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Election experts unveil a new voting system to deliver better democracy

Photograph of a voting cardElection experts will present a new voting system which they claim can radically improve the democratic election process in a series of public lectures at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) this week.

Distinguished voting theorists Professors Michel Balinski and Rida Laraki say their system, Majority Judgement, can succeed where others fail in everything from political and corporate elections to wine competitions (and even TV skating contest Dancing on Ice).

They also argue that it can end the frustration of citizens who are increasingly staying away from polling stations, feeling it's useless to vote when the world's existing democratic systems do not elect the candidates the electorate really wants.

Under Majority Judgement, voters are asked to evaluate candidates instead of casting a vote for one. A voter assigns a grade to each candidate: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Acceptable, Poor, or decides to Reject. The authors argue it is a system that encourages voters to express their true opinions instead of voting tactically or 'gaming the vote'.

And the authors, from the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, examine previous elections which they say would have delivered a fairer result using their system. In the USA, for example, George W. Bush was elected president against Albert Gore in 2000 only because the candidacy of Ralph Nader enabled Bush to win a plurality in Florida. In France, Jacques Chirac was elected in 2002 because in the first-round minor candidates siphoned enough votes from the principal candidate of the left, Lionel Jospin, to make Chirac and the extreme rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen the top vote getters, and so Chirac the huge winner in the run-off. The confrontation France expected between Chirac and Jospin may well have been won by Jospin.

These voting systems thwart the voters' ability to express themselves about the candidates and encourage sophisticated voters to vote tactically. Those who voted for Nader in Florida almost certainly preferred Gore to Bush but the system did not allow them to say so. Sixteen candidates presented themselves in the French 2002 election, the top three scores (Chirac, Le Pen, Jospin) were below 20%, together minor candidates garnered 47%. Under these circumstances, it was hard to tell who the electorate really wanted. Chirac's votes in the second-round - 80% of the total - obviously carried very different meanings.

The Majority Judgement system has been tested in electoral experiments on the web with success in the recent French and US presidential elections (and in various French wine competitions). One reviewer concluded, 'This voting system is natural, simple, robust, has instant-run-off, is insensitive to irrelevant alternatives, resistant to gaming, etc., and most importantly it picks the right candidate.'

The first of the three lectures, Majority Judgement vs the Traditional View, will be held at 6.30pm on Wednesday (March 18) in the Wolfson Theatre at LSE's New Academic Building. The second is in the building's Thai theatre at 6pm on Thursday (19 March) and is entitled Principal Properties of Majority Judgement. The final lecture, Majority Judgement Compared with Other Voting Systems, is also in the Thai Theatre, at 6pm on Friday (20 March).

Full details of all three events can be found at Public Events

The lecture series is organised by LSE's Voting Power and Procedures programme.


For more information contact LSE Press Office on 020 7955 7440

16 March 2009