These went half-way

Reforming voting and election rules is an uphill battle. Politicians tend to be sceptical of reform in this area, possibly because there is a general lack of understanding of the principles underlying voting and election procedures, and consequently people tend to assume that attempts at reform have some ulterior motive. Here is an example of how a lot of sustained effort was put into implementing the ideas outlined in Section 10 above (Electing a new candidate or an incumbent, a man or a woman) by using a system designed to reduce the danger of an undesirable combination of candidates being elected. It was only partly successful.

Under the University of Akureyri Act of 1999, teaching staff at the university had to elect two of their number to sit on the university council. A system based on the principles outlined in the last section was proposed for this election. The proposal was that the election should be held in two rounds. In the first round, voters were to receive a list of the names of all those who were eligible and had not declared that they would not stand. They would then mark four names with preferential rankings 1, 2, 3 and 4, and points would be allocated on this basis under the rules of sequential choice. The intention behind this was to narrow the choice. Then, in the second round, the choice would be between the four highest-scoring candidates from the first round. The candidates would be arranged in pairs (there would be six possible combinations) and voters would rank the pairs, the outcome being decided by the allocation of points under sequential choice. The aim here was to avoid the election of a pair of candidates that few people actually wanted, even though they might rank each of the two individuals highly.

This proposal was turned down. The teachers who had been commissioned to design the electoral system resigned and another arrangement was adopted at a staff meeting. It also consisted of two rounds, the first of which was as in the proposal described above; in the second, sequential choice was used to choose between the six top scorers in the first round, the two highest scorers being elected as principals and the next highest as alternatives. The first application is described below for interest.

After the election, an investigation was held into the names ranked in first and second place on each second round ballot paper. Eleven different pairs (of the 21 possible, there being seven individuals on the list) were named in the ballots. The highest number of times a single pair was named was six times – that happened to two of them - and it was the one who received the highest score on both of them. The next-highest scoring pairs were both named four times and the third-highest three times; this last pair included the candidate with the second-highest individual score. The two people who were actually elected appeared together in the top positions only once.

These went all the way

In the spring of 1999, it proved impossible to elect the president of the pupils’ association in the Akureyri Grammar School in the way prescribed in the rules; this was not the first time that difficulties had arisen with the system. The association appointed a committee to come up with new rules. This committee recommended sequential choice, and a well-attended meeting of the association resolved unanimously to adopt the method. The adopted rules stated that candidates must gather nominations from 10-25 pupils in order to stand for election. “When there are more than two candidates, voters shall rank them in their order of preference, giving 1 to the one they favour most, 2 to their second choice, etc. Each voter may indicate as many candidates as he wishes, and is not obliged to rank them all; he may, for example, rank only the one he wants the most and the one he wants the least.” No attention was given to the viewpoint described in Section 10 above (Electing a new candidate or an incumbent, a man or a woman), involving an arrangement designed to reduce the danger of an unwanted combination of candidates; instead, if two committee members are to be elected, then the two who receive the highest numbers of points will be elected.

The first time sequential choice was used, in the spring of 2000, two ordinary board members were to be elected. Six stood for election to the two positions. On other occasions only one candidate was to be elected. On one occasion there were five candidates (for the position of president); on three occasions there were three candidates, on four occasions there were two, and on 16 there was only one. Participation was 80%. In a report on the election, the chairman of the rules revision committee stated that sequential choice gave such good results that it will be used in elections for the pupils’ association in the future.