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Re: Condorcet Voting and Supermajorities (Re: [CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT] Disambiguation of 4.1.5)

On Thu, Dec 07, 2000 at 01:37:31PM +1000, Anthony Towns wrote:
> From A.3(1): ``If Further Discussion wins then the entire resolution
> procedure is set back to the start of the discussion period.'' From
> A.3(2): ``If Further Discussion wins then the entire procedure is set
> back to the start of the discussion period.''

Oops, my goof.

I still maintain there's a difference (because the intent of the
developers is more obvious), but you're right about the minimum discussion

> > > > > The vote is counted by first finding the Smith set, then
> > > > > eliminating all options from the Smith set that don't make
> > > > > quorum or their respective supermajority requirement. If
> > > > > no options remain, the default option, Status-quo wins. If
> > > > > many options remain, they're chosen amongst by using STV, or
> > > > > something similar.
> > > > It's interesting that you're throwing quorum into the middle of
> > > > the vote instead of at the begining or the end. I'm curious: do
> > > > you have any describable reason for this choice?
> > > If you throw it in at the very end, you don't have an opportunity
> > > to select an alternative winner. If you put it at the start, I
> > > *believe* it tends to encourage insincere votes unnecessarily.
> > You really think that "winner doesn't have quorum, but some option
> > it beat does" is a worthwhile scenario? [You might be right -- I'm
> > trying to understand if there's a reason behind this viewpoint.]
> No, I'm not interested in it at all. Look, I realise this has other
> features, but right now, I don't care about them. I'm trying to get
> you to understand what supermajority stuff is about.

Ok.  I think this ties together, but let's see how it pans out.

> > > > > This isn't entirely ideal: it'll select the status-quo more
> > > > > often than is probably desirable, but otherwise it's fairly
> > > > > expressive, and doesn't weight any preferences any more than
> > > > > others wherever possible.
> > > > I presume, here, you're talking about the case where we're
> > > > picking between an option with a supermajority requirement and a
> > > > case where we're not. And, I presume that a bias towards options
> > > > with supermajority requirements is something that you don't
> > > > really care about.
> > > _Huh_?! Where did that come from?
> > > The only biasses in the above are towards options that pairwise
> > > beat other options, and towards the status-quo options (in the
> > > event others don't meet their supermajority requirements).
> > Supermajority options which don't meet supermajority requirement but
> > do meet a lesser majority requirement will (by definition) pairwise
> > beat other options [which don't have that requirement].
> You're using a particular definition for `supermajority requirement'
> there, that I don't accept or agree with. Can we avoid assuming you're
> right for the moment, and see if there's a reasonable justification
> for thinking that way?

Er.. I thought I was using your definition of supermajority options,
in that paragraph.

> > > Let me try a different explanation for what a "bias" is. Suppose
> > > you had a vote amongst only two options, Foo and Bar, that went
> > > something like:
> > > 	60 votes F over B
> > > 	40 votes B over F
> > > then you would expect F to beat B, right? And if the vote went the
> > > other way,
> > > 	60 votes B over F
> > > 	40 votes F over B
> > > you'd expect B to win. That would be a completely unbiassed vote.
> > No problem.
> Now, I probably should have added: a completely unbiassed vote isn't
> something we want. We want to bias towards (at least) the status-quo
> because we know it works. This is at least what quorum is about, and
> IMO, what supermajority is about.

I'll agree that quorum biases against any change (when there aren't
enough voters).  I'll also note, here, that quorum is different from

I'll only agree that supermajority biases against certain forms of
change (changing the constitution, for example).

> > Ok, here you're defining the effect of supermajority as "bias".
> I'm saying that supermajority requirements is a particular kind of
> bias, yes.


> > > What you're also saying, though, is that given three options, A, B
> > > and Status-Quo, say, where A requires a 3:1 supermajority, but B
> > > doesn't, that if the vote went like:
> > > 	60 votes B over A over S
> > > 	40 votes A over B over S
> > > then B should clearly win (which I agree with), but also, if A and
> > > B were swapped, so that you had:
> > > 	60 votes A over B over S
> > > 	40 votes B over A over S
> > > that B should still win. That is, you're biassed towards accepting
> > > any option that doesn't require a supermajority over any that
> > > does.
> > Sure, this validates your underlying assumption: that a
> > supermajority requirement is a bias.
> > I can accept this definition, but using the terms in the way you've
> > indicated: I don't see that "taking the bias out of the voting"
> > system means anything other than "taking the effect of supermajority
> > out of the voting system".
> It'd also take quorum out of the voting system too.

Well, it could mean that, but I didn't think that that was what you were
arguing for.

> Arguably, it'd also take tie-breakers out of the vote, also.

That's really reaching.

> It's irrelevant. I'm not trying to remove all bias from the vote, only
> ones that don't have a reasonable justification.

What do you consider "a reasonable justification"?

> > > And while I can see the point of this for favouring the status-quo
> > > (either expressed as "No" or "Further Discussion" or "Status-quo")
> > > can't see any useful reason why we should be *that* scared of
> > > changing the constitution, that we should always favour *anything*
> > > else.
> > Ok, I understand this as saying: you'd like to see the effect of
> > supermajority weakened.
> No, you don't understand what I'm saying.
> _Why_ do you think it's proper or justified or reasonable to be
> biassed towards B over A? What's the motivation for doing this? Why is
> B better than A? Why is A more of a risk than B?

Let's say that we're still talking about a situation where B has no
supermajority requirement because it does not modify the constitution, and
A has a supermajority requirement because it modifies the constitution.
Supermajority is blind to the almost all of the semantics of a change --
all it cares about is whether or not the requirement is there -- whether
the constitution is being modified.

So, a vote in favor of A is a vote in favor of modifying the constitution,
while a vote in favor of B is a vote in favor of not modifying the

Do you see where I'm heading?  Do you have any disagreement with the
underlying logic?

For some reason, you seem to want to argue that a vote which prefers
B (not modifying the constitution) to A (modifying the constitution)
should count in favor of modifying the constitution unless "do nothing
at all, not even B" is ranked higher than A.  I can understand *that*
this is what you're arguing, but I've yet to see any convincing argument
that this is a good thing.

> Note that this argument should apply to _all_ possible A and B.

I presume you're talking about the argument you've asked me to present?

I'll note that my argument assumes that A has supermajority and B
does not.  Do you want me to present an argument about what's supposed
to happen for some other case?

> Note that biassing everything over A isn't the only way of handling a
> supermajority (and isn't even a common or usual way --- you're welcome
> to cite one other instance of _anyone_ doing it this way, though),
> you can simply require a supermajority of people preferring A to the
> status-quo (by literally having a "Status-quo" option, or by using
> "No" or "Further Discussion" or both of them as a replacement).

This looks like what you're advocating, but I still don't see a convincing
reason to believe that "do nothing" is any less of a change to the
constitution than "option B" in the above example.

> Note that, IMO, introducing unnecessary biasses into a voting system
> is a good way to encourage people to propose options for the sole
> purpose of exploiting these biasses, or at least for others to accuse
> people of doing it.

Are you claiming that introducing a ballot option which would alter the
constitution would somehow change the likelyhood of some other option

> On that grounds, consider a vote that goes like:
> 	200 A over B over F over N
> 	 70 B over A over F over N
> and having B win. Do you really think the 200 people are going to be
> happy to be overruled by a minority of 70, who *didn't even dislike*
> option A?

They disliked it enough to prefer option B.

> Perhaps I'm just oversensitive to this issue because I can already see
> Branden flaming me endlessly about this, in spite of any argument I
> might put forward against it now.

Heh..  just tell him how evil his cackle is, and he'll ease off a bit.

> > > > > Okay, let me flesh out how I'd conduct a vote that has
> > > > > multiple related alternatives that should be decided on at
> > > > > once. First, since the constitution doesn't say anything about
> > > > > merging distinct votes, I'd require the later alternatives to
> > > > > be phrased as amendments to the first alternative presented,
> > > > > even if this essentially implies ignoring the original
> > > > > proposal and rewriting it from scratch.
> > > > Ok.
> > > > > Once all the alternatives are assembled, and the
> > > > > proposers/sponsors have called for a vote, I'd first form a
> > > > > ballot under A.3(1) that looked like
> > > > > 	[ _ ] Original proposal
> > > > > 	[ _ ] First amendment
> > > > > 	[ _ ] Second amendment
> > > > > 	[ _ ] Third amendment
> > > > > 	[ _ ] Further discussion
> > > > > (assuming there aren't any sensible combinations of two or
> > > > > more amendments).
> > > > An important assumption.  
> > > A simplifying assumption, not an important one. I could instead
> > > have just listed a single amendment and the original proposal and
> > > there'd have been no question.
> > Given your interpretation -- that a person could be against the
> > original proposal but for the amendment, I'd still have a serious
> > question.
> The assumption is that you can't apply any two of the amendments
> simultaneously. That merely depends on how the amendments were
> written. If they were written differently, the ballot would look
> different. If there were four amendments it'd look different too.

That wasn't the form of the question.  The question is how can you have
an amendment without having an original proposal to amend?

> > > > Also, if you're talking a constitutional ballot, I think you
> > > > need an explicit "no" option, for people who don't want the
> > > > original proposal with or without any amendments, and don't want
> > > > to discuss it further.
> > > No, section A.3(1) sets out the options to be included on the
> > > initial ballot, that is all sensible combinations of amendments
> > > and options, and an option Further Discussion. If people want to
> > > vote "No", they have to do so in the final vote (A.3(2)), not the
> > > initial vote/s.
> > This, I suspect, is the core of our disagreement.
> ...and I notice you don't refer to the constitution at all in your
> "interpretation".
> In particular:
> > However, if they're combined into a single final ballot, it makes
> > sense to have the following options:

In particular: "it makes sense to have the following options" means
that these options include all the constitutionally required options.
And, more specifically, these options include all the possible forms of
the final draft resolution.

Also, A.3(2) only applies "When the final form of the resolution has
been determined".  It doesn't make sense to apply A.3(2) when there
remain distinct possibilities for the final form of the resolution.

> The constitution never says that multiple ballots can be combined into
> a single ballot, merely that the ballots can be "held simultaneously,
> even using a single voting message".

I guess I see what you're saying here -- but I feel that your conclusion
is completely nonsensical, and therefore an incorrect interpretation.

> > Now, as I understand it, your feelings about this ballot are:
> > [1] It's unconstitutional,
> ...because it has no basis in the constitution.

I've yet to see you propose a more sensible interpretation for combining
amendment and final ballots.  I'll stick with mine until then.

The constitution is specifying the properties of that voting message.
You seem to want to use it as some kind of procedural statement -- but
in doing so you seem to be failing to be fulfilling all the requirements.

> > [2] In addition, "Neither" and "Discuss" are equivalent
> > and should be merged.  
> This isn't possible to read from the constitution as it stands. Well,
> as I'd read it.


> > > > > Under A.3(2), I'd be required to issue a ballot that allowed
> > > > > people to choose amongst:
> > > > > 	[ _ ] Yes
> > > > > 	[ _ ] No
> > > > > 	[ _ ] Further discussion
> > > > > to whichever of the above won.
> > > > Yes.
> > > 
> > > > > Under A.3(3) I'd be permitted to issue these ballots in a
> > > > > single message, as long as each voter could choose a different
> > > > > final vote no matter which original option won.
> > > > A.3(3) says: 
> > > >     3. The vote taker (if there is one) or the voters (if voting
> > > >        is done by public pronouncement) may arrange for these
> > > >        ballots to be held simultaneously, even (for example)
> > > >        using a single voting message. If amendment ballot(s) and
> > > >        the final ballot are combined in this way then it must
> > > >        be possible for a voter to vote differently in the final
> > > >        ballot for each of the possible forms of the final draft
> > > >        resolution.
> > > > I believe the case you're talking about is where the amendment
> > > > ballot(s) are combined with the final ballot.
> > > 
> > > What it says is that the ballots may be `held using a single
> > > voting message', not that the ballots can be combined into a
> > > single ballot. It further requires that the voter must be able
> > > to express a different vote in the final ballot for each of the
> > > possible forms of the final draft resolution.
> > Right...
> > So why are you adding, onto the ballot, mechanisms to express things
> > that would never show up on the final ballot?
> Because the constitution specifically requires that ``it must be
> possible for a voter to vote differently in the final ballot for each
> of the possible forms of the final draft resolution'', even though
> only _one_ of the possible forms of the final draft resolution will
> actually win the initial vote.

The constitution doesn't say that you create a final ballot where
some of the individual options are themselves unresolved ballots.

> > > That is, they must first be able to rank the various options for
> > > how the final form of the resolution may look, and then, depending
> > > on the result of that vote, must be able to choose their ordering
> > > of Yes, No and Further Discussion on the final vote.
> > Nope.
> > The constitution says: 
> >        If amendment ballot(s) and the final ballot are combined
> >        in this way then it must be possible for a voter to vote
> >        differently in the final ballot for each of the possible
> >        forms of the final draft resolution.
> > You're talking about creating a final ballot for rating each of a
> > set of possible *ballots*. You're supposed to be creating a ballot
> > for rating each of the possible *resolutions*.
> No. The form of the *ballots* are defined by A.3(1) and A.3(2). I am
> simply combining these ballots in a single message.

Actually, you're creating a new "ballot of ballots" in the process.
One which seems to have no constitutional basis whatsoever [where you
give preference to one amendment ballot preference over another and over
the original proposal].

And, I still don't see how, using your interpretation, the voter could
vote differently in the final ballot for each of the possible forms
of the final draft resolution.  [At least, not in the general case.
If you assume that we'll never vote on things which can't be handled by
your system then this obviously becomes a nonissue.]

> The three Y/N/F ballots are for which *resolution* wins the initial vote.

I understand that.

What I don't understand is how you're satisfying A.3(3).

> > You do understand the difference, I hope?
> At one point I would have hoped you'd understand the difference
> between a message that combines two ballots and a ballot that does,
> but whatever.

I do understand that they *can* be different.

> > > > > I'd this make a message that looked like:
> > > > >       ,-- Preference for this option to win
> > > > >      |     ,-- Preference for "Yes" in the final ballot if
> > > > >      |    |    this option wins
> > > > >      |    | ,--- Preference for "No" ...
> > > > >      |    || ,---- Preference for "Further Discussion" ...
> > > > >      V    VVV
> > > > >    [ A ] [_B_] Original proposal
> > > > >    [ _ ] [_C_] First amendment
> > > > >    [ _ ] [_D_] Second amendment
> > > > >    [ _ ] [_E_] Third amendment
> > > > >    [ _ ]       Further discussion
> > > (identifiers A,B,C,D,E added)
> > > This form of ballot achieves that by allowing you to first
> > > consider the preferences stated by each voter in the A vote, then,
> > > depending on which option won, counting the votes made in only one
> > > of the B,C,D or E options.
> > So how do I rate "Original proposal + first and third amendment"
> > higher than "Original proposal + second and third amendment"?
> You don't, because that would be meaningless. Just like you don't
> vote for "Original proposal + fourth amendment". Is this really that
> difficult to comprehend?

Absolutely.  Original proposal + first and third amendment indicates
a possible form of the final draft resolution.  Original proposal +
second and third amendment incidates a possible form of the final
draft resolution.  Original proposal + forth amendment indicates
a possible form of the final draft resolution.

[1] I don't see what's meaningless about this, and
[2] I don't see why I don't vote for those, and
[3] I don't see how you're satisfying the constraint that it be
possible for the voter to vote differently in the final ballot for
each of the possible forms of the final draft resolution.

> I thought you wanted to just take clearly specified types of vote
> rather than explicit examples. "Four alternatives, none independent"
> is a specific type of vote to consider, isn't it?

It would be, but you claimed that that wasn't an important assumption,
so I'm questioning how your ballot would work for the case that this
assumption wasn't made.

If you had agreed that it was an important assumption, I wouldn't have
raised this question in this fashion.

> > > > > That's how I would interpret A.3(1..3) anyway.
> > > > But.. uh.. I don't see that you've pointed out anything in the
> > > > constitution that favors your interpretation above mine.
> > > Well, of course not. 
> > *blink*
> > > I have no idea what you would consider a valid basis for
> > > interpretation of the constitution.
> > I guess I'd think that the english language would be a valid basis
> > for interpretation of the constitution.
> Whatever.

I notice that you elected to discard my criteria for judging a
valid interpretation.

> > > You seem to be quite happy to say things like "Well sure, it
> > > doesn't say you can combine separate votes in a single ballot, but
> > > it doesn't say you can't, so why not?",
> > I've never said anything like that.
> Message-ID: <974167288.0c1bf761@debian.org>
> Subject: Re: [CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT] Disambiguation of 4.1.5
> Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2000 21:03:27 -0500

There, your interpretation was that various amendments couldn't be voted
on together.  The exact cite Branden quoted doesn't change the underlying
fact that you were talking about your interpretation.

I suppose I should have explictly mentioned A.3(3) in that message, but
that wouldn't have changed my underlying point.

> Please don't bother poring over the constitution and finding that,
> say, A.3(1) says `combinations of amendments and options', and arguing
> how clearly it's differentiating amendments and options, and how thus
> options must mean other proposals, because there's nothing else it can
> mean, and whatever else. I really don't care at this point.

I know that A.3(1) doesn't say anything of that sort.

> Your definition of `using English as a basis for interpretation' and
> mine are wildly different and probably irreconcilable.

I'd like to believe otherwise.

And, once again, I notice that you're attacking my general introductory
statement while ignoring the more specific material which immediately

> Can we just focus on talking about what would make a good and fair and
> efficient voting system for Debian?

Only if we can use English in a mutually understandable fashion.

> > > I could just ask you, but if I'm going to do that, I might as well
> > > just accept you as an Oracle, and take your word as gospel anyway.
> > > And there is, at least, constitutional support for doing _that_.
> > Not at present there isn't.
> Well, I haven't seen Darren make himself visible on the lists
> recently, so 7.2 paragraph 3 could easily come into play. Although, I
> guess if you say it can't, then even if it did, it doesn't.

I have reason to believe that Darren would be available, if needed.
I have reason to believe that he's waiting for the discussion to draw
to a close, and for (if nothing else) Manoj+Branden to indicate what
form they want the ballot to take.

> > I am trying to understand the basis for what you're saying.  This..
> > helps.... sort of.
> > I guess I was hoping that you were arguing from some kind of reasonable
> > and objective viewpoint.
> No, isn't it obvious? I'm trying to destroy Debian from within, by
> ensuring that no decisions can be made and distracting Raul from
> doing his other jobs and thus ensuring the continued decline of
> standards and quality and consensus. I'm completely unreasonable, and
> am motivated by bad intentions, just like Branden likes to assert.

And here I thought it was just that your feelings were hurt.

> > > > I think we need to talk about what it means to have
> > > > distinct options on the ballot. [I recognize, from your
> > > > "Status-Quo" option, that you're not talking about the
> > > > constitutional mechanism, but are talking about some
> > > > hypothetical mechanism. But, from your explanation of how you
> > > > understand the constitution, I think we need to talk a bit
> > > > more about the difference between independent alternatives
> > > > and distinct choices. Wait until we've agreed on the more
> > > > fundamental concepts before you teach me about your view of
> > > > supermajorities.]
> > > Considering we've already attempted to have a vote that (was
> > > deemed to) require a supermajority, and had two options on a
> > > single ballot with different supermajority requirements, yet
> > > we've never had a single ballot with independent alternatives,
> > > I'm inclined to disagree with your assertion as to what's more
> > > fundamental.
> > I meant fundamental to understanding. See above for what I consider
> > as important in a constitutional interpretation.
> You can have a vote where there aren't any independent alternatives,
> but there is a supermajority requirement.
> Do you disagree?

I do agree with this statement.  I'd consider a proposal to amend the
constitution, where no amendments are proposed, as an example that meets
this criteria.

> You can understand that vote.
> Do you disagree?

I agree that I can understand the vote for that example.

> It's possible to understand supermajority requirements independently
> of the possibility of multiple independent options.
> Do you disagree?

Now this depends on context.  If your context is a simple one (like the
example I proposed), then I agree.  If your context is a complex one
(like, obviously, one with independent options), then I don't agree.

> I really don't see any hope for this discussion to ever end if we
> start introducing more facets.

The way I see it, a part of this discussion hinges on the treatment of
an alternative in the face of supermajority.  So the way the constitution
treats voting on alternatives is indeed relevant.

I do worry that someone will need to propose a disambiguating amendment
to the constitution to resolve the ambiguities we're discussing here,
but I'm not ready to do that yet.  I want to make sure I understand your
issues before I'd personally be willing to tackle such a thing.

> > > I suspect deciding fairly amongst a number of independent options
> > > will probably be as difficult to understand as the stuff we've
> > > discussed so far, so I'm inclined against wandering into that fray
> > > and having to come back and start this all over again.
> > I suspect that the reason this discussion has been so prolonged
> > has more to do with my lack of understanding of your unstated
> > assumptions. [And, to be fair: your lack of understanding of my
> > unstated assumptions.]
> There's that, and there's that these considerations aren't obvious in
> the first place.
> It would help if you'd not argue from a basis of "that's what
> supermajority means so that's how supermajority works" for a few
> messages, perhaps.

Was my treatment in this message adequate?

[p.s. sorry about not trimming down the size of this message.  
we seem to be having such fundamental problems communicating, I've
elected to leave that up to you.]



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