Chapter 5: Elections – How we Govern Ourselves
Rather than describing How Elections Must Be Done, elections are largely left to individual clubs to decide for themselves. Because some level of consistency is called for throughout the club, however, and because elections can be tricky devils, we recommend that the election procedures used should mostly fall within the following list of options. Many elections will be simple yes/no affairs, deciding whether to do something or not. Those are easy. Some are not so simple, however, with four or five candidates vying for one position and a range of issues up for consideration. We have a few suggested fixes to keep things from getting too game-y or from becoming overly complicated, when that situation comes up. Those are the later options. From most straightforward to most complicated, here are the election models we recommend:
1. Simple / Plurality election
If you live in the United States, you are already familiar with this sort of election – “whoever gets the most votes wins.” In it, two (or more) candidates are put side-by-side, and electors vote for one of them that they like best. The one with the most votes wins.
This election system works beautifully well in a contest between two options. When the question is whether to elect Adam or Betty, or whether to do or not to do a thing, this is the best and easiest way to make that decision. It works less well, in fact not very well at all, when the issue is more nuanced or the choices more numerous. Whenever the election is between three or more candidates or when more than two options are presented, we do not recommend using a Plurality model.
2. Instant Runoff voting
A very few cities in the United States use this, but it is mostly relegated to small hobby clubs and professional organizations. In this sort of election a person lists their candidates in order of preference. The candidate with the least votes is eliminated from consideration after the first round of counting, and any votes they received are distributed to those voters’ second highest ranked candidate. This process repeats until one candidate is the clear winner.
This election system often works fairly well in most circumstances, but there are two caveats. First, it is vulnerable to individuals manipulating the system by voting strategically rather than according to their true preferences. Second, it is possible for IRV to give an indeterminate result, especially when it is used to select between things that are similar to one another, rather than starkly and unambiguously different. When selecting between individuals with similar visions, or ideas that aren’t easily compared to one another, it can be a difficult and uncertain method. These problems are often magnified when the number of votes is very small, so it is recommended that some other method be used in that circumstance.
3. Approval voting
Very few formal elections use Approval voting, but it is widely used in informal circumstances such as friends choosing a restaurant or selecting between game sites. In this election, a person chooses to vote for all of the options of which they approve. So if they were given the choice of Barbecue, Chinese, Thai, Greek, Hamburgers and Pizza, they might ‘vote’ for Barbecue, Hamburgers and Pizza. The number of votes for each option is tallied up, and the one with the most votes wins.
This election system shines when selecting between several options, especially when the election will have more than one winner. If, for instance, you are called upon to select the top three of seven possible game sites, an election like that may provide you with a very robust and meaningful result. In other circumstances, especially when the choices are starkly different or there are only two options, some other method can be better. It is both easy to vote strategically in this system and comparatively hard to affect the result very much by doing so, so it might be preferable to other methods in some circumstances.
4. Range voting
Again, very few formal elections are conducted by this method, but it is in wide – nearly ubiquitous – use in informal circumstances. Every time you are asked to give something a rating of 1 to 5 stars, or “on a scale of 1 to 10…” and then the results are ranked by the average score of each choice, that is a range vote. The easiest and best way to conduct a range vote is to use a 1 to 5 range and allow a voter to Abstain (to say “I don’t know”) if they wish. The vote totals are added up, and divided by the number of voters to compute an average. Abstentions are removed from consideration. The choice with the highest average rating wins.
This election system shines best in differentiating between several similar choices. It is vulnerable to strategic voting (about as vulnerable as any other option is), but this is ameliorated somewhat when the options are similar to one another, and it is far more deterministic than Instant Runoff voting in those circumstances. It is also easier to implement, as it does not require counting and recounting, and can usually be implemented with existing, popular online tools of Facebook and elsewhere. For that reason, it is recommended for most officer elections in which there are more than two candidates.
Terms and Term Limits
Generally speaking, term limits are not necessary in a small club. The accumulation of power and privilege is small, so corruption or malfeasance is easily handled by the members directly. The terms for various officers are variable, depending on a club’s needs or preferences.
Often time, the terms for Administrator will be between 1 and 2 years long, and will not be tied to any particular goal but will rather be based on a standard length of time. This is because an Administrator’s duties are basically constant, not changing very much from day to day. Alternately, an Administrator can be elected for a term that they either state up front, or one that ends when a Vote of no Confidence is passed. If the last option is used. a VonC will need to be defined within a club’s bylaws – it is usually a normal Plurality vote, the passage of which only requires between 20% and 50% approval.
Storytellers are often elected to tell a story and not simply to fulfill daily administrativia, and so it is recommended that they be elected somewhat differently. Rather than serve for a set term, we recommend that Storytellers be elected for the length of time required to tell a plot arc, which they identify and describe (inasmuch as they can do so publicly) when running for election. At the end of that promised term if they need more time, the decision to do that can be put before a simple election, and if they finish early then they have the option to abdicate early. Members clubs do not have to use this method, and they can elect Storytellers, Administrators or any other officer however they wish. However, this method is likely to give better results than others, and is consistent with how Pantheon elects officers to its Board.