Democracy Center - The presentation of issues and the expressing of opinions through sequential choice and fund voting

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Research and advice on methods of voting and election

Contribution at the annual Dutch-Belgian Political Science Conference, Leiden, June 8th 2018

Short abstract

Long abstract

The presentation of issues and the expressing of opinions through sequential choice and fund voting

Introductory words: Expressions of opinions in voting and election

Short abstract

The rules sequential choice and fund voting are examined with regard to how voters, including representatives, have the possibility to present issues and to express preferences or lack of preferences, i.e. their ranking by both of the methods, and their intensity by fund voting. The methods are described and analyzed in theory and by presenting experience.

Long abstract

The core idea in sequential choice is what is in force in the settlement of a chess tournament where everybody plays with everybody. There no paradoxes occur nor exceptions which demand a special solution. In a voting or an election the settlement is carried out by comparing every two alternatives in every sequence, giving points to each of them, i.e. 1, 0.5 or 0. The group ́s choice is found by adding up the points from the settlement of every single sequence. The alternative with most points is the choice. The result is conclusive.

The experience is reported with an example where the general public in Iceland chose a national flower, with an example where the general public was consulted for the location of plots for buildings in their vicinity and where an environmental organization consulted the general public about a road construction project. Finally there is an analysis of the voting of a national president by sequential choice compared with current methods.

Fund voting is presented with an ideal of a balanced organization where every member has the feeling that his view and his interests may influence the organization´s standpoints, not necessarily in every case, but sooner or later. This kind of balance is secured in the rule of fund voting where each voter has votes put at his disposal. They are paid into his account (fund), an equal number for each issue to be dealt with. Each voter stakes various numbers of votes on each individual issue—many on issues he feels are important, none on those in which he has no interest. In each issue, there may be two or more alternatives. The voter first decides how many votes he is willing to stake to secure the victory of the alternative he regards as best over that which he regards as worst. He does the same with the remaining alternatives. The alternative that receives the most votes wins. Those who supported the winning alternative have to pay the same number of votes as were staked by those who opposed it. An issue that everyone supports will therefore not cost anyone any votes.

Fund voting is described with examples of experience and through analysis. There is an example from a small community where selected individuals in political groups participated before their elected representatives made up their minds, there are outlines for the making of budgets, there are two examples where MPs participated in two issues where the conflicts were deep and hindered the application of fund voting, there is an analysis of the fund voting method concerning the question of proportional representation, and finally an experience of fund voting by the general public is reported. There the individual participant had the possibility to transfer the disposal of his fund votes to someone other, still keeping the possibility to step in in any single issue.

 

The presentation of issues and the expressing of opinions
through sequential choice and fund voting

 

  1. Sequential choice
    1. The National flower of Iceland
    2. Plot under two buildings
    3. The Gjábakki road construction project
    4. How the presidential election becomes the more trustworthy the more candidates there are
  2. Fund voting
    1. Guidelines for those in authority
    2. Budgets
    3. Fund voting among MPs
    4. Fund voting produces proportional results
    5. Consultation among the public by fund voting 

 

Needless to say, in political life and in academic politics there is interest in how participants (voters and representatives) express their preferences and how their expressed preferences may be interpreted. Here I am dealing with these qualities in respect to the two voting and election methods, sequential choice and fund voting, which I have constructed, particularly how voters, including representatives, have the possibility to express their preferences or lack of preferences, their ranking by both of the methods, and also intensity by fund voting, and how this fact may influence a group´s conclusion and give further information. The methods will be described and analyzed in theory and by presenting experience.

 

Sequential choice

The settlement of every participant´s sequence (ranking, preference) is carried out in the same way as the settlement in a chess tournament where every participant plays with everybody. Every chess gives either one point to one of the two or half a point to both of them. In a voting or an election every sequence is carried out by comparing every two alternatives. The group´s choice is found by adding up the points from the settlement of every single sequence. The alternative with most points is the choice. The result is conclusive. As in a chess tournament settlement there are no paradoxes and there are no exceptions which demand a special solution.

(More reading about the method in On Arrow's Possibility Theorem, especially: Postscript: The emerging of ideas)

 

1. The National flower of Iceland

In 2004 it was decided which flower should be the National Flower of Iceland, based on a public opinion poll held by Overland, the Icelandic Environment Association, and the newspaper Morgunbladid. The project was managed by representatives of four ministries, but the actual work was carried out by Landvernd. The poll was done online during October 1-15 by use of ballots printed in Morgunbladid. The result was announced in the presence of the President and the Minister of Agriculture. The total votes cast were 7025, of which 6919 were valid. The voting method applied was sequential choice; voters were to express their choice by ranking seven given flowers on a scale from one to seven. 

The winner was mountain avens, receiving 21,943 points, closely followed by field forget-me-not (21,802) and arctic thyme (21,385 points). Wood cranesbill was also immensely popular (19,243 points). White cottongrass, silene acaulis and common thrift received fewer votes.

In the spring of 2004 twenty suggestions for a national flower were put forth. After a summer-long deliberation period and after receiving a number of views submitted by the schools, the choice was narrowed down to the above seven species. At that stage Landvernd’s manager pointed out that applying sequential choice would be the best solution as otherwise it would not at all be easy to interpret the result of the opinion survey. The task force agreed, and even though the three top flowers came out with almost the same number of points, the final outcome has enjoyed recognition far and wide.

Landvernd’s manager, who consulted the manager of the Democracy Center for advice, concludes that the recommendations he received were crucial for arriving at this solution that has won such wide recognition.

 

2. Plot under two buildings

At Hvanneyri, a small population centre in the west of Iceland, two building sites had to be chosen, one for a laboratory for the Agricultural College, the other for the farm technology department of the Agricultural Research Institute. As the property was owned by the state, the Ministry of Agriculture asked the principal of the college to recommend suitable sites. There were different opinions about possible sites. As employees of the Agricultural College and the Agricultural Research Institute, the inhabitants of Hvanneyri had to take the interest of these institutions into account; as local residents, they had to consider the implications for their community of the traffic from cars and farm machinery resulting from the siting of the new buildings.

The college principal was sure that someone was bound to find fault with whatever proposal he made, but he was anxious to retain the good will of the local people as far as possible. As chairman of the building committee, he chose to hold a referendum among the inhabitants. But how was he to express the issue when there were several possible alternatives? One way would be to get the building committee to agree to a proposal and then submit it for public approval, but the drawback with this was that no matter what the committee decided, it would probably be rejected by somebody, at least, and possibly even by the majority. Such a majority, on the other hand, would be united only in its opposition to the proposal submitted; it would be split by opposing views on acceptable sites for the buildings. The college principal decided to tackle the matter by using sequential choice to find out what people wanted. Twelve alternatives were put forward, and each inhabitant was given the opportunity of ranking them individually. A study of the results confirmed the principal’s suspicion that opinion would be widely divided.

The results of the sequential choice survey were used by the building committee and the employees of the laboratory and the farm technology department as a basis for working out a compromise agreement. In fact, the solution involved a slightly different combination of sites from the twelve alternatives proposed in the survey, but the solution was regarded as satisfactory by everyone. The college principal was convinced that this conclusion could not have been reached by any means other than sequential choice which produced the data and insights needed for reaching a compromise.

 

3. The Gjábakki road construction project

In the spring of 2008 Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association, managed a sequential choice project for the Gjábakki road construction project between Lake Thingvallavatn and Lake Laugarvatn, with the assistance and supervision of the Democracy Center. The choices presented were five in all. Road 1 was the old road, Road 2 was the road location presented by the Icelandic Road Administration. Of the votes cast 1,351 were valid.

The results were as follows:

Road 1 received 4,039 points, road 2 received 2,498 points, road 3 received 2,468, road 5 received 2,275.5 points, and road 4 received 2,229.5 points.  

 

When is the result of sequential choice conclusive?

A request was received asking to what extent the difference between the results of alternative 1 and alternative 2 was conclusive. The answer is as follows.

As the total number of votes was 1,351 and the alternatives were five each vote yielded 10 points; therefore there were 13,510 points in all.

Should one of the road placements be assigned position 1 by all voters, which assigns 4 points to it, that road placement receives 5,404 points.

Should one of the road placements be assigned position 2 by all voters, which assigns 3 points to it, that road placement receives 4,053 points.

The difference between these two road placements is 1,351 points, but the difference between road placements 1 and 2 was, in fact, 1,541 points, which must be regarded as a conclusive difference.

Furthermore, it can be found out algebraic to what extent the difference between the two top alternatives is conclusive:

y is the number of points denoting the difference between two positions

x is the total number of votes

n is the number of alternatives

x rank A first

A receives (n–1)x points

x rank B second

B receives (n-–2)x points

y=(n–1)x–(n–2)x=nx–x–nx+2x=x

y=x

Consequently, x is the number of points denoting a clear difference between the positions.

 

4. How the presidential election becomes the more trustworthy the more candidates there are

In February 2016, four months before a presidential election in Iceland there was uncertainty concerning candidates. Some were worried, if the number of candidates would be as much as 10, as some seemed to expect, that the president could be elected with only 11% of the votes. In that case maybe 89% of the voters would be directly against him, but the ballots would not show it. Although the case would not become so extreme one should be aware of the fact that only one Icelandic president had been elected with the majority of the votes, namely Kristjan Eldjarn in 1968. Vigdis Finnbogadottir was elected president with a third of the votes in 1980. When Olafur Ragnar Grimsson was elected president for first time  (in 1996) he received just a little more than 40% of the votes. This didn't mean that those who then voted for him backed him up from then. The rule for presidential election in Iceland does therefore, as a matter of fact, not guarantee that the president is really backed up neither in his first period nor later.

In the discussion it was proposed in order to secure that the elected president would be backed up by the people to apply the rule to elect in two rounds, the second round being between the two that got most votes in the first round. This has been the rule for the election of the vice-chancellor in the University of Iceland. Figures from that election in 1997 show that the second round can be between the two which the most like least (cf. my book Democracy with sequential choice and fund voting, Chapter II.A.3). This rule is applied in the election of the French president. That election in 2002 was in the second round between Jacques Chirac which received 80% of the votes, while he got 20% in the first round. Jean-Marie Le Pen entered the second round with barely 17% of the votes; it was right before the third. In the second round, Le Pen got barely 18%. It showed that among those who elected others than the two in the first round—they were 13, nearly everyman elected Chirac. They did therefore in fact not back him, but they elected him to avoid whom they found was worse. Election in two rounds need therefore not tell that who is elected is backed by the people.

 

Presidential election by the rule sequential choice

Let us study if sequential choice leaves people in the impasse described above. To simplify the study let the number of voters be 100. We assume that in the election 11 voters rank one of 10 candidates number one, but the others are not ranked there as often. In sequential choice it is not only possible for the voter to show whom he likes most, but also whom he likes least and all there between. We assume that 89 like the above mentioned candidate least. The voter shows it by ranking him on the bottom. A candidate which is ranked number one by 10, gets 9 points; he gets one point for every time he his above another in the ranking. A candidate which is below all the others in a sequence gets therefore no points. The candidate A which 11 rank first gets then 9x11=99 points. Every ballot gives 9+8+7+6+5+4+3+2+1=45 points. 100 ballots give altogether 4500 points. Of these A has, as said, 99 points. The remaining 9 then receive altogether 4401 points. It makes in the average 489 points, nearly five times the number of points he who the most ranked number one gets. Sequential choice, therefore, will give the winner in the conventional election a disgraceful result. 

The settlement of every sequence is in the same manner as the settlement in a chess tournament where everybody plays against everybody. In a chess tournament it is the clear how superior the winner is the more participate. How strong the voters back up the winner (the elected) in sequential choice becomes by same reasons the more clear the more candidates there are.

 

Fund voting

A mark of a balanced organization is that every member has the feeling that his view and his interests may influence the organization´s standpoints, not necessarily in every case, but sooner or later. This kind of balance is secured in the rule of fund voting, The rule is:

  • Each voter has votes put at his disposal. They are paid into his account (fund), an equal number for each issue to be dealt with.
  • Each voter stakes various numbers of votes on each individual issue—many on issues he feels are important, none on those in which he has no interest.
  • In each issue, there may be two or more alternatives. The voter first decides how many votes he is willing to stake to secure the victory of the alternative he regards as best over that which he regards as worst. He does the same with the remaining alternatives.
  • The alternative that receives the most votes wins.
  • Those who supported the winning alternative have to pay the same number of votes as were staked by those who opposed it.
  • An issue that everyone supports will therefore not cost anyone any votes.

It should be noted that those who support the alternative that wins pay only for what they staked on the winning alternative.

(More reading about the method in On Arrow's Possibility Theorem, especially: Postscript: The emerging of ideas)

 

Having a say with fund votes

  • If a motion meets with opposition, then those who win the issue end up with fewer votes than they possessed before the vote was taken, while those who lost still have the same number of votes in their account, which makes their defeat more palatable to them. In the long run, a balance must be achieved.
  • In terms of votes, it pays to seek outcomes that do not arouse a lot of opposition.
  • A special stance that is opposed by others will cost votes if it wins.

The application will be explained with some examples.

 

1. Guidelines for those in authority

Those in authority, for example the local council, normally make only one proposal for each issue that they are dealing with. So as not to lose face, it can be sensible for them, when formulating this proposal, to take into account the point of view of those to whom they are expected to show respect. There are various ways in which they can sound out this point of view. It was in order to do this that the local council in Eyrarbakki, in southern Iceland, used fund voting. With fund voting, each participant shows, by his stake of votes, how important an issue is to him, staking a lot of votes on the alternative he most wants to see adopted, few on those he does not feel strongly about, and none on the alternative or the alternatives he favours least.

There were seven members in the council, but the 21 candidates who stood in the 1994 council elections received fund votes on the current issues. There had been three lists in the election, each consisting of seven principals and seven alternates, i.e., 14 names on each list. The principals were invited to take part. Three of them did not participate; one without explanation and two because they were away in the beginning. They were replaced by alternates from the respective lists.

The number of votes each participant received in his fund was proportional to the votes they had received in the 1994 election. List D had received 113 votes, so everyone on the list received 11.3 votes in his fund for each issue put to the vote. List E had received 62 votes, so each person on it received 6.2 votes in his fund on each issue; those on List I, which received 193 votes, each received 19.3 votes in his fund for each issue.

To enable the voters to vote more actively in the first issue, they were allotted four times the numbers mentioned above, so that each member of List D had 45.2 votes, each member of List E 24.8 and each member of List I 77.2.

The local council decided what issues should be put to the vote. The first vote, which was taken at a well-attended introductory meeting, was on the question of how late children are allowed to be outdoors in the evening. Four alternatives were presented: 1) the regulations stated as the norm in the national legislation, 2) the rules applied in the town of Akureyri, 3) the rules applied in the neighbouring town of Selfoss and 4) the rules applied in Vopnafjordur (which were actually more liberal than permitted by law). Each voter received a ballot paper with his name, the number of votes in his fund and the four alternatives. The deadline for returning the ballots, in sealed envelopes, was 12 days after the introductory meeting.

To weigh an issue so as to be able to decide how best to use the votes available, it is necessary to have an idea of forthcoming issues; thus, the two issues due to be voted on next were also presented at this first meeting. One concerned money granted to prominent athletes from Eyrarbakki to enable them to go abroad for training and competitions; the council had awarded grants of this type before, and the question was now whether to continue doing so, and if so, whether to increase or reduce the amounts involved. The second issue concerned speed bumps in the village and the development of children’s playgrounds, for which there were a number of proposals costing different amounts.

After the poll had been held another meeting of the voters was held to announce the results, discuss the method and present the forthcoming issues. The second member of List E, which had only one representative on the council, claimed that using fund voting made the representative less isolated in his work, since the other six on the list had the chance of being meaningfully involved.

The first issue was practically a trial run, and involved no questions of conscience for any of the participants. The second was included so as to give the council information on public opinion outside its own ranks. The council members themselves had been unanimous in their position, but there had been some disagreement in the community at large. However, the vote showed that criticism of the council’s position was not very strong.

This experiment in Eyrarbakki began when the chairman of the local council became interested in fund voting. I therefore met with the local council to present the method. The idea was well received, but it took a lot of time to find suitable issues to start with. This was possibly because the community was so small, but suggestions of possible issues came more readily as more people became familiar with the method and joined the discussion.

A local council does not relinquish its power by using tests of opinion of this type. Only the council has the right and obligation to take decisions on behalf of the local community. Presumably, local councils normally try to form an idea of how their decisions will be received. One way of doing this is to use fund voting in a wider circle. The council decides which issues are to be presented in this way. The majority within the council may have decided to go ahead with a particular measure, but there are various ways of going about it. Fund voting can inform the majority about how the various alternatives are viewed.

Admittedly, the experience gained at Eyrarbakki is not extensive, but it shows that local councils can use fund voting to get a documented responsible reaction in various issues. No single issue should be dominant in a test of opinion of this type. It was therefore not thought to be appropriate to vote on the council’s budget as a whole, but in Eyrarbakki they did think of testing people’s views on special methods of reducing the council’s most burdensome debts. Similarly, it might be appropriate in some places to take a vote on investment projects where these involve accommodating individual projects within the available limits on municipal rates and property taxes. A third type of issue, which arises every year, concerns council grants to associations. Here, the council could decide the total sum, while opinions on how it should be divided between the recipients could be tested by using fund voting, with an option of not using the entire sum being included. In towns, the management board could commission the various municipal committees and civil servants to formulate alternatives on various issues, which could then be made the subject of a fund vote.

Does fund voting give an entrenched minority the chance of dominating in its favourite issue? What does the Eyrarbakki case say about this? It must be remembered that what was involved were issues on which the local council (i.e. the majority) wanted to test opinion in a broader group. The results reveal how each individual participant made use of his fund of votes. Thus, the majority could see how much influence the individual participants have on the outcome and whether there was a reason for taking note of the outcome. The participants project an image of themselves through their voting. Someone who obviously stakes votes in a way that does not reflect his true convictions will damage his reputation and fail to attract general support. This would make it more costly for him to work for the advancement of issues he wants to promote.

There need not be more than two alternatives in any one issue, in practice there are seldom fewer than four. In such cases, participants may see it in their interest to stake votes not only on the alternative they favour most, but also on the second and third best alternative, and so on. If they do not do this, they lose the chance of preventing the victory of the alternative they favour least. Taking this into account, we see that entrenched minorities can fragment and those who had strict views would, despite their conviction, consider alternatives that are slightly closer to popular opinion and give them a degree of support with progressively lower stakes of votes, thus contributing towards the victory of an alternative other than the one they would most prefer.

Let us consider an issue in which there are four alternatives, A, B, C and D. A voter regards three of them as good, almost equally good in fact, and he considers the issue an important one, so important, indeed, that he is prepared to sacrifice virtually all his votes on it. He has 36 votes in his fund. He stakes 35 on B, 32 on C and 30 on D. Here it is vital to avoid the error of adding these stakes together. Only the stake on the alternative that actually wins can result in a deduction of votes from the voter’s fund. This point is important; it means that when alternatives are being formulated for putting to the vote, variants which are sufficiently similar as to attract the support of the same voters can be proposed without placing voters in the dilemma of having to decide which one to support while totally neglecting the others.

Does the head of a council have to fear an extra workload for his administrators if fund voting is adopted to sample views outside the council? To answer this, one must consider how much time the council needs in using other methods of canvassing the opinions of those they must take into consideration, as well as how time-consuming matters can become when parts of the community feel they have been ignored, and finally, how effective fund voting proves to be as a method of arriving at acceptable solutions.

Minor matters can assume large proportions in the public mind. Dissatisfaction and opposition concerning a routine matter can unleash concealed discontent and the situation may become very awkward for the people in authority. If issues are submitted to a wider circle by means of fund voting, they appear in the context of other issues and assume more reasonable proportions. This can reduce the risk of a minor matter giving rise to exaggerated opposition.

The number of alternatives

Any number of alternatives can be handled by means of fund voting; that is to say, the mathematical side of the method can cope with any number, but whether the voters can do so is another matter. This aspect came into focus in Eyrarbakki during the formulation of an issue that was never actually put to the vote, but was instructive nevertheless. To meet full demand, the community’s nursery school needed places for another 14-16 children. There were three possible ways of increasing the nursery school’s capacity:

  1. Erecting a new building, adjacent to the existing building, for 14 children, at a cost of ISK 11-12 million.
  2. Erecting a new building, adjacent to the existing building, for 8 children, at a cost of ISK 5-6 million.
  3. Purchasing the building next door, which would provide space for 16 children, at a cost of ISK 8-10 million.

Whatever was done could be financed by taking a loan, by making general cuts in the council’s expenditures, or by a combination of the two. If voters were to adopt a position on both issues simultaneously, the expansion of the nursery school and the method of financing it, then the number of alternatives would be numerous. A solution that seemed to reflect the way people thought about the issue would be to treat it in two steps: first to vote on the question of expansion and then, a fortnight later, when the result of this vote became known, to tackle the method of financing it.

 

2. Budgets

The budget of a social organization, such as a local authority or a state, is an ordinary matter that nevertheless tends to overshadow other ordinary matters. At first sight, it may seem inappropriate to link issues of such different magnitudes because the proportions of votes would be very dissimilar. Let us examine this point in further detail.

When a budget is drawn up, there is always difficulty in striking a balance between the burden that can be put on individuals and companies in the form of taxes and the requirements that have to be met by expenditures. There is also a conflict in terms of the individual revenue items, as well as in terms of priorities between the various categories of expenditure items. Fund voting also involves similar conflicts and oppositions. Here is a description of how budgeting can be handled with fund voting.

  1. The finance committee draws up a draft budget.
  2. It presents the draft to those who will be involved in the fund vote.
  3. The participants have the opportunity to propose amendments.
  4. They are given a certain length of time for this purpose before the vote is taken.
  5. At the end of the period they present the proposals that have been put forward.
  6. The finance committee selects the first amendment proposal to be put to a fund vote, adding other variants considered necessary.
  7. Further amendments can still be proposed after voting has begun.
  8. The finance committee puts the amendment proposals to a fund vote, one after the other. It may merge two or more proposals into a single issue, presenting them all at the same time.
  9. An issue can be re-examined in the light of a change in circumstances. In such a case, votes that have been spent in the previous vote are returned to the relevant voters.

The first vote might be held on four alternatives: A, the proposed amendment, B, proposing that no change be made, and C and D, whi ch are variants added subsequently by the finance committee. The amendment proposals are then put to the vote, one at a time. Meanwhile, more amendments are proposed, and the voters are informed of them. It could happen, after several proposals have been passed, that someone might feel the premises regarding the first of these have now changed. For example, the first proposal might have been to increase the contribution allocated to a particular activity, but in the light of proposals passed subsequently, the grounds for this decision are now no longer the same. In such a case, it would be fair that the votes deducted for the acceptance of the first proposal be reimbursed to those who staked them.

In this way, the preparation of the budget would consist of a series of issues, large and small, but it would at all times be possible to consider the whole picture while examining each individual issue.

 

3. Fund voting among MPs

Democracy Center in Reykjavik initiated fund voting among MPs and deputy MPs on two separate issues, i.e. fisheries control and a master plan for the exploitation and protection of Iceland’s energy resources. The project was presented to them in conversations, either individually or in pairs of two.

A master plan containing ranking or classification of energy exploitation possibilities was developed by a steering committee under the Ministry of Industry. As a matter of course the committee´s plan was open for public discussion as well as for suggestions on fine-tuning of the ranking and classification before being processed and adopted in its final form by the parliament. The fund voting should be held as part of the public discussion. When the master plan, as it emerged from the cabinet, was being discussed in 2011, Democracy Center carried out fund voting among the members of parliament and their alternates. This took six months. First it was considered whether they wanted to have the fund voting transparent or secret. They did not want the vote to be public. While this was going on, there government adherents and their opponents met each other in bitterness. Such a condition makes it difficult for a person to say on his own what he really feels about an issue. The participation in the vote was so low that the results were not significant, but an important technical experience had taken place.

Fund voting among MPs and deputy MPs on the fisheries control commenced in September 2010. Sixteen issues were presented in the initial phase. Participation in the process included (1) making propositions for amendments of the laws and regulations that are in effect as regards the coming fisheries year, commencing on 1 September 2011, ending on 31 August 2012, and (2) offering votes when the individual issues were presented. By November four issues had been processed. There were no objections to the method applied, yet participation was dismally low, and biased along party lines as well. Consequently the fund voting project was aborted. Two political parties yielded not a single MP. In all 25 of the parliament’s 63 MPs belong to these parties. A MP of one of them gave the explanation that fisheries control had been such an explosive issue at the last party congress that any statements made by the MPs on the matter within the frame of the project might cause unrest. There are irreparable differences of opinion as regards the issue between and, in some cases, within the parties. Fund voting can in cases like this not alleviate such controversies; for that there must be more sets of issues to choose between and each issue must have more alternatives.

The above outcome was not totally unexpected, cf. the discussions in the section on Major issues in Democracy with sequential choice and fund voting (III.D.4). The hard work formulating the problems was, however, rewarding, as there were so many alternatives to choose from in each case.

In 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 the staff at the Democracy Center (two together as a rule) spoke with all the MPs and deputy MPs in question, 115 in all. Then, all of a sudden, there were General Elections in April. This necessitated interviews with 73 new MPs and deputy MPs. The ones that were not reelected in the 2009 elections could participate in the project if they so wished. Cabinet Ministers who were MPs were excluded. During the interviews there were no objections to open voting, i.e. publicly revealing how each MP or deputy MP spends his vote. The MPs seemingly were under the impression that it could be advantageous for them to document their commitment in the way made possible by fund voting. Some of the interviewees stated that they were only interested in one of the issues.

 

4. Fund voting produces proportional results

The aim of proportional representation is that the views of the voters will be expressed in their relative strengths by the representatives. If 40% of the voters have views that shape the policy of the L party and vote for candidates from the L list, they should return 40% of the representatives. The result does not necessarily reflect the relative strength of their views. The situation after the election might be that the 60% who voted for something else will join together to prevent the L group from having any influence. Some may find consolation in the hope that this will change in the next election.

With fund voting, no single group can remain in control for a long time. If anyone tried this, they would gradually spend their fund of votes, while the others, who thus fell under their domination, would get into a position in which they could decide the outcome of the ballots. No experience is needed to come to this conclusion. Furthermore, and more importantly, it has been shown by experience, albeit not extensive, that in fund voting, factions do not band together. If, at the beginning of an issue, two opposing views appear, both factions will consider it an advantage to formulate more alternatives, which will gradually grow ever more remote from what people prefer most. They will do this in the hope that, despite their zeal, their opponents might consider, as a reserve measure, staking votes on an alternative that they are not altogether happy with, and also, for safety’s sake, they themselves will stake a few votes on it as well. The method encourages people to formulate and propose more alternatives.

The consequences of fund voting are that voters enjoy their proportional rights in the long run. When fund voting has become established, it will change the importance of proportional representation to ensure relative distribution of the voters’ influence. It is a simple matter to distinguish between the fact that a representative has been elected and the number of votes he receives in his fund. The purpose of electing representatives using fund voting is to make sure that views which enjoy a certain amount of support will be heard and influence the course of events. For this to happen, it does not matter much whether four or five speakers advocate a certain viewpoint at a meeting; this is different from the present situation, in which both those in the majority and those who remain in a powerless minority depend on whether a party has four or five representatives and on who belongs to the ineffectual minority.

Only experience will show how frequently there is reason to use fund voting to settle issues. Under the present situation, votes are frequently taken simply to confirm the result of an agreement. When people know that an issue can be put to a fund vote, the reasons for sounding out opinion will change and an increase in alternatives will become the natural result.

To ensure that a proposal made by the minority of the representatives will not be excluded from fund voting, a provision can be made stating how many (or few) representatives are needed to call for a fund vote on an issue.

Another question is who should exercise fund votes, e.g., only representatives who would then receive votes into their funds in relation to the votes by which they were elected, or might others be allowed to exercise a vote.

In this connection, whether the result of a fund vote is binding or not is a rather important consideration. If it is not binding, then those who decide the issue must produce arguments in support of their view, whether they approve the result or not.

 

5. Consultation among the public by fund voting

The following is a description of an approach based on the experience gained by a fund voting project carried out in Skaftárhreppur Municipality (South Iceland). The project was prepared and carried out by the Democracy Center. The fund voting was general, i.e. all those on the voters´ list could participate. The fund voting went on for one year. The first issue was presented in November 2009 and the last one in November 2010. In the first issues one could choose between using the Internet for delivering the votes offered or one could forward the ballot by mail. After the area was connected to the Internet all ballots were delivered that way. The issues voted on were as follows: 

  • A charge for refuse collection 
  • Borders of the Vatnajökull National Park within Skaftárhreppur Municipality 
  • Preschool location 
  • Issues regarding the principals of the Municipality schools 
  • Selection of rivers for electricity generation under the Master Plan 
  • The future of the Skaftárhreppur Municipality 
  • Responsibilities for meeting-houses 

Each voter received 40 votes for the first issue, and 10 votes for each issue that was voted on. Should a voter not offer votes on three consecutive issues, he would receive no votes for his fund for use in the following issue. During the time allocated for the handling of each issue, at least two more were brought up for later voting. 

A voter had the possibility to delegate his votes fund to another (which became his representative). If this voter wanted nevertheless to participate in a special matter, he was free to offer votes which made the delegation not in force just in that matter.

The number of alternatives was not the same for all issues. They were always at least two, as in the case of the kindergarten facilities. The highest number concerned the Municipality’s responsibilities for meeting-houses, in all 32 alternatives. Originally there were five meeting-houses, one in each of the original municipalities in the area (until 1990). Each voter offered votes for the various alternatives, most for the ones most important to him and none for the ones he did not care for. Voters who had voted for the alternative that received the largest number of votes lost votes in relation to the votes offered for other alternatives. Other voters lost no votes.

During winter and spring 2009 the Democracy Center´s staff visited nearly every household in the Municipality to give comprehensive information on this fund voting project. At that time it seemed that the inhabitants were thinking of a number of issues that ought to be voted on. Later it turned out, however, that most of those concerned the state, not local government. Issues that hardly any inhabitant would have opposed did not fit in the program. The issues that were included were of immediate concern. There was not much interest in the first issues as was to be expected, but it was frustrating how few were interested in the last two. A person well acquainted with the local situation is of the opinion that the inhabitants had actually been quite confused regarding the sixth of the seven issues, i.e. the future development of the Municipality, and consequently they did not participate. The Municipality’s responsibilities regarding the meeting-houses was undeniably a delicate matter, considering the historical and architectural aspects as well as the question of maintenance: The voters were not prepared to make up their minds. In case the Municipality decided to discontinue its responsibilities for some of the meeting-houses, there obviously remained the question what should become of them. 

When the project was carried out the Municipality was in a state of decay as could clearly be seen in the declining number of schoolchildren lately. Before there were any plans for fund voting in this Municipality, I had a discussion on fund voting with a deputy MP who was actually living there at the time. I told her that I thought that general fund voting would stimulate public interest in social affairs. This person provided strong support for the case during the initial phase, but unfortunately she and her husband soon left the area and moved to the husband’s earlier home area as he had lost his job in the bank branch office at the Municipality Center after the general banking default. 

When the notion of fund voting in this Municipality first emerged the chairman was the first to be briefed on the fundamental idea. He came to the conclusion that offering of votes would have favorable effects, especially as it might moderate the attitudes of the inhabitants. 

It often happens when an issue is prepared for a normal voting process that it is considered advisable to leave out one or more alternatives that, in fact, might seem viable, thereby conceivably reducing the voters’ possibility of expressing their preferences. Fund voting has the advantage that a fairly large number of alternatives can be set up for voting. Reverting to fund voting also has another advantage: When a survey of popular opinion is required, applying fund voting measures the emphasis put on each issue and its various alternatives by the public.

The experience gained by the fund voting in Skaftárhreppur Municipality improved the understanding of the approach discussed in Democracy with sequential choice and fund voting (Section III.C.1). When applying this approach a sort of consultation committee would be established, consisting of members of committees in the public sphere and the boards of various associations, for processing issues by applying fund voting. There the issues are formulated, conceivably with a number of alternatives to begin with, and the people who shall expedite the issue are made aware of how the votes were spent. Should only a few votes be spent on a given issue, this is of interest to the ones who make the decisions. The same applies when, among the alternatives on which the greatest number of votes has been spent, there are two or more with approximately the same number of votes. 

For more information about the fund voting project in Skaftárhreppur municipality: General Fund Voting in a Rural Municipality.

 

Expressions of opinions in voting and election

The interpretation of the opinion in voting and election is one of more topics in election and voting studies. First, a single vote is an expression for the individual, for parts of a group and for the group as a whole. Then, a voting is formally the group's conclusion where it can either be a way to find a standpoint which was not clear and approve it, or to accept and confirm an opinion which is already at hand—or perhaps is in the air; it may be both at the same time. This state of affairs will be described empirically. Then we will evaluate sequential choice and fund voting in relation to this topic.

a) Municipalities, counties

Since time immemorial Iceland was divided in municipalities, each of them with at least 20 households. In 1872 a federation of each county's municipalities was established governed by a board. The county was administered by an official. To his tasks was added the administration of the county board together with the role of spokesman in the county board. The county board had a yearly meeting for handling matters. This meeting lasted some few days, most a week. The county municipalities had between 5 and 16 municipalities. Every primary municipality elected a member for the county board. According to the protocols decisions in the county boards were nearly always unanimous. In the protocols speeches are not referred but the meetings were open.

               Despite unanimousity in the protocols a study showed that there had in some matters not been unanimousity in the beginning. The meeting approved a certain conclusion and every member joined the result with varying delight, as can be the case in a family. The municipalities were activated of different tasks as child education, communications, common exploitation of natural resources as grazing in the mountains, the making of tax assessment and cultural tasks as library and amateur theater, with inhabitants from less than 100 up to 400. The members of the county boards were a part of this kind of community, a community that continued regardless of the conclusion in a single matter in a single county board meeting.

b) Townships

In the middle of the 19th century there existed only one township in the country, the capital Reykjavik. Later there grew up villages. It became as a rule that a village became separated as a township outside the county when it had got a population more times the population in a normal country municipality. In 1903 it was ordered that in a township election there should be a list of candidates; before everybody who voted declared in an open election meeting whom he elected. The first decades it was usual that the same name was on more than one list. So, one didn't present his candidacy, one was placed as a candidate. With the development of political parties this became less usual. In 1936 it was fixed by law that one person could only be put on one list, and in 1962 it was demanded that everybody had approved being on the list. This form of representation in the township councils furthered open disagreement in voting.

c) The parliament

The Icelandic parliament was reestablished in 1845 as a consultative assembly for the king in Copenhagen. In the beginning there were 26 in the parliament, 20 elected by the people for 4 years periods in one man's constituencies and 6 nominated by the king. The parliament was up to the 20th century hold every second year in Reykjavik in July and August. The parliament mostly handled propositions to laws and rules submitted by the monarch's representative. The members of the parliament expressed their opinions dealing with matters in the committees, in the committee's recommendations, by submitting proposals and in speeches and voting in the parliament. All these except the discussion in the committees was publicized, the voting for every member in the seldom case there was roll call. The parliament tidings were sent to officials down to the municipality level, and to subscribers. In 1874 the parliament received limited legislative authority and power to impose taxes and to grant means. The number of representatives became 32. The parliament was then divided in two chambers, the one with 12 of whom there were the monarch's 6 representatives which, by that, were able to stop matters. There were groups in the parliament concerning the constitutional relations to Denmark, but first in 1904, when the country got an own minister with office in Reykjavik (there became three cabinet ministers in 1916) parliamentarism came into existence with a majority which had chosen the minister. This was a starting point for political parties in the parliament which slowly developed with party organizations among the population. This lead to a situation where points of view in matters and speeches preferably complied with the party´s points of view, and there developed a feeling inside the parties to show unanimousity. The parties were a construction, they only were not there as was the case with the communities, with history and identity. Member staying outside the parties could mean staying outside support in matters. It became a task for a party to shape an identity and maintain it, and to build a front against other parties and maintain it and at the same time be a part of a coalition.

Expressing opinions in sequential choice and fund voting

Opinion in sequential choice in a matter is expressed by ranking points of view. Expressing opinion in fund voting in a single issue shows varying weight on the alternatives where an interpretation of it must regard fund voting in other matters. Altogether, expressing opinion by these methods, covers the handling of issues in the integrated county board meeting. The question is whether a larger meeting can carry out the dealing with issues by these methods and keep respect for the results. An issue would be handled by submitting for approval the alternative with the most points in sequential choice (yes/no). Concerning fund voting in the process of a single issue one could start fund voting and when the issue is viewed ripe submit it for voting (yes/no). As the procedure is test voting there is no need to change regulations for this. This form of handling an issue reduces the need for tactical party and coalition work which stresses unanimousity. Will it be viewed as a threat to the justification of political parties and by that their existence? The same can be examined for parliamentarism.

A hidden election of a candidate

In an election forerunning a candidacy may be most of the matter. I take as an example the presidential election in Iceland in 2016. For some it was important to replace the president with a political opposite. Since 1979 again and again when it drew near president election there was put forward the idea to have the head of the University as a candidate for the presidency. The ordinary election of the head of the University in 2015 could be strategic for the forming of a candidacy of the country's president in 2016. Inside the University somebody thought so, but in those circles it was stressed that it should not be known who were possible candidates. The candidate for the University presidency from these circles was not elected, but, nevertheless, was pointed out early in 2016 as a possible president candidate for the country, without finally being presented as such. Ordinary people's choice was narrowed down early in the election process. I refer to the possibilities sequential choice gives to elect among many.

Concluding remark

In short, sequential choice and fund voting give better possibilities than other methods for reliable individual opinions being expressed where the settlement to find the community's opinion is logical in that meaning that every single expression of opinion from every single participant counts with a meaning.