Monday, November 17, 2008

Militant Voting

This post illustrates a phenomenon that is a possibility in pairwise voting. Consider a constituency of 30 voters deciding among six candidates for a given vacancy. (I take this example from Donald Saari.) Table 1 describes the preferences of these voters. For example, the first row shows that ten voters prefer Anne to Barb, and Barb to Carol, and so on.) The voters are asked to choose between successive pairs of candidates, as shown in Figure 1. In the first election, Debra defeats Elaine. But Carol defeats Debra in the next choice. And so on, until Flicka is the only choice standing, after a landslide victory. It seems that clearly Flicka is the consensus choice. Strangely enough, though, every voter prefers Carol, Debra, and Elaine to Flicka. The voting system doesn’t seem to allow for a true expression of the preferences of the members of the electorate.
Table 1: Voter Preferences
NumberPreference Ranking
10A > B > C > D > E > F
10B > C > D > E > F > A
10C > D > E > F > A > B

Figure 1: Pairwise Elections in Example

Militant was a Trotskyite tendency practicing entryism within the British Labour Party. They seemed to have figured out how to use party discipline to have their way in Liverpool in the early 1980s:
"All political parties on the Monday before the Council meeting on a Wednesday, have a caucus meeting to decide the line of approach at the Council. The agenda for the meeting comes out on a Friday. The ten or twelve Militant members ... meet on either the Friday or the Saturday and go through the agenda to look for important policy decisions and for important vacancies. They then have a meeting with the broad left of the Labour group on Sunday morning at Pirrie Labour Club ... those Militants turn up in their full strength. There are generally about twenty people and the ten or eleven Militants there. They carry the majority vote there that commits the broad left for the meeting of the Labour group. On the Monday night at the Labour group meeting of forty-two members the commitment that Militant have made themselves, plus other people they've taken along at the meeting on Sunday morning, gives them a majority. ... so you find that of forty-two Labour councilors, ten Militants control the policy of the Labour group." -- Eddie Roderick, as quoted by Michael Crick
Crick says, "Roderick's analysis may be a rather simplified version." At any rate, Figure 2 illustrates how the Council seems to have made their decisions. Figures 1 and 2 look quite similar. Maybe Saari’s math describes more than a theoretical possibility.
Figure 1: Pairwise Voting on the Liverpool City Council

  • Michael Crick (1984). Militant, Faber and Faber
  • Donald G. Saari (2004). "Geometry of Chaotic and Stable Discussion", American Mathematical Monthly, V. 111, N. 5: 377-393

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