On the failures of a ranked ballot. (A thread unrolled.)

I’ve unrolled, below, a Twitter thread I wrote starting this morning. It is a reflection on the recent meeting of the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada—and on a voting approach used to help decide a difficult and divisive issue. (Further tweets added, based on a Twitter exchange with a friend.)


On the *insanity of ranked ballots – or, ranked choice voting [RCV] – a thread.

(Ok, ‘insanity’ is probably too strong a word!)

RCV – where you rank your preferred options and when all ballots are submitted, the winner is the Option that obtains 50% + 1.

The ballots (with 4 Options, in our case) are divided up according to the first choice selected, and counted. If one Option is the first choice of 50 % +1 of voters, that Option wins.

Example: There are 100 voters, and 53 rank Option A as first choice – then Option A wins.

But if no particular Option is selected by 50% +1, as first choice, then you drop off the Option that received the least number of first-choice rankings.

And: Those ballots that ranked the least-favourite Option as first choice are re-distributed according to their 2nd choice.

Example: If my first choice (Option A) was eliminated in the first round, then my second choice vote (Option B) is added to the original votes for Option B.

Already you can see it’s a little complicated to explain. But imagine how much more difficult it gets when a church uses this system as part of it process in deciding a theological/ethical question on which the church is fairly divided!

Here are the Options on the ballot:

Option A: Traditional view
Option B: Progressive view
Option C: Compromise (leaning trad?)
Option D: Compromise (leaning prog?)

(I put ? marks because the “lean” in compromise views not obvious)

What becomes quickly obvious is that it is more than possible that the compromise solutions (C and D) could, easily, have a majority on the first ballot. AND, that a more divisive solution (A or B) could come out as the final choice.

In fact, I am convinced that this is exactly what happened – that compromise was the first choice (C and D), but that a more radical option came out the winner after 2 or 3 rounds.

But the crazy thing is that we will never know!! Because the General Assembly voted not to share the results of its own vote/rankings. Openness and transparency were sidelined for the sake of confusion and a lack of understanding.

While the process of marking ballots, and how ranking would be calculated, was explained, no one seemed to know (and certainly didn’t explain) the limitations and indeed serious pitfalls of such an approach to deciding such questions.

My view is that the church was ill-served by the approach adopted, and particularly the refusal of transparency.

A process that was described as “listening to the Spirit” was, I suspect, a very human and flawed voting exercise that elevated division.

Here ends the thread.

P.S. This seems like a good way to decide on a political candidate (or to elect the Moderator of the General Assembly) but is there any evidence, anywhere, that such an approach makes sense on a difficult theological and ethical question?!?!

Friend reply: I know of at least one ELCA Synod that elects their bishop using a ranked ballot but not exactly like this. People vote multiple times on a smaller and smaller ticket.

It really makes a lot of sense for electing people! I can’t think of any good reason to use this process to decide a theological issue. The only reason given: “We do this to elect moderators.” Again, did anyone do ANY research about applying it to a theol/ethical question?!

Someone at Assembly suggested multiple ballots – which would have made so much sense. Once an Option dropped off, everyone (!) would have decided their next choice (based on a multitude of reasons, including the apparent rejection of one option by the church). #transparency




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