|Turn of a Card May Decide All|
|By BEN MACINTYRE - The London Times |
November 16, 2000 - The presidential contest in New Mexico, and conceivably even the outcome of the whole election, could be settled in Wild West fashion: by a game of poker played between Al Gore and George W. Bush.
Fewer than 400 votes separate the two men in New Mexico, with ballots still being counted. Under state law, if the race ends in a tie, the outcome should be settled by drawing lots but in practice the traditional method has been to play a hand of five-card stud.
If Mr. Bush wins Florida, but Mr. Gore successfully challenges his narrow victory in New Hampshire, then New Mexico could hold the key to the White House.
After the chaos of “pregnant chads”, lawsuits and manual recounts, there might be poetic justice in an election settled by the luck of the draw, in a game of bluff and counter-bluff.
Undoubtedly, Mr. Gore has the better poker face. Some say this is his only face. But Mr. Bush’s misspent youth must have acquainted him with the inside of a card deck.
John Dendahl, New Mexico’s Republican Party chairman, pointed out that there would be little chance to demonstrate card-playing skill, or cheat, with only a single round to decide the issue. “That’s what’s been done in the past. Not even a whole game. Just one hand, and that takes dumb luck,” he said.
The last election to be settled at the card table was in December last year, when Jim Blanq, a Republican, and Lena Milligan, a Democrat, tied at 798 votes for the post of magistrate.
A hand of poker in the local courthouse gave the prize to Mr. Blanq. In 1988 James Farrington became Mayor of Estancia on the back of an ace-high flush.
Copyright 2000 Times Newspapers Ltd.
|More on Chaos 2000:|
|The Brits Have A Better Plan? |
(from The London Times)
November 16, 2000 - What is the best way to elect a president? In the wake of the US presidential election deadlock, Anjana Ahuja looks at the best alternatives to a one person, one vote ballot
A dozen mathematicians are debating where to go for a group dinner. The choices are pizza, burgers or curry. Being logical and fair-minded, the group decides that each member should list his or her preferences in order. Five favour a curry, followed by pizza, then burgers; four opt for burgers first, then pizza, and curry last; and the remaining three are pizza-lovers whose second choice is burgers and third choice curry.
How do they choose where to go? It is impossible to work it out unless you know how their preferences are analysed. With the outcome of the American presidential election hanging in the balance, it is worth remembering that election results are the fruits of voting procedures as much as candidate popularity. In particular, many mathematicians argue that the one-person, one-vote system (as used in the US) is the unfairest of all, and have suggested alternative routes to electoral harmony.
Back to the hungry mathematicians. The most obvious way to choose a restaurant is to select the cuisine with the most first-choice votes. This is called a plurality vote, and is how Americans vote for their President (although results can be affected by the electoral college system) and how we vote for MPs. With five such votes, curry appears to be the clear winner.
Miffed, the burger fans note that even though curry amasses the most first-choice votes, it does not enjoy the approval of the majority of the group. The burger fans suggest a run-off between curry and burgers, dropping pizza because it was the least popular first choice. This gives five people who prefer curry to burgers, but seven who prefer burgers to curry. The burger fans would get their way. Not to be outdone, the pizza fans come up with yet another way of dissecting the results. Simply, what happens when each cuisine is compared against another? In a choice between pizza and burgers, a majority (eight) would choose pizza. In a choice between pizza and curry, a majority again (seven) would choose pizza. Therefore, pizza could be seen as pleasing the most while displeasing the fewest.
Similar anomalies surfaced during the American primaries earlier this year. Although many opinion polls suggested that John McCain was trouncing both George W. Bush and Al Gore in the popularity stakes, he was out of the race for the White House by early March. That was despite voters saying they would vote for Gore over Bush, and McCain over Gore. The trouble lies with the plurality vote, according to mathematicians Donald Saari from the University of California at Irvine, and Steven Brams from New York University. In a three-way contest, a candidate can triumph with just 34 per cent of the vote, even if the remaining 64 per cent of voters put them last.
As Saari, an expert on voting, tells this month’s Discover magazine: “The plurality vote is the only procedure that will elect someone who’s despised by almost two-thirds of the voters.”
The problem is that even these two experts on voting theory, sometimes called consensus theory, don’t agree on an alternative, even though they both agree that the plurality voting system is unsatisfactory. To Saari, it violates intuitive mathematical symmetries. Take voter A who favours, in order, Bush, McCain and Gore, and contrast him with voter B who favours the exact reverse — Gore, McCain and Bush. Many people would intuitively say that this is a tie, and these two voters should cancel each other out. Instead, it is only the first choice that counts. The “OK” guy in the middle — in this case, McCain — misses out in both votes.
The top two alternatives to the plurality or one-person, one-vote system, are approval voting — favoured by Brams — and the Borda count, preferred by Saari.
Approval voting goes back to the 13th century, when Venetians used it to elect their judiciary. Simply, a voter casts a vote for every candidate they think suitable. So a person could vote for their favourite mainstream candidate and a dark horse. It allows moderately popular candidates to amass support, even if a safe candidate triumphs. It might mitigate against negative campaigning, as voters could register their disapproval by simply withholding votes from the offender. The disadvantage is that voters might be less inclined to take their electoral duty seriously if they have more than one vote. John McCain — the “OK” guy — might well have been the next White House incumbent had approval voting been in operation in the US.
The Borda count allocates points in order of preference. For example, if there are ten candidates, the first choice gets ten points, the second choice nine points, the third choice eight points, and so on. The winner is the candidate with the most points at the end of the contest. This system is named after the French physicist Jean-Charles de Borda, who proposed it in the late 18th century to elect members of the Paris-based Academy of Sciences. In the example above, where voter A and voter B chose opposite preferences, the Borda count pronounces this a tie. Crucially, the middling candidates can win some of the vote. Earlier this year, Saari published two important papers in the journal Economic Theory setting out why the Borda count was superior to existing electoral protocols.
The disadvantage is its complexity — voters may neglect to rank all the candidates (in this case, the unallocated points are divided equally among the unranked candidates). And what happens if candidates urge supporters to rank opponents last? As for the dozen famished mathematicians, perhaps they should settle for a Chinese restaurant instead.
Copyright 2000 Times Newspapers Ltd.
|House Lawmakers Propose Panel to Review Electoral Process |
By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press
WASHINGTON November 16, 2000 - Two congressmen are proposing a broad review of the American electoral process, one of numerous ideas coming out of Congress during the presidential election standoff that has brought legislative work to a halt.
Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Jim Leach, R-Iowa, introduced legislation Wednesday to form a bipartisan 12-member commission to recommend how best to ensure the integrity of future federal elections. The panel would look into such issues as the rationale for the Electoral College, voter registration, mail-in balloting, voting technology, ballot design, weekend voting and campaign finance reform.
"It's time we gather constitutional scholars and election experts together to review the electoral process and identify areas that warrant reform in order to avoid the confusion that we're encountering this year," DeFazio said.
President Clinton agreed Thursday that election reforms may grow out of the ballot dispute in Florida.
"I think there will be a lot of pressure to improve the form of ballots and the methods of voting and have more clear standards around the country," Clinton said in Brunei, where he is attending an economic summit.
The uncertainty over the presidential winner hit home in Congress, where the House and Senate agreed this week to extend the lame-duck session with a three-week recess. There was consensus between the parties that differences cannot be resolved this year without knowing who will be in the White House next year.
Meanwhile, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, at the request of some Republicans, has prepared a two-page memo about the House role in the Electoral College process, said his spokesman, Jonathan Baron. Republican aides also are researching legal precedents for challenging electors. But DeLay does not expect or want the House to take any extraordinary action, Baron said.
"Mr. DeLay's purpose in response to members' inquiries is to ensure they have the knowledge they need to fulfill their constitutional obligations and to discuss the electoral college accurately," he said. "That's where it starts, that's where it ends."
Also Wednesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., asked the General Accounting Office, the investigative wing of Congress, to examine state election laws and practices and how they compare in minimizing fraud, error and irregularities. She also asked the GAO to look into the feasibility of voting over the Internet.
Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania proposed this week establishment of a commission to study ways to ensure speedy and accurate reporting of election results, including technology to computerize vote counting and the effectiveness of voting by mail.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he will introduce legislation in January to pay for a study by the Federal Election Commission on alternative voting methods. He said the FEC should look into such areas as online voting, voting by mail, computerized voting machines and expanded voting hours. His bill also would create a matching grant program to give states the financial incentive to implement new voting methods.
"The current system is antediluvian. We haven't updated it in any significant way in years, and that's one of the reasons why turnout has declined by nearly 20 percent since 1960," Schumer said.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., says he plans to introduce legislation creating a commission to look into how to maximize best the simplicity of voter registration and the ease of voting.
While attempts to amend the Constitution to do away with the Electoral College have made little headway in Congress, the issue is likely to gain attention in 2001. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, in one of her first statements after her election to a Senate seat from New York, said she would support such a constitutional amendment.
In other action, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House Commerce telecommunications subcommittee, has sent letters to news organizations as part of a congressional investigation into whether election-night predictions, some erroneous, discouraged voters from going to the polls elsewhere in the country.
And the Congressional Black Caucus has written Attorney General Janet Reno seeking a formal investigation into allegations that blacks and other minorities faced discriminatory practices at voting precincts in Florida and other parts of the country.
|Election Battle Sparks Protests and Humor Online |
(AP) Nov. 16, 2000 - Washington - In Florida, the presidential election won't end. Online, the protests and humorous jabs have only begun. Internet sites devoted to what one entrepreneur calls the "Perpetual Election'' have sprung up. They hawk "Bush Wins'' newspapers and organize demonstrations and revote efforts. Amazon.com even used a mock "butterfly'' ballot -- like the controversial one in Palm Beach County, Fla. -- to peddle books, music and lawn and patio products.
While the stalemate between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore drags on in the courts, cyberspace again has moved with speed and ease on the latest American fascination.
Jack Kennedy, a Democrat and circuit court clerk in Wise County, Va., created his own Web site so voters could flood the local court with e-mails demanding a new vote in Palm Beach County, at the heart of the disputed vote count. His effort was born to "spontaneous outrage that Al Gore would get more votes cast for him and still lose in the state of Florida,'' Kennedy said.
The site, Revotepalmbeach.com, offers a form that generates an e-mail to the circuit court in Palm Beach County requesting a revote there.
Since the morning after the Nov. 7 election, Trustthepeople.com has offered blank affidavits for Florida voters to sign if they believed their ballot was confusing.
As of late last week, the site -- set up by Democrats.com, which bills itself as "the first online community for America's 100 million Democrats'' but is not affiliated with the national party -- had collected more than 3,000 affidavits.
Just as activists organized protests in 1999 against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, Countercoup.org is trying to organize "pro-democracy'' demonstrations around the country against the Electoral College and vote-counting dispute in Florida.
Some protests organized through the site drew sizable crowds; attendees say there were 400 demonstrators in Boston and about 250 in Washington on Nov. 11. But some smaller cities didn't fare as well. An activist in Eau Claire, Wis., wrote that only five protesters showed up.
A site organized in part by online journalist Declan McCullagh declares itself the "first and only news outlet devoted to the latest information on the first perpetual election the United States has seen.'' PerpetualElection.com solicits discussion about election developments.
Web entrepreneurs also are cashing in.
On eBay and other sites, enterprising auctioneers are trying to make anywhere from $5 to $20 by selling copies of newspapers that prematurely declared Republican candidate George W. Bush the new president. Newspapers from all over the country are available. One eBay seller last week tried to sell a picture of the CNN.com home page with a headline reporting Bush the winner. The auction offer has since been removed by eBay for copyright reasons.
Much of the online activity involves Gore supporters. But Republicans have some efforts of their own.
Don Evans, chairman of the Bush campaign, used the huge GOP e-mail list to ask more than 900,000 supporters for donations to underwrite the Republican legal efforts in the Florida recount battle.
There also is plenty of Web humor.
On Taterbrains.com, Elmira, N.Y., cartoonist Mike Collins is selling a T-shirt with a sample "Official Florida Election Ballot'' showing a straight line from Bush's name to his punch hole but a mess of squiggly lines leading to the punch holes of other candidates' names.
At online bookseller Amazon.com, spokesman Bill Curry said an employee with a "whimsical brainstorm'' created a navigation menu designed like the infamous butterfly ballot. Instead of Gore, Bush or Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, this ballot offered "Books'' in the second spot on the left and "Lawn and Patio'' in the first spot on the right.
"We're going to do a manual recount and see what the results are,'' Curry quipped.
The polls must have closed early: The ballot was gone by Wednesday.
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