Thursday, May 21, 2009

India's election methods: Is there an alternate method?

All through our life, we have to make choices. We make these choices based on certain needs and desires that we have. From small things like buying a toothpaste to larger things like picking up a job or buying a house for ourselves. But everytime we set out to exercise our choice, we have a backup plan, an alternative. With the toothpaste, it can be choice of brand or size of the tube, etc. With jobs, it can be choice of location, variation in job profile, salary, etc. The bottom line is that we always have a plan laid out- if this isn't available, then I'll settle for that.

In my previous post, I mentioned how candidates who have secured around 33% votes have been declared winners. Despite the fact that around 67% of the people who cast their votes, have done so against the winning candidate. This scenario should actually call for a tweak in the election system that is being followed currently. There are suggestions of a US-style run-off, but this would mean conducting two elections and it would happen across many constituencies. This, would further increase the expenditure towards elections and the already low turnout, would reduce further if there are back-to-back elections.

Another option, that is being used in Australia and in some cities in the US, is called the instant run-off. This option is similar to the scenario I mentioned in the first paragraph. In this scenario, people would indicate a preference of candidates in decreasing order. Instead of having to indicate preferences for all candidates, it can be restricted to indicating three preferences. In some constituencies of India, there are more than forty candidates contesting, which would turn off people from voting as they would have to indicate those many preferences. Suppose there are four candidates in the fray for a particular seat. This indication of preferences can be optional if needed. So, if a voter need not indicate his/her 2nd or 3rd preference. A voter's voting preference can be as seen in the table below.

CandidateChoice 1Choice 2Choice 3

Thus, the voter indicates that A is his 1st choice, B his 2nd and D his 3rd.

When the results are being processed, it can be done in the following manner. First look at the number of votes, each candidate has received as first preference. If any candidate has received more than 50% of the votes polled, he/she can be straight away declared as the winner. If any candidate does not secure more than 50% votes, then the top three candidates are taken and then count the number of votes each received as 2nd preference. Now, add the votes each of these received as 1st preference and 2nd preference in the following manner-

votes for a candidate = (votes as 1st choice) + m*(votes as 2nd choice)

where, 0.5<m<1. A reasonable choice can be m=0.75.

total votes = total votes as 1st choice + m*(total votes as 2nd choice)

Total votes as 2nd choice imply the number of voters who have polled for a candidate as their 2nd choice. This candidate need not be amongst the top three. This choice would eliminate those voters who haven't indicated a 2nd or 3rd choice of candidates. Fractional votes, if any, should be rounded off to the next highest integer.

At the end of this round, if a candidate secures more than 50% votes, he/she should be declared winner. If not, again take the first two and add the votes each secured as 3rd choice in the following manner-

votes for a candidate = (votes as 1st choice) + m*(votes as 2nd choice) + n*(votes as 3rd choice)

where, n=0.5. At this point, the person with the maximum number of votes will have to be declared winner. No matter if he/she has secured more than 50% votes. This is one of the flaws of the system. But, this would still reduce the instances where the winner is the person who has secured just 33% of the votes. There would be more people who would have the winning candidate as one of their preferred choice, rather than having nothing more than a yes/no to say.

A question that may arise here is the difficulty in asking people to do so. Many people may frown at the need to indicate three choices. In every system, a change from status-quo meets some resistance. But, educating the masses can certainly help us overcome this hurdle. It happened when EVMs were introduced. It will happen again if a new system is introduced. But, if the benefits exceed the troubles taken, then time and efforts should definitely be involved in this. As for the technology, we have a large pool of engineers who can be employed on developing systems that can handle such algorithms. Like the EVMs, this to can be developed with indigenous technology and manpower.

Caution: This is a proposed system or process. Like every man-made system or process, this too may have its faults. And like every other system or process, it can be improved till the point it is replaced by a better one.
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  1. Folks,

    I tried to eliminate the unnecessary space that has come in between the paragraph and the top of the table. I guess it is a bug with blogger. So, please bear with me in this regard.

    Thank You,

  2. Finally, managed to work out the tables formatting

  3. WOW you actually came p with a math formula for elections? great but sad its not easy to convince out govt to follow this...

  4. @rads,
    one thing, it is not easy to convince the government and 2nd, mine is not a very popular blog, so hardly will anyone take notice of this :)

    my formula for better democracy may remain buried in history for ever :(

  5. I think you need an *educated* electorate to do this....half the people vote because he is an yadav or a muslim, and another half blindly votes for the Hand or the cycle or the lotus...
    Also there will be political apathy for such an idea, because then the voter will have to judge according to the *capability* of the contender and not his political hubris

  6. @kaushik,

    let us not underestimate the intelligence of the Indian electorate. Yes, it is true that many vote for a caste or a party. But parties are known to field candidates according to caste equations. So, we needn't worry too much about that. For e.g. Shatrughan Sinha and Shekhar Suman were fielded from the same constituency, as both belonged to the dominant Kayastha community.

    And after sometime, people do long for development. That explains, why the elephant was tamed and the cycle punctured in UP by a single hand.

  7. I dont know to what extent we can use the system. If only everything was so clear cut and systematic. But your explanation reminds me of a CAT DI problem!

  8. @puresunshine,

    There is no way to guarantee a fool proof system. Every system will have its flaws. This system may turn out to be better than the previous one. It needs to be tried and tested before we conclude on its effectiveness. Also, instant run-offs are being used in Australian and some city-level US elections. This is just a modified version of the instant run-off system.