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Re: GRs, irrelevant amendments, and insincere voting

On Sun, Nov 02, 2003 at 02:46:24AM -0600, Manoj Srivastava wrote:
> On Sun, 2 Nov 2003 03:09:47 -0500, Branden Robinson <branden@debian.org> said: 
> > Both Mr. DeRobertis and I interpreted the text quoted above as a
> > personal attack.  How else is one to interpret "you are really
> > contributing to infighting and intractability" and "you do not know
> > how to be a team player"?  Are they in some way complimentary, or do
> > they somehow provide insight into our Standard Resolution Procedure?
> 	If you are voting insencerely, and delibrately using majority
>  to defeat options that are not preferred, you are short sighted, not
>  a team player, and contributing to infighting and intractability.

Not necessarily.  A person who ranks their preferences insincerely might
simply feel they're using the system the way it was designed to be used.

In the recent "Disambiguation of 4.1.5" vote, for instance, while I
haven't look at the tally sheet yet to see if anyone actually did, I
would have to wonder if anyone who ranked "further discussion" above any
of the other options was voting sincerely.

I say this because the issue had dragged on for three years, we had a
healthy discussion period, and I don't recall that any other
interpretations or clarifications were raised.  (I.e., there were no
proposed amendments that didn't acquire sufficient seconds to appear on
the ballot.)

To my recollection, no one proposed, for example, that the Debian Social
Contract and DFSG be permanently immutable under all circumstances.
("Further discussion" would not be a good choice for that, as the issue
was sure to be re-raised.  If one has made up one's mind about
something, but one's perspective has not been raised in the RFD stage of
a GR, shouldn't one propose it, instead of just cynically sitting back
and voting in a contrarian fashion?)

Instead, I find it more likely that people who ranked further discussion
above any of the other options did so simply to disadvantage options
they disfavored, and that they didn't actually prefer, say, another
three years of discussion and delay.

Since the ballot encouraged people to do that very thing[1], one could
easily argue that people who vote that way are doing exactly what the
system intends them to do.

I question the prudence of this design characteristic.  I think it
promotes insincere balloting.  If you feel that this promotes
short-sighted voting, discourages efforts to reach consensus, and
contributes to infighting and intractability, then perhaps you should
join me in subjecting the dynamics of "the default option" to closer

>  Are you asserting people voting insincerely and/or adding false
>  amendments are team players working for the good of all?

I'm not asserting that because I'm not sure that's the effect.  I do
believe that given the current language we use on the ballot, that they
can easily rank preferences insincerely and not feel that they are doing
anything wrong or counterproductive.

Even in the absence of such ballot language, they might be right to feel
justified in ranking their preferences insincerely.  I suspect the
"default option" has an impact Condorcet's Method/Cloneproof SSD that
has not been fully thought out.  I think the issue merits further

> 	I am really getting confused about how you view these tactics
>  that you appear to disdain in some messages, and attack other people
>  for condeming in others.

I'm not clear on what specifically you are referring to.

> 	Ah. So, the technical term, insincere, is an attribute of team
>  players you are working cooperatively with other people,

There's nothing in the language of our ballots to indicate otherwise.

>  and all these fake amendments are also works of team players and non
>  anti social elements after all.

If it's acceptable to rank one's preferences insincerely, then what's
wrong with working to get options on the ballot that one can use to
arrange one's preferences insincerely and strategically?

> Colour me confused.

I don't profess to have a full understanding of the dynamics of the
default option.  I also don't profess that the insincere ranking of
preferences is a phenomenon that is necessarily pejorative; maybe it's
the way our system *should* work.  But if so, I think we should be a lot
more up-front about that fact.

> 	Would you make up your mind if you are promoting or condeming
>  these practices?

Sure, after I've got enough data to do so.  I have a predilection
towards suspicion of insincere ranking of preferences as a bad thing, as
it appears you may as well, but I'm not going to let that take the place
of a sober judgement grounded on real analysis of our voting system and
Standard Resolution Procedure.

> >> I am stating that it is not smart to try and use majority to shut
> >> out options, since that leads to no decision being taken.
> > Can you elaborate?  It is not obvious to me what relationship this
> > statement has to my hypothetical scenario.
> 	Umm. I see. Your hypothettical scenario had nothing to do with
>  insincere voting? Why are you going on about insincere voting then?

Please do not put words in my mouth.  I was asking you to elaborate on
what exactly you meant by "[using] majority to shut out options", and
how specifically this relates to the phenomenon of insincere ranking of
preferences in general.

As I said in my original mail in this sub-thread, it seems to me that
"super" majority requirements magnify the effect of insincere ranking of
preferences, but that doesn't mean I think that insincere ranking of
preferences might not be problem even in simple majority scenarios.
We don't have any "minority approval" scenarios defined in our voting
method, so all winners in our voting system are declared in terms of a
majority in one way or another.  That's why I am unclear on what you
mean by "[using] majority to shut out options".

> > If people don't actually prefer the status quo over a proposition
> > but rank the status quo as preferred to the proposition on your
> > ballot, you're voting insincerely.  I am using the term in its
> > technical sense.
> 	But you are still being a team player, and you are not
>  contributing to infighting, and are being tractable? (I mean, you
>  violently objected to my calling the insincere voter these things)

I'm more interested in enhancing my own understanding -- and the
Project's -- understanding of the dynamics of our voting system than I
am in hurling epithets at people who may be using the system as it
appears, to them, to be designed.

> 	No. I object to your blindly labelling people who genuinely
>  prefer further discussion to some option as insincere voters.

I do not think I am doing so.  Obviously, people who *genuinely* prefer
"further discussion" to other options and rank their preferences
accordingly are not voting insincerely.  But that's a tautology.

The more interesting question to me is, can we reasonably have anything
more than sunny-minded hope that people *aren't* ranking their
preferences insincerely?  A think a useful perspective to adopt is an
economic one: conceive of each voter as a self-interested actor who
will fill out the ballot to maximize his personal benefit, and then
consider how the system is likely to be used given that premise.

I don't assert that this "economic" perspective is truly descriptive of
people's motivations, but it doesn't have to be.  For me, its utility
comes in helping us to uncover what may be flaws in our SRP or voting
system -- areas where our system is susceptible to "attack" by "bad

I personally don't think it promotes an atmosphere of mistrust or
suspicion in our project to try to understand what might be weaknesses
in our collective decision-making procedures, but your mileage may vary.

I don't feel fundamentally mistrusted by the fact that I can't view
package contents in queue/new on auric.  It seems to be a broad policy
that was easy to implement and helps protect the project from unwelcome
attention by the U.S. government (lest someone carelessly export crypto
before it's been declared to the EAR).

>  Or are you saying that people should not be able to express a
>  preference for the status quo at all, even if that is what they want?

I wonder why the status quo doesn't have to fight its way onto the
ballot just like every other option.  In such a case, it would have to
be affirmatively stated, which might help to shed further light on
whatever issue prompted the RFD for a GR in the first place.

This, of course, is not the same thing as "saying that people should not
be able to express a preference for the status quo at all".

The default option, as presently implemented, seems to serve more the
function of voting "present" in the U.S. Congress, with the side effect
that it can mask the sincere ranking of preferences on the ballot.

I could be wrong about that, of course, which is why I'd like to see
some more analysis.

>  If not, how can you allow people who prefer further discussion from
>  expressing their preference, in your zeal to stamp out so called
>  insincere voting? 

Since your premise is false (see above), this (implicit) conclusion does
not follow.

> 	I am saying that people who vote in a manner that does not
>  represent their true preferences merely to defeat some option may be
>  "short-sighted", are   "infighting",and displaying  "intractability",
>  and  not being a "team player".

Do we have any way of knowing whether or not this has happened?  Do we
have reason to suspect it hasn't?  Does our system operate in such a way
that the insincere ranking of preferences "rewards" the voter more than
a sincere ranking?  If so, what is the magnitude of the impact of those
rewards?  If insincere ranking of preferences is a strategy that works
well for those who exercise, is it unreasonable to assume that we will
see more of it as our voters become more accustomed to the system?

> You have objections to that? Tough.

Not necessarily, but I am not sure that reproaching people in strong
language is a sufficient disincentive to the phenomenon, especially when
they always have plausible deniability.  As you said above:

> 	No. I object to your blindly labelling people who genuinely
>  prefer further discussion to some option as insincere voters.

Do either of us have a good way to perceive the genuine intentions of
the voters without reference to the ranking of their preferences on the

If not, does the presumption of sincere ranking of preferences provide a
sufficiently foundation upon which we can ground a voting system that
is intended to produce results that are satisfactory to the electorate?

> > Let it be noted that you're the person introducing the term "dumb"
> > into this conversation.  I personally am not sure its're warranted,
> > due to its crudity and high emotive content.
> 	Calling attempts to make your less preferred option fail
>  majority by mistating your preferences a smart policy is wrong; I do
>  think it is a dumb idea in the long run.

Identifying activities as "wrong" and "dumb" doesn't stop them from
happening.  Might it be wise to avail ourselves of procedural
disincentives to "wrong" and "dumb" behavior as well?

[1] 'To vote "no, no matter what" rank "Further Discussion" as more
    desirable than the unacceptable choices'

G. Branden Robinson                |     You are not angry with people when
Debian GNU/Linux                   |     you laugh at them.  Humor teaches
branden@debian.org                 |     them tolerance.
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |     -- W. Somerset Maugham

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