Our Voting System Failed Tonight

I had to cry off there and head home. I’ve a big day tomorrow, and the late election nights have worn me down to an interesting frazzle shape. It’s all right for the politicians, they’re stoked to the eyeballs with purest triple-distilled adrenalin. I can only barely bring myself to care who is in the next government.

Now it isn’t Fianna Fáil.

So I’m missing some serious election fun… Guess what’s happened? They found errors in the errors they found before, so this recount has actually changed the quota slightly. That of course means every transfer, every surplus, has to be recomputed.

Healy Eames may yet be in with a chance.

On the sidelines, under the aegis of the Galway West Twitter hashtag (#gyw), we naturally fell to discussing the pros and cons of the Single Transferable Vote model of PR.

It was a good night for the cons.

One of the most interesting points though, made here by blogger andrewgdotcom, was not about STV in general but rather the method we use to do it. You remember a couple of days ago I said that there was an element of random sampling involved in the counting system we use, but “it’s precise enough with large numbers“? Well he demonstrates that when we get down to tiny differences in the total vote like they’re currently fighting over, it is not precise enough. Such small numbers are well within the margin of error. In other words, they’re random.

In other other words, instead of holding a recount they might as well toss a coin.

3 thoughts on “Our Voting System Failed Tonight

  1. Wow, I had no idea the STV count used random sampling. That’s a bit different to what we use (Hare-Clark is a non-random method).

    There is no justification that I can see for introducing statistical uncertainty into something as important as vote distribution.

  2. Yes. Obviously it saves time, but the uncertainty that creeps in is I think unacceptable. Certainly it was unacceptable in last night’s count.

    One answer would be to do it electronically, so that fractions of votes in transfers could be calculated instantly. Fianna Fáil in fact attempted to do this a few years ago, but for some reason they chose a completely ‘black box’ system that would have left no paper trail. They spent millions on the hardware, only to have it rejected outright by the electorate because they simply didn’t trust FF. Unreasonable perhaps to think they would actually tamper with the programming of the machines, but you want your electoral system to be *seen to be* honest.

  3. Yes. Obviously it saves time, but the uncertainty that creeps in is I think unacceptable. Certainly it was unacceptable in last night’s count.

    One answer would be to do it electronically, so that fractions of votes in transfers could be calculated instantly. Fianna Fáil in fact attempted to do this a few years ago, but for some reason they chose a completely ‘black box’ system that would have left no paper trail. They spent millions on the hardware, only to have it rejected outright by the electorate because they simply didn’t trust FF. Unreasonable perhaps to think they would actually tamper with the programming of the machines, but you want your electoral system to be *seen to be* honest.

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