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Gaming The Vote

2008 non-fiction book by William Poundstone

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Revolutionary ideas that are worth pondering.

  • Dec 1, 2008
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I don't know about you but I sure am frustrated by the choices we have been presented with during the current Presidential election cycle. Over the years I have observed that regardless of political philosophy the first candidates to be eliminated during the primary season are the ones with ideas. In addition, the frequent appearance of so-called "spoiler" candidates in the both primaries and general elections very often frustrate the will of the people. Voters are frequently heard to mumble "there must be a better way." Well maybe, just maybe, there is. In "Gaming The Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can Do About it) author William Poundstone considers these issues and presents for your consideration at least a half dozen possible alternatives to our current system of plurality voting. Some methods are clearly better than others but the ideas offered in "Gaming The Vote" will definitely get you thinking about the problems voters face in selecting their leaders.

The overwhelming majority of elections conducted in this nation utilize the method known as plurality voting. Plurality voting is not very complicated and works very well when there are only two candidates. For all intents and purposes, whoever gets the most votes wins. That is fine and dandy until a third or a fourth candidate enters the race. That is when a phenomenon known as "vote splitting" occurs. The end result can be what we all saw in Florida in the 2000 Presidential election. Independent candidate Ralph Nader siphoned off just enough votes from Al Gore to cost him a victory in Florida and denied him the Presidency. So just what are the alternatives? Is there really any method of voting out there that is fair and fool-proof?

William Poundstone examines several voting methods that have been developed over the years. Most of these have been deemed statistically "unacceptable" by the experts who study these things. There are simply too many ways to manipulate the results. Both "Borda Count' (introduced in France in 1784) and "Condorcet Voting" would fall into this category. You will also discover that the same appears to be true for something called "Cumulative Voting" and yet another system called "Approval Voting". It is interesting to note that there are a couple of voting alternatives that are being heavily promoted these days. "Instant Runoff Voting" ranks the candidates in order of preference while "Range Voting" offers voters the opportunity to rate all candidates based on a scale of 0 to 10. You may not even realize it but Amazon reviewers use "range voting" every time they choose to submit a review. What you will discover in "Gaming The Vote" is that reforming our elections is a very tricky proposition indeed. There are so many factors to consider and no one can be absolutely certain that any election system is fool-proof. And as another reviewer has aptly pointed out William Poundstone only discusses the election of executives in his book. Whether any of these methods could work at the state and local level in races for the legislature or city council is really unclear.

When all is said and done I really do think that "Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can Do About It)" is a book worth reading. However, if you are looking for definitive answers to the problem of conducting elections in this country then you will likely be disappointed. For most folks, "Gaming The Vote" will merely serve as an introduction to those methods that could one day make our elections fairer and the results more indicative of the voters wishes than they are today. People need to arm themselves with this kind of useful information if we are ever going to bring meaningful reform to our elections. "Gaming The Vote" is a well written book that should prove quite interesting to a wide range of readers.  Recommended.

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March 13, 2009
Sounds like an interesting read!
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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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At least five U.S. presidential elections have been won by the second most popular candidate, but these results were not inevitable. In fact, such an unfair outcome need never happen again, and as William Poundstone shows in Gaming the Vote, the solution is lurking right under our noses.
In all five cases, the vote was upset by a "spoiler"—a minor candidate who took enough votes away from the most popular candidate to tip the election to someone else. The spoiler effect is more than a glitch. It is a consequence of one of the most surprising intellectual discoveries of the twentieth century: the "impossibility theorem" of the Nobel laureate economist Kenneth Arrow. His theorem asserts that voting is fundamentally unfair—a finding that has not been lost on today's political consultants. Armed with polls, focus groups, and smear campaigns, political strategists are exploiting the mathematical faults of the simple majority vote. The answer to the spoiler problem lies in a system called range voting, which would satisfy both right and left, and Gaming the Vote assesses the obstacles confronting any attempt to change the U.S. electoral system.

William Poundstone is the author of ten books, including Fortune's Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street (H&W, 2005).

The latest of several books by Poundstone on the theme of how important scientific ideas have affected the real world, Gaming the Vote is both a wry ...
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ISBN-10: 0809048930
ISBN-13: 978-0809048939
Author: William Poundstone
Genre: Politics
Publisher: Hill & Wang
Date Published: February 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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