RaBIT and Timid Voting Improvements

I have recently signed the Ranked Ballots pledge and ran out of time to provide a requested 2-minute video, meant for young voters, describing my vision for Toronto (y4tv). I won’t get to the latter here, but the first requires some explanation.

Ranked Ballots are a simple way to remove the limitations of the FPTP (First Past The Post) system that is so well known and widely used that many of us find it hard to conceptualize voting in a different way. I support this reform with reservations. For definitions and background, you might want to start with the Wikipedia article and / or the official RaBIT site, linked below, in Sources.

In short, though FPTP often produces results that may be considered “undemocratic”, in that the winner may have been undesirable to a majority of voters, it (FPTP) does have the advantage of being very simple and very well understood in its implementation. I have seen implementations of voting reforms seeking to improve representation that, though simple on their face, are quite complex in their implementation, and as such are difficult to audit and check.

However, it occurred to me that this is not a problem with ranked ballots by themselves, but a general problem with our current electronic voting. Having worked the polls in both Provincial and Federal elections, I have witnessed first hand minor “mishaps” and know very well that even for poll workers it is impossible to ensure the integrity of the vote once it’s electronic data. More specifically, given the lack of transparency in the voting process, once the voting card was scanned, we have to fully trust that nobody messes with the centralized data.

If we managed to have more transparency (and – why not? – “hacking” contests like they did in USA: cbc-defcon, reuters-11yohack), it would matter less that the voting mechanism is more complex. The “weakest link” is not the complexity of the voting system, but rather its lack of transparency and insufficient auditing and/or testing. And if we can shore up trust in the voting process even among those who follow such developments closely, we could finally have Internet and IVR (phone menu) voting at least for the city budget and other relevant ballot initiatives, as they do in small countries close to the size of Toronto such as Switzerland (my love) and Estonia.

My other reservation is that by supporting other vote reform initiatives, I am depriving Direct Democracy of the attention it deserves, as the best way to reduce corruption and empower the electorate to act on the issues of relevance to the body politic. Then again, as a pragmatist, I convinced myself that a step forward is still a move forward, even though it’s going in a slightly different direction than the one I consider best.

After having linked the TVO The Agenda debate on Online Voting under the image above, I’ve discovered they “attacked” another important idea of my platform, i.e., a new Charter for the City of Toronto.

Finally, after having pestered KnowYourVote staff with suggestions of improvement, one of which was randomizing candidates’ name on each page reload, I’ve discovered that Vancouver is already doing that with actual ballots (PDF). That’s important, because in this age of no time to research anything, being alphabetically first allows one candidate to pick up votes (or, for KYV, impatient eyeballs) at the expense of those whose last name’s initial falls toward the end of the alphabet.

Sources / More info: wiki-RaBIT, RaBIT-10, reuters-11yohack, cbc-defcon, ec-hard, y4tv


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