PR for the electoral college? No thanks

The following is a guest post by Nathan Batto

One of the proposals sometimes mooted (by disaffected Democrats) is that electoral votes should be allotted proportionally within each state according to the popular vote. Obviously, since Clinton won the popular vote, she would then win the election!

Not so fast. Let’s run the numbers. There are several different formulae to calculate proportional representation. D’Hondt is quite favorable to big parties; Ste. Laguë is quite favorable to small parties.

Ste. Laguë: Clinton 264, Trump 262, Johnson 10, Stein 1, McMullin 1.
D’Hondt: Clinton 267, Trump 267, Johnson 2, Stein 1, McMullin 1.

In both cases, no one gets a majority. The race would then be thrown into the House, where each state delegation would get one vote. Since Republicans hold majorities in 31 state delegations, Trump would almost certainly be elected president.

Of course, this assumes that no voters changed their votes, but of course small parties would almost certainly get more votes under this system. What that would do is make it very, very hard for either big party to get 270 EVs. Almost every election would be thrown into the House, where the Republicans hold a structural advantage in state delegations due to their popularity in rural America (read: small states). In other words, this reform would make it much harder for the Democrats to win the presidency.

[Nathan notes that the exact numbers could change based on updated vote totals. See comments for a point regarding possible thresholds. –MSS]

Voter choice or partisan interest? The case of ranked-choice voting in Maine

Galvanized by the first ever ranked-choice-voting (RCV) win in a U.S. state, reformers just hours ago held a conference call to build their movement. Ranked-choice voting is a set of voting rules more kind to “outsiders” than our ubiquitous plurality system. Given the unusual strength of America’s two-party system, why do outsider-friendly electoral reforms ever win?

My answer is: a replacement institutional template, losing-party self-interest, and ruling-party disunity. In a recently published paper, I show how this logic can explain the spread of “multi-winner ranked-choice voting” (i.e., proportional representation or PR) in the first part of the 20th century. Losing parties and disgruntled ruling-party factions promote voting-system change in a bid for policy-making influence. Voting reform organizations supply the replacement template.

Does my answer also explain the RCV win in Maine? Is that enough to buy my argument? If the answers are “yes,” reformers would concentrate on jurisdictions with sizable out-parties and fractious ruling parties.

Americanist political scientists would also change the way they think about election “reform.” The dominant trend for more than a century has been to see party and reform as exclusive. Fifty years ago, we would have read about conflict between “machine politics” and “good government.” Now we read about “activists” versus “compromisers,” legacies of Progressivism, and reformer “process-obsession.” What if party itself were a critical reform ingredient? As Jessica Trounstine reminds us in her excellent book, Democratic boss Thomas Pendergast was more than happy to turn the model city charter (without PR) to his own “machine” ends in Kansas City.

Let’s see if my template-loser-faction model explains what just happened in Maine.

The template

“Maine has not elected a governor to a first term with majority support since 1966,” said Jill Ward, President of the League of Women Voters of Maine. “Ranked Choice Voting restores majority rule and puts more power in the hands of voters.” – quoted from

Efforts to enact RCV began in 2001.

The losing party

Circumstantial evidence suggests that, from 2001 until the 2014 re-election of Gov. Paul LePage (R), the Democratic Party either:

1) controlled a policy veto point via the governorship, or

2) did not expect “independent” voters’ ballot transfers under single-winner RCV to help elect its candidates.

How is 2014 different for Democratic Party expectations? If the rhetoric of the current governor is any indication, the Maine Republican Party has become more socially conservative. Perhaps it is now so socially conservative (in Democrats’ minds) that the Democratic Party thinks “independent” voters would rank its candidates over Republicans. Maybe Democrats are thinking: “If we had RCV, we wouldn’t be the losing party.”

The disgruntled, ruling-party faction

My hunch is that this is a group of fiscal conservatives, no longer at home in either state party. That doesn’t make them a disgruntled, ruling-party faction, but it might have made them willing to consider Republicans in earlier years. Consider:

  • Proponent of record for Question 5: An Act to Establish Ranked-choice Voting. Liberal on some economic issues, but supports consumption taxes and income-tax reduction.
  • Two-time independent candidate for governor. Liberal on the environment, ambiguous on economics, but not a conventional Democrat of yore. Endorsed independent candidate Angus King (over the Democrat) to replace outgoing Sen. Olympia Snowe, a famed “moderate” Republican.
  • One-time independent candidate for governor. Quits Democratic Party to run. Wanted Maine “to be the Free Enterprise State.”

Predictions and evidence

Last month I predicted that a coalition of regular Democrats and “the independents” would put RCV over the top. Republicans threw me a curve ball by endorsing RCV the very next day, but, as the proprietor of this blog has written, such endorsements can be strategic.

If I was right, Democrats and “the independents” should have voted for RCV, but the Republicans should not have.

Below I give a rough test of these hypotheses. Here are precinct-level results of the vote in favor of RCV by the vote for each major-party presidential candidate. (Vote shares are overall, not of the two-party vote.) This is preliminary. I only have data so far for 87 percent of precincts, the state has not released official results, and I have not looked at the correlation of RCV support with partisanship in other offices. I don’t yet have a way to get at behavior by “the independents.” Finally, I have not yet run an ecological inference analysis, but I plan to remedy all this later.

As you can see, Democrats seemed to like RCV, and Republicans did not, at least as revealed by presidential voting.

The role of uncertainty

Why don’t “the independents” simply join the Democratic Party if they dislike current Republican positions as much as the Democrats? This is what’s really interesting about the adoption and use of RCV. I argue that groups in reformist alliances do not plan to cooperate on all pieces of legislation. Let’s say Maine ends up with an “independent” governor or a sizable contingent of “independents” in its state legislature. I would not be surprised if we see them working with Democrats on some legislation (e.g., “social”), then with Republicans on other bills (e.g., taxes).

Why don’t Democrats foresee this possibility? Perhaps they recognize that single-winner RCV is not the same as PR. Consequently they may reason that “independents” will not become a bargaining force. Rather, “independent” ballots will bolster the position of Democrats in government.

Then why are “independents” going along with a reform that’s good for Democrats? Perhaps they disagree with Democrats on who’s likely to benefit from strategic voting. As Gary Cox reminds us, strategic voting depends in the end on voter expectations, shaped by elite messaging about precisely which party or candidate is “hopeless” under a given electoral system. The perception that RCV has made elections kinder to outsiders is important. If there really are many sincerely “independent” voters, “independent” candidates may get a toehold in government.

And that’s when things get interesting.

First (and last?) USA 2016 post

I’ve had nothing to say here about the US election. Well, I voted today. I am glad it is almost over. It has been depressing to watch this campaign. I offer this space for readers who feel F&V should have such a space. That is all from me (for now).

PEI 2016: Referendum favors MMP

The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) held a referendum (“plebiscite”) on electoral reform. The voting, which could be done online or by phone, took place from 27 October to 7 November, Results have now been announced, and the majority preference is mixed-member proportional (MMP).

Interestingly, it was a vote among multiple options, conducted by alternative vote (instant runoff). The initial plurality choice was the status quo, first past the post (FPTP). But this was the first choice of only 31.2%. The runner up in first preferences was MMP, with 29%.

Through elimination of lower-ranking choices and transfer of preferences, MMP came out with a majority on the fourth round of counting, 55% to 45% over FPTP (leaving out exhausted ballots, which were just under 5%).

Other options were “FPTP with leaders” (status quo, except that party leaders who did not win a riding would get a seat if the party cleared 10%), “Preferential Voting” (i.e., alternative vote), and something new called “Dual-Member Proportional“.

Perhaps it is not at all surprising that the transfer patterns reveal a “change as little as possible if we must change” coalition and a “more change” coalition. FPTP took a bigger lead on the count following elimination of FPTP+, by far more timid of the reform proposals. After the elimination of AV, which would be the next most-similar proposal to the status quo, MMP actually got more of these voters (43.9% to 36.7% for FPTP). Given that DMPR got 19.5%, the pro-AV voters had a clear majority for some sort of PR over keeping majoritarianism. On the final count, MMP got 82.6% of the eliminated votes for DMPR. This adds up to quite a clear consensus for a move away from the majoritarian model. (Note that STV was not an option.)

PEI had a referendum on an official proposal for MMP in 2005, which went down to a big defeat. Since that time, the province has continued to have some of the odd results (e.g. 2007) that are inherent to FPTP, especially given such a small assembly. In the most recent provincial election (2015) there was another large manufactured majority, although the Green Party managed to win a seat despite just 11% of the provincewide vote.

The timing of the vote is interesting, given that the federal parliamentary committee studying electoral reform is due to report in just a few weeks.

The PEI referendum result is non-binding.

Tartu Torah


Today at sundown begins Shemini Atzeret, which I alluded to in my earlier entry. In communities that mark one day of Yom Tov, this holiday is merged with Simchat Torah. In two-day communities (meaning non-Reform congregations outside Israel) the holidays remain separate. Or, more accurately, second-day Shemini Atzeret is the day on which Simchat Torah is observed. While I am more of a “one-day” person, this is the holiday(s) for which I make something of an exception. Both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah deserve their day in the sun (or in the rain, as the case may be).

In honor of Simchat Torah, I am sharing two photos of an amazing experience from Tartu, Estonia. The experience occurred more than six years ago, but for whatever reason I do not think I have ever told it (at least not on line). Tartu to the hometown of Rein Taagepera, and we were visiting him during one of this extended stays back in his original university home. We enquired about Jewish communities and history.

Estonia never had as large a Jewish community as nearby lands, but most of it was destroyed due to the Nazi occupation. We were able to meet with two women, one young (and English speaking) and another much older with memories of the war period. So we heard the stories if what was, and what little is. One of the more remarkable things we were told was that the University of Tartu library had a Torah scroll from the pre-war era.

With help of locals, we were able to get a librarian to retrieve it from the archive. It took a while to find. It probably had not been opened for a very long time. We unrolled it. What a beautiful scroll. I hope it can be used by a community again some day, or at least put on display. The Torah never deserves to collect dust in a basement. It is part of the cycle of life, and on Simchat Torah, we end. And we begin.


Beautiful, and not so beautiful, fruit. And the coming of rain.

Today is the last day of Sukkot, the day known as Hoshannah Rabah. This day might be my favorite holiday, even granting that it is not technically a holiday (in the no-work, Yom Tov sense). Beating one’s willow twigs against a hard surface is quite fun and satisfying, actually. It has deep mystical origins.

Moreover, our forecast calls for rain tomorrow. Sometimes the rain really arrives on time.

Hoshannah Rabah, in Jewish tradition, is the day the world is judged for rain. And tomorrow, Shmini Atzeret, is the day we insert the prayer for rain every morning (till Pesach/Passover in spring).

We had some rain the day before Sukkot began, but it was just a tease. Fortunately it’s been great weather all week for dwelling in the sukkah, though it’s been quite chilly in the mornings! But a shift towards a wet pattern in the coming first post-Sukkot week week appears quite certain now.

[Aside: If you are one of my liberal and/or rationalist oriented readers, the idea of a ritual and prayers about rain probably strike you as… weird. So, let me ask: Do you recognize that our collective acts can have impact on the climate? So do I! And so have the scribes and teachers of the Jewish religion. So much so that one of the central statements of this idea appears in the Torah, at Deuteronomy 11: 13-17, and has been part of daily Jewish prayer services for generation upon generation. it is also “inscribed on the doorposts” via our homes’ mezuzot. These passages about climate consequences are in the second person plural in the Hebrew for a reason. The link at the end of the first paragraph above concludes with a personal postscript by the author about how this day’s service at one time did not sit well with his rational instincts, but has become a favorite, as it has for me.]

Of course, Sukkot is a seven-day festival. I am doing this blog post from our sukkah, enjoying the light patterns and rustling from wind in the trees.

In addition to the willow and myrtle twigs and palm-frond spine that make up the lulav, the festival is closely associated with the etrog (citron). Jewish tradition demands the finest examples of this unusual but beautiful citrus for use during Sukkot.

I never knew that there was some chance that the Christmas fruitcake tradition had some connection to the etrog before reading a fascinating post on Hard Core Mesorah.

I do want to correct one thing in the post, however, which is based on a common misconception about fruit hybridization.

[The etrog is] a fruit that must be grown intentionally, with careful planning involved. It is not incidental at all. This is because the etrog is a pure species of citrus fruit. It is one of the only three pure species of citrus fruit, the fruits that are only indigenous to Asia; they are the Mandarin, the Pomelo and the Etrog (citron). All other species of citrus fruits from our navel oranges to our tangerines are just crosses of these species. Citrus fruit so easily cross pollinate that there are a myriad of varieties of citrus fruit. Those of you who have citrus trees in your backyard know this, if you have various kinds they often mix and your tree comes out covered with mutations of orange and lemons for example.

Mostly fine, except that last point. If you have backyard citrus, you may indeed have seen a tree that produces both whatever you expected (an orange, a mandarin, a grapefruit, etc.) and some ugly hard-skinned lemon-like fruit. But that is not because of cross-pollination from another nearby type of citrus. If this happens, it is probably because the variety was grafted on a rootstock of ‘rough lemon’ (which is very commonly used, especially in older plantings). If the rootstock sends up a sucker from below the graft union, any resulting limb will produce a fruit that lives up to the name, rough lemon. (Cut these suckers off before they get that mature!)

Cross-pollination does not change the nature of the current generation of fruit that a tree produces (unless we are talking about something like pollination-variant persimmons, but we are not). The hybrid that might result from cross-pollination can be seen only when the fruit of the tree that grows from the seed of the current tree appears.

So it is not correct that “Pollination from afar can take hold and mutate the fruit until it not at all distinguishable, and surely not fit for proper use as food or in ritual.” There are many reasons an etrog might be unfit for ritual use. It might grow too close to another fruit or branch and be deformed. It might get attacked by insects as it is developing. Most authorities would not permit an etrog from a grafted tree (which implies one indeed must take care to avoid cross-pollination with a different citrus if one is propagating trees for future generations of etrogim.)

OK, that is this year’s fruit and Jewish ritual post. (I used to do a lot of these; may I be inspired to do more in the new year.)

Chag sameach.