Presentation of The Punter’s Guide to Democracy at Áras an Uachtaráin

On 8 February, Peter Emerson (the de Borda Institute, made a presentation of The Punters’ Guide to Democracy (2022, Springer, Heidelberg) to President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin. He was joined by Prof. Peter Stone, Cllr. Dr. Vanessa Liston, and Rosalind Skillen (Master’s student, UCD). 

This is Peter Emerson’s argument for adopting the Modified Borda Count:

Binary voting in decision-making is seldom questioned.  It is used in parliamentary votes and in referendums; it is said it was deployed in China’s CCP Standing Committee in 1989 on Tiān’ānmén, and it’s even in Article 97 of North Korea’s constitution.  It’s everywhere.  It was the basis of the creation/concoction of Northern Ireland; it was used in the split which led to the formation of the Bolsheviks – the very word means ‘members of the majority’; weighted majority voting was deployed in Germany in 1933, the Enabling Act, when Hitler took total power; and “all the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a [binary] referendum,” (Oslobodjenje, Sarajevo’s famous newspaper, 7.2.1999), as did today’s conflict in Ukraine.  It is indeed ubiquitous, and often iniquitous.  

Electroral systems vary enormously, sometimes electing an individual like a president, sometimes hundreds as in an entire parliament.  In contrast, decision-making is much simpler: it is used to select a singleton – either a single social choice or a prioritisation – but here too, there are quite a few systems offering the voter (parliamentarian or punter) a single or many a preference.  

Binary voting was first used by the Greeks of course, 2,500 years ago, and shortly afterwards by the Chinese, in the Former Hán Dynasty.  Multi-option decision-making dates from the year 105: when studying the three options presented to a Roman jury at a murder trial – acquittal, banishment or capital punishmnent – Pliny the Younger realised that if there was no majority in favour of any one option, there was a majority against every option.  (As was the case in Brexit.)  

The first government to deploy plurality voting was in China in 1197, during the Jurchen Jīn Dynasty.  A century later, Ramón Llull spoke of preferential voting, and in 1433, Cardinal Nicholas Cusanus suggested a preferential points system, today’s (Modified) Borda Count, MBC.  Other methodologies include approval voting, the two-round system, the single transferable vote STV (otherwise known as the alternative vote AV or ranked choice voting RCV), range voting and the Condorcet rule.

In contrast to many another book on voting systems, The Punters’ Guide to Democracy looks at decision-making. The conclusion is stark: majority voting is not only divisive, adversarial and, sometimes, inaccurate – it is also horribly manipulable, as was seen in Brexit, as is seen in Ukraine.  It really is time it was questioned, and the text proves that binary voting allows the leader who so wishes – Napoléon, Johnson, Putin – to not only select the option(s) but also, in choosing the order of voting, to determine the outcome.

If only for the sake of Ukraine, Ireland should replace binary voting, both in the Dáil and in referendums, with the MBC; at best, the latter identifies the option with the highest average preference.  So it is ideally suited for pluralist occasions like the COP gatherings.  It is not only inclusive, literally, it is also non-majoritarian.  This means it could pave the way for broad, all-party coalitions, governments of national unity.  The appropriate methodology is the matrix vote, which Ireland should adopt, now, before a future election sees Sinn Féin win 50% + 1.  It is the only voting methodology which is an Irish invention: and it’s all in The Punters’ Guide.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s