concerns as real.

      I already addressed the Perot issue by pointing out that it isn’t about an individual being a spoiler, but the potential for a “spoiled election”. We need to stop talking about this as a particular preson being a spoiler and talk simply about the fact that our current system doesn’t work well in many cases where more than two candidates run. It is missing the point to argue about who spoiled. The point is that the entire setup leads to a non-majority winner. We need a new system that never allows non-majority winners.

      We certainly agree that changing this issue is not the only change needed. We need more, many of which I talk about on my political issues section.

      Your example of Republicans fearing jumping to the Reform party again proves why we need these changes. We have a system that stifles people from expressing their true views. As far as building coalitions, one of the best benefits of preferential voting systems is that it leads to a lot of cooperation in which candidates can agree to encourage their supporters to put a particular candidate as a second or third choice or to also approve of them if they come to agreements on certain issues. So this is an argument for changing the system, not keeping the current one, which leads to polarization, not coalitions.

      I don’t see how opening up ballot access and debates addresses this particular issue though. In fact, the more candidates on the ballot and the more candidates widely heard, the more chance you have of a spoiled election, not less. The more people that are in the process, the more important it becomes to have a system that deals well with multiple candidates. And our current system is one of the worst you can have for dealing with that. These things are all a package deal. They intertwine. Having greater debate access and ballot access without a majority system leads to more problems, not less. Having a majority system without debate and ballot access makes it pointless to have the majority system. These things are all connected.

      But I believe that until we have a majority system where people even feel free to truly support who they want, and express their other preferences as well, you can never get the true measure of who people want to see in debates, who really deserves public funding, etc.

    28. Josh SN Says:


      you claim “we can decide which ones are best in which places” but I can tell you are not qualified to decide, and I know I am not, and the best people in the field bicker incessantly.

      You know what’s funny about IRV? If we were picking ice cream, 49 want vanilla and 49 want chocolate and 2 want slug (or worse!) then the tie breakers are the ones with the worst taste. Why let them be the tie breakers? ;)

      Clay, your extension of Black’s single peaked theorem sounds interesting.

      Plurality is easier to explain than approval. “Pick one, the one with the most wins.” It is a few words shorter than “Pick as many as you want, the one with the most wins.” Mathematicians can be so silly sometimes.

      Clay, I have other things to say. You are wrong about 1860. Lincoln would have won the national electoral college. He won every state he won, except California and Oregon, with over 50%. The 7 electoral votes(total) for California and Oregon couldn’t have made a difference. I have more about all the US Presidential elections here.

    29. Howard Says:


      When I said “we can decide which ones are best in which places” I meant the people in each community or state can decide for themselves. I didn’t mean we meaning you and I should decide for everyone. This is basic democracy. Let the people in each jurisdiction look at the merits and decide for themselves which of the many systems out there they prefer, including plurality if that is what they choose in an informed manner. They all have pros and cons. The problem now is few people even realize there are alternatives that are real and can be implemented. Perhaps one community prefers to elect its mayor using IRV, another with approval voting and another with range voting. That is for them to decide. And if at any point they decide they’d like to change, then they can change.

      That is a very misleading framing to say that the 2 with the “worst taste” are tiebreakers. What you really mean is the two that you feel have the worst taste. If they prefer slug, then that is their preference. It is not our place to judge their preference. It is their right to choose as they wish if you believe in democracy. If you think it is the place of the other 98 people - or you - to say that the 2 who prefer slug have bad taste and therefore are not fit to be heard just as loudly, then you simply do not believe in democracy. As I said in one of my previous comments, that is a debate that is valid and worth having but a separate debate.

      Nader claims to be in favor of populist and robust democracy. If you aren’t, that is not relevant to my point here. This isn’t a post about even my own personal desire for election reform though I do have that. This is about the contradiction between what Nader says are his goals and what he does.

    30. Clay Shentrup Says:


      Just because people bicker doesn’t mean they have legitimate reason to. Lots of creationists bicker that evolution isn’t scientific, but the facts say they’re wrong. Likewise, overwhelming empirical evidence says Range Voting is the best single-winner voting method, taking strategy-resistance and simplicity into account.

      As for the spoiler issue, I didn’t say anything about Lincoln, so you must be referring to a page I referenced. If you are disagreeing with this, then you have a big task on your hands of convincing experts in this field that you are right and they are wrong.

    31. Josh SN Says:

      We all agree that Hitler and Stalin were bad dudes. Let’s say it is 49% Lefty Lou and 49% Righty Ron and 2% Resurrected Hitler. Sorry, better and worse do exist. And just like most people aren’t qualified to decide the truth of either Intelligent Design v. Evolution and most people are completely unqualified to debate String Theory, most people aren’t at all qualified to talk about voting methods.

      I still think there are plenty of reasonable reasons why Nader isn’t making a big deal about of election reform. For example, your claim that it is self-serving for him to be a spoiler ignores the benefits he’d get from easily breaking 5% with any non-plurality method. Might be true, but I doubt it.

      He’s also kinda kooky. Did you see his mock debate with the little ken dolls? Off the reservation, ladies and gentlemen, off the reservation.

    32. Howard Says:


      If you don’t trust people to choose their own political system, then you don’t believe we should have democracy. As I said, that’s a valid opinion and you are welcome to it. But it has nothing to do with this post. This post is about a contradiction between what Ralph Nader claims he wants - multi-party democracy - and the actions he takes, or fails to take. We’re not debating here whether people should or should not choose their election system. We’re debating whether it is consistent for Ralph Nader to claim he believes in democracy and then not talk about core democracy reforms.

      You’re missing my point about the spoiler benefit issue. I have nothing against Nader benefitting from a change. There is nothing wrong with promoting a change that you benefit from or not promoting a change when you benefit from the status quo. The problem is when you benefit at the expense of others. Nader benefits right now from the spoiler effect in our system by reaping lots of attention and leverage at the expense of voters who are forced into an unfair double bind. With a fairer system, Nader would lose some of his attention, but gain some more actual support and voters would benefit from a system in which they can express their full choice. It is a win-win rather than a win-lose.

      I’m not sure what Nader’s “kookiness” has to do with this. The point is there is a contradiction between what he says and what he does and the media is not pressing him on the issue. Period. The bottom line of this post is that the media should ask him these questions. I don’t care why he refuses to answer or whether these systems are even good systems in his opinion. What I care about is that he is getting a free pass and not being forced to address the issue head on and say what he thinks, whatever it is.

    33. Clay Shentrup Says:

      re: lincoln

      Warren writes:
      Lincoln won due to the electoral college. If all his opponents Douglas,
      Breckinridge & Bell had magically merged into one, thus winning
      hugely in the popular vote versus Lincoln, then Lincoln still would have won
      the presidency because of the electoral college. He had the North
      and the North had the EVs.

    34. Josh SN Says:


      Yet another straw man. Just because I assert few people are qualified to debate String Theory or Neo-Darwinian Evolution _does_not_ mean I said people are unqualified to choose their leaders.


      Yeah, that’s what I was saying. The page that says Douglas might have won was from the RangeVoting site you kept citing. I thought it might be yours.

    35. Josh SN Says:

      The media is not pressing Nader on IRV? Please read, you’ll learn quickly how our National Press Corps is living in Versaille and are even more incompetent than our politicians to discuss technical matters like voting methods. And his kookiness does reflect on that, since his kookiness means the press isn’t likely to ask him very much at all, knowing it just gives him attention.

    36. Howard Says:


      So you believe both the media and politicians are incompetent to discuss technical matters like voting methods. Then you would agree with my point - we must push for improvement from both. I hope you’ll join in working toward that goal.

      Unfortunately, your argument doesn’t hold water with my experience given that all 3 of the likely candidates in the race have endorsed IRV, with Obama even himself sponsoring an IRV bill in the state Senate, and during our campaign for IRV in Ferndale, we got a tremendous amount of press coverage in print, television and radio.

      If Nader brought up the point or if we press the issue, it would indeed get talked about. It also was recently featured in Newsweek, etc.

      The issue is they aren’t pressing Nader on it, not that it’s never talked about at all.

    37. Brian Shapiro Says:


      The reason why ballot access and debate participation is important, is less about representation of parties that get 5%. Its about the fact that if our elections were more open, the Republican and Democratic parties would have collapsed a long time ago, because people would prefer centrists and new more centrist coalitions could be created, after some period of re-alignment. When I said, conservatives could leave McCain easier if there were better ballot access, I was equally saying that would be a good thing for McCain.

      In the 19th century the US didn’t have all of these obstacles, and there was a more dynamic electoral system, where state and local parties were different from national parties, and national politics would undergo a major re-alignment every few decades, as old issues were resolved and new issues would come up. The pre-fab coalitions today require candidates to pander to political machines and use money as their lifeline. What more open elections mean, is that our political system can be more flexible and less tied to machine politics, but instead, defined by real issues. That means that, because coalitions could shift, meaningless rhetoric would be marginalized, leaving pragmatic approaches to take precedence.

      Reforming the voting system isn’t something I’m against, and I think its just as important for those 5% parties to have a say in politics, because often they have new perspectives, and can confront and change the status quo. But if we had better ballot access and debate participation, these parties could get their voices out in public a lot easier.

      Still, if there is a good reform of voting methods, I’d readily support it.

      But there are two different political problems here, I think. The first is giving voice and representation to minor parties. But the second is, breaking away from a closed party system that doesn’t represent the public anymore.

      I think most probably the reason Nader hasn’t addressed voting reform issues is because he’s either not educated enough about it or isn’t sure that there is a particular system he would support.

    38. Clay Shentrup Says:

      Ballot access is irrelevant for third parties if the country uses a voting method that strategically forces two-party domination, as with plurality and IRV (and most single-winner methods).

    39. Brian Shapiro Says:


      Like I said that isn’t the issue i’m addressing. The issue I’m addressing is whether the two-parties that exist can break up and two new coalitions can be created. That’s how it was always done before obstructive ballot access laws. Whigs jumped boat and became Republicans, Republicans jumped boat and became Progressives, etc. Then, laws were put in place to restrict ballot access. Then the FEC was created to formalize the two-party system. And thats how 20th century politics became stagnant.

    40. Howard Says:


      I’m for all the measures you speak of and just see them as all interconnected. We should push for all of them. The thing is Nader does talk about all the other ones. That’s what makes his silence on this particular one so out of place to me.

      I am a little more suspicious of Nader on this than you are. I dont’ believe he’s ignorant and if he just isn’t sure which system to back, there are plenty of us willing to help him learn. Ignorance is no excuse. He has had almost a decade since the 2000 election to seek out information if he wanted it. And as I said, I’ve interacted with him in settings all about voting reform. I simply don’t buy that he doesn’t know about it and even if he doesn’t, I think it’s his responsibility to learn.

    41. Clay Shentrup Says:


      While the two-parties have changed names, our nation quickly became two-party dominated and stayed that way, and that’s because of our voting method, above all else. You could fix every other problem like ballot access and media attention, and you’d still have two-party domination. That’s because the strategy with plurality voting is to vote for your favorite of the front-runners. Since the two strongest parties from previous elections retain that power to the next elections, they are the presumptive front-runners, and the strategy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      If you look around the world to see which systems are two-party dominated and which have variety, it’s nearly universal that the voting method is the only consistent difference that can account for it.

    42. Josh SN Says:

      Ditto what Clay said.

      But I must repeat for a third time that almost no one in the US Congress, and similarly virtually no one in any State deliberative assembly, is competent to judge this matter. It seems to me to me that only a study on par with the 1929-1941 NAS study on apportionment. I recommend you read the report of the study as presented to Congress. It’s also interesting because, in 1941, issues like the lack of imports (specifically sugar) from Europe, as a result of the war, are in the Congressional Record on the same day. Look for “apportionment” in the index. I repeat, also, again, that Nader couldn’t possibly be an expert in the field. And that not being competent _and_ knowing that he isn’t competent is the kind of thing that prevents _wise_ people from opening their mouths about a topic.

      I wonder where we get with Range Voting with Open Ballots (your vote is public, pre-1892 in America). Montesquieu was against closed ballots, and I’m a big Montesquieu fan. Like so much else in America, things had to be changed because of the backward, violent nature of the southern white power structure. The trick with Borda-like systems is related to shame. That’s what prevents the coach of Louisiana State University from ranking Georgia(the likely #2) at the bottom. Without that, LSU wouldn’t rank Georgia as even #25, and Georgia’s coach wouldn’t bother rating LSU. It’s called burying, and is the fatal flaw with Borda.

      Sorry, Howard, if you think that was OT.

    43. Clay Shentrup Says:

    44. Clay Shentrup Says:

      The secret ballot was a horrendously stupid idea. Okay, so it prevents vote buying. But what’s easier to buy, 1000 voters or a corrupt election system that can steal 1000 votes? C’mon people, let’s get real.

    45. Howard Says:


      The problem with your argument is that whether they change the system or keep the status quo - both require judgment! Whether or not you think they are qualified to judge, they are judging. And choosing to say the system we have works is just as much a choice as is saying it doesn’t work. By not taking action, they are saying the current system is sufficient. So to the extent they are involved, they simply have to use the best judgment they can.

      Furthermore, these people rule everyday on all sorts of subjects on which they are not experts. They make laws affecting medicine, telecommunications, construction - all sorts of topics on which few, if any of them are experts. But they do the best they can to get informed and use their best judgment. You seem to be a perfectionist, thinking nothing can be done or said about something unless you are a complete expert. But that’s not how politics works. Each candidate and elected official has to address many topics to the best of their ability, none of which they are experts on. It’s their responsibility to learn. Ignorance is not an excuse for Nader. If he is ignorant, it is his responsibility to go get informed. Same with Congress. It’s odd that you defend their ignorance as an excuse, rather than a criticism.

      Furthermore, you seem to have ignored my statement that Congress need not be involved. Each state and community can decide, and in fact it can even be done by referenda directly by the people if they wish. If you feel people are not qualified to decide, then as I mentioned, valid argument, but you just don’t believe in democracy in that case. And yet again, for the millionth time, the issue here is Nader not being asked the question. He can answer however he wants, but he must be asked the questions.

    46. Josh SN Says:

      Well, expand my comment to say that if Vermont wants to do it, they shouldn’t just decide for themselves what method to use, because I think we both know the Vermont State Legislature is incompetent to decide for themselves. (I’ve spoken with a Vermont State Senator, an aide to the Vermont House Speaker, and legal counsel to the Vermont State Senate, myself, none of them seemed to know anything more than “IRV exists”).

      Well, surely there are dozens of math professors in Vermont, so if Vermont wants to change (I know, I know, they have) they should host some sort of summer conference for their experts and otherwise knowledgeable people and have them produce a report.

      If it is anything like what Clay does (no offense, your brightiness) they won’t be able to make heads nor tails of it.

    47. Jan BenDor Says:

      As an accredited election administrator, I have made a study of vote tabulation technology, and can state that optical scan tabulators do not have the computing power to handle IRV. They are 1970s technology with 256K of memory. There simply is not enough room for all the iterations required both for ballot design and tabulation.

      Because touch-screen voting devices are so thoroughly distrusted and hackable, states are replacing them with optical scan and paper ballots. When one city tried rank order voting on paper ballots in the early 70s, vote-counters took ten days to get a result.

      With these practical considerations, none of the election integrity groups that I am active with have put IRV in their top ten list of reforms. The feds spent millions on bad machines that we are stuck with, and the Help America Vote Act left us with an Election Assistance Commission made up of four political appointees beholden to the two dominant parties–not a group likely to authorize anything that would benefit third parties.

    48. Howard Says:


      How about taking a constructive approach then. If you feel these people are incompetent, rather than use it as an excuse for them, either make it your mission to educate them or raise their ignorance of the issue to pressure them to learn more about it. My experience differs from yours greatly. In Ferndale, we explained it to the city council and not only did they understand it, but they chose to put it on the ballot for us once they got it.

      You seem to have a vested interest in both believing that people can’t understand IRV - even brilliant people like Nader - and simultaneously in not then taking a constructive approach and working to help them understand it. If you feel we need to educate more, then we should be on the same side here. This post is about the fact that Nader should be pressured to understand these issues and should be asked about them, as should all the other candidates. Hopefully that puts this subject to bed.

    49. SystemsThinker Says:


      So what about San Francisco where IRV has been used now for a few years? What about Cambridge where they’ve used a form of STV for years? I have a hard time buying that the system can’t be used when it is. But beyond that, as you’ve seen, I’m not married to IRV. We have many good options, all better than plurality.

      If we use the excuse that current technology and officeholders are set up to help the two major parties as a reason not to push for the necessary changes to open up the system to more parties, we’d never get anything done. Does the fact that we have a strong military-industrial complex stop Nader from railing against the war? No, it makes him rail against the military-industrial complex. We - and he - should similarly rail against any limits on technology or biased office holders that leave us mired in a system that doesn’t work when more than two parties run for office.

      To me these aren’t excuses not to advocate, they are the very reasons to advocate. Thanks for the comment.

    50. Josh SN Says:


      Why do you think I was talking to all those people in Vermont’s State government? I was living right across the border at the time.

      Of course, you say your City Council (I’m a former Planning Board member myself, Woo Hoo!) understood the issue, but I’ll bet you a fifty that they don’t understand the strategies, criterion and other things that would convince them to put IRV, rather than Range Voting, or Schulze, on the ballot.

    51. SystemsThinker Says:


      I think our main difference here is you are after perfection, I’m after improvement. I don’t doubt that very few people understand every academic issue involved in the subtle distinctions between these systems. My point is, in order to make improvement, they don’t need to. If they don’t pick the absolute best system in existence, I can live with that, as long as they don’t continue using one of the absolute worst. Let’s work to move from plurality to something better. As we move, people will get more and more informed. Perhaps it will be our grandkids that then decide to move to an even better system as they will be more informed. We need to start moving in the right direction.

    52. Josh SN Says:

      I know Arrow’s Theorem well enough to say that perfection does not exist.

      I find IRV’s pushover effect to be too much of a problem to make it an acceptable choice. Therefore, I find popular efforts to push IRV to actually undermining the effort.

    53. SystemsThinker Says:


      I didn’t mean you were after a perfect election system. I mean you seem to be after perfect knowledge about all the systems before we’re allowed to try new ones. I am content with the public making their best educated decision, using a new system, and then changing as they learn more if they don’t like it. This is really how democracy is supposed to work. It’s supposed to be an experimental approach where we are allowed to try new things and adapt. The real problem is when we get so stuck in one habitual system that clearly has major problems and are so perfectionistic that we won’t try something new.

      Any new system we try, if it proves worse, we can continue to adapt. But there is no excuse to continue using plurality with a whole menu of better choices out there, simply because we’re afraid we may pick “the wrong” one. This is the case because if we pick the “wrong” one, in a mentality of adaptation and improvement, it isn’t a horrible setback. We simply keep working to improve. The reason this perfectionistic mindset takes hold is tied into the fear that comes from the current tone of being stuck in a system for so long. Change is very scary if you are used to being married to any bad system you end up in for 50 years. Change isn’t so terrible if you know that, if things don’t work, you can simply try something new.

      That’s how democracy is supposed to work. This discussion sometimes reminds me of an abused woman, used to being trapped in an unjust situation, who won’t leave because she’s afraid the next situation could be even worse. The plurality system is one that puts voters in a very unjust situation. But because we’re so afraid the alternative could be worse, we keep putting up with it. We need to get over that fear, try something new, and if that doesn’t work, keep trying new things until we find better ones.

    54. Clay Shentrup Says:

      I know Arrow’s Theorem well enough to say that perfection does not exist.

      That is NOT what Arrow’s theorem says!

      THEOREM: Any social choice function satisfying these 2 conditions must be a dictatorship or reverse-dictatorship (in both cases a single voter, the “dictator,” has total control over the voting system’s output-ordering, either by always getting his vote as the output of the voting system, or by always getting the reverse of his vote as the output of the voting system):

      1. The voting system does not always prefer some candidate A over some other B (regardless of the votes).
      2. The relative positions of A and B in the group ranking depend on their relative positions in the individual rankings, but do not depend on the individual rankings of any irrelevant alternative C (this is the same last condition as Arrow’s)

      And Arrow’s theorem only applies to rank-order voting methods, not cardinal methods like range voting.

    55. Jan BenDor Says:

      You can read the story of San Francisco’s attempt to implement ranked-choice voting using its ES&S optical scan machines at . That system simply could not handle the computing needed, and ultimately it took two years to kluge a method that still has not been unconditionally certified under federal standards. RCV races had to be placed on a separate ballot and could allow only three rank choices. This severely limits the whole concept, and the hand-counting required by the feds in the case of ties, adds a big cost to the process. The system cannot electronically tally more than one write-in candidate, and it cannot be tested in the normal public manner that most states require ahead of every election.

      The new California SOS, Debra Bowen, ordered a complete security review of all of California’s voting machines, and a large number were de-certified subsequently. I do not know if the SF modifications of the ES&S Eagle III and the Sequoia Optech IV were certified–I have their report and will check. The Diebold OS, the most primitive scan machine, flunks on security problems as well as lack of memory.

      I report these issues not to discourage advocacy, but to alert you to a very important barrier to change. If a State has 30-50% of its precincts using brand new $5,000-$7,000 federally funded machines that cannot handle any form of ranked voting, there will be a massive disincentive to considering an otherwise meritorious proposal. My state got $80 million to replace primitive machines with the same primitive but slightly newer machines. Now the state is looking at a $1 billion budget hole, and with a recession already in the works, better voting equipment is not on the horizon.

    56. Darren Says:

      Howard, I agree with you 100%. Im an advocate of range voting, but i agree..regardless of which method, its amazing that Nader doesn’t advocate some type of election reform to allow for a system where “spoiler” becomes an irrelevant term. If such a voting system were in place, doesn’t he realize he would get many more votes? Any 3rd party group that doesn’t have election reform on their list is insane.

      Honestly, i felt after Bush won in 2000, and even WITH Naders votes taking many votes away from Gore, Gore still won the popular vote. Dear Lord, when are we ever going to get rid of the Electoral college! We need to get rid of that as well, to even have range and IRV voting systems work as well. They wouldn’t play well with the Electoral college. But honestly, i thought for sure the Democrats after 2000, would finally push to get rid of that damn system. But i tell you…both sides ( Dems and Repubs) realize this archaic and moronic system keeps them in power forever. Sure it alternates, but it will always be one of the two. Why invite a 3rd or 4th group to their party? So they are happy with status quo. I can see why they want to keep it, but why wouldnt Ralph push this every time someone mentions “spoiler”.

      I was a big fan of Ron Paul during the primaries, and voted for him knowing that if range voting had been implemented in the primaries, he would have gotten FAR more many votes, and the numbers would have looked very different. These long shot pparties ( greens, libertarians, etc) need to really educate themselves and start pushing the alternative preferential voting systems out there. I have personally introduced about 15 people to range voting and how it works. Anyhow, its a sad situation. I feel like having a drink now! :(


    57. Howard Says:

      Jan, I’m very aware of the fact that the voting machines need to be compatible. In Ferndale, this remains the big holdup. But again, as you say, this isn’t a reason not to advocate, but an even stronger reason to advocate and another place that requires advocacy. They are all interconnected. Australia has used IRV for many years and I have talked to several Australians who all say it works beautifully there. One of them, a guy who was an election officer in Australia and happened to be in Michigan at the time, even came to one of our meetings during the Ferndale campaign just to tell us how well it works and give advice.

      The fact that the US uses excuses like this to avoid improving the system is a national disgrace.

      And to go back to my major point in this post, if the voting technology is another way we are being held captive to an unfair election system, Nader should be talking about that too if he truly is trying to open up the process.

    58. Howard Says:


      We certainly should get rid of the electoral college. But even within it, it’s still better to have a state’s electors going to a majority rather than a plurality winner. These things are all interconnected and the more of these reforms we make hand in hand, the more they all will benefit us. But I think the absolute most important - apart from public funding of elections - are getting rid of plurality systems and implementing proportional representation.

      Darren, cheer up :) You’re not alone. It can get depressing pushing for these measures when you feel alone. But lots of us are with you on this. We need to support each other and work as a group, not as individuals. And one of my biggest concerns is that those of us who want a change from plurality don’t divide ourselves so much by which change we want. If we do that, we will never get any change. If we band together on the common ground of changing from a plurality system to something else, then we can have a cordial discussion of which method to choose. And let’s not forget - it’s not our job to dictate to everyone what system to use. People in various communities can get educated and try the systems they like best. The important thing is that we start building an atmosphere of openness to change and experimentation and incremental, but constant improvement.

    59. Chis Benham Says:

      I live in Australia and am certainly prepared to defend IRV (the Alternative Vote) as a good (certainly not “bogus”) method. For the US (if I lived there) I would support both IRV and Approval as very worthwhile single-winner election reforms.

      The only single-winner methods remotely on the radar screen here are IRV with full strict ranking required (referred to as “Preferential Voting”), IRV with truncation allowed (referred to as “Optional Preferential Voting”) and Plurality (referred to as “First-Past-the-Post”). Those interested in election reform all favour getting rid of the compulsory
      full ranking, but beyond that their main interest is to get rid of single-member districts
      and replace them with multi-member (say 5 or more) districts using STV-PR.

      In our Westminster-style parliamentary system there is no directly elected President or head of state or government, and we don’t fill offices like judgeships or sherrifships or whatever by public election either.

      Howard has written nothing on this page that I disagree with. It does look weird and very negative that Nader doesn’t attack Plurality and promote some alternative.

    60. Jan BenDor Says:

      Chris, please refer me to your local election technicians. We cannot find anyone in the US who has been able to modify voting equipment in order to handle IRV, preferential voting, or the like, and still comply with federal and state certification standards for security, etc.

    61. Ralph Nader Running Mate, Matt Gonzalez, to Shine a Spotlight on Election Reform Says:

      […] « The Key Issue Suspiciously Missing from Ralph Nader’s “Table” […]

    62. Chis Benham Says:

      “Electronic voting” has been used in the Australian Capital Territory, but everywhere else in Australia (including where I live) uses slips of paper with the names of candidates each with a box next to it which the voters write numbers in with the provided pencil (or their own writing implement). These are counted manually.
      The counting is observed by volunteer “scrutineers” representing the competing candidates/parties.

      Mechanical “voting machines” are unknown in Australia. BTW the ACT differs from all the states except Tasmania by using STV-PR to elect its single or (in the case of Tasmania) “lower” chamber (on which the government is based).

    63. This is not my Country: March | hell's handmaiden Says:

      […] Ditkoff presents The Key Issue Suspiciously Missing from Ralph Nader’s “Table” posted at Blog, saying, “Ralph Nader is at it again, running for president […]

    64. SystemsThinker Says:

      Was glad to see Nader bring up Instant Runoff Voting and other democratic reforms as core solutions when asked how to improve things during a Q and A he gave at Google. Check out his reply at around 20:50 of this video.

    65. Tommy B Says:

      I asked former Nader manager about Nader’s lack of enthusiasm for IRV during the 2004 election. On behalf of Nader, Zeese basically told me that while Nader does not oppose IRV he does not want to be be poster boy for IRV. I also believe he avoids talking about IRV in public because he wants to be disruptive and feels he has more leverage if he can strike fear in the Democrats hearts.

      As for all of the bickering about which voting system is the best alternative to the winner-take-all system we have now…
      check this link for fairvote’s assessment

    66. SystemsThinker Says:


      Thanks for the comment.

      The question is why shouldn’t Nader be a poster boy for IRV or at least for election reform in general? If his goal, as he states often, is to open up the system to “more voices and more choices” and election reform, along with campaign finance reforms, is the way to do it, why would he not be that poster boy? He seems to have no problem being the poster boy for ballot access reform, which to me is far less strategically sensible than focusing on these other reforms. It raises two possibilities. Either his real goals differ from his stated goals or he is completely ignoring strategy.

      In my next post, which I should put up in the coming weeks, I discuss this separation between goals and strategy and what an impact it has not only with Nader, but among progressives in general. I agree with you, from my own experience, that Nader thinks that without reforms like IRV, he can have more leverage and strike fear in the Democrats’ hearts. Maybe that argument had merit 8 years ago, but I think that strategy has now proven false. The Democrats have repeatedly shown him that they won’t change their policies to accomodate him, even if that means they get spoiled. Whether this is wise on their part or not, Nader seems to refuse to acknowledge that that strategy has failed and consider different ones.

      Thanks for the link to Fairvote’s page. I happen to know that many of the people bickering about the voting system are very familiar with that page and with Fairvote’s views and they simply strongly disagree with their views and even some of their facts. I believe that any of the main systems - IRV, approval voting, range voting - would be better than what we have and election reform advocates would best find a way to end the infighting, which we really can’t afford given what a minority voice we already are.

    Leave a Reply

    Subscribe without commenting

    View Sitemap

    Copyright 2003-2018, Howard

    Powered by WordPress with modification of White as Milk Theme designed by Azeem Azeez.
    Entries and comments feeds. Valid XHTML and CSS.