Commentary & Analysis

Elections Matter. Voting Matters. Every Vote Matters.

In the fall of 2018, The Center for Election Science was contacted by a high school senior named Maya Yaakov. She was required to complete a year-long capstone project on a topic of her choosing, and she wanted to conduct her research on voting methods. She reached out to CES for guidance and resources for her literature review, and then she went on to design her own experiment.

While there are obviously limits to the conclusions we can draw from one experiment conducted at Maya’s high school, we are thrilled that a high school student is interested in investigating alternative voting methods. We asked Maya to write a brief summary of her senior project, which you can find below.We hope this inspires more students (and non-students!) to learn more about voting methods.

I’ve grown up with the knowledge that the political system in the western world is flawed for many reasons, but it had never occurred to me that the voting method we use is partially responsible. When my attention was brought to the idea that voters are losing faith in the system due to the issues with plurality voting, I decided I wanted to understand this further and help bring about a change in the system.

My yearlong capstone project for my senior year of high school was the perfect opportunity to do this. I focused the project on alternative voting methods, more specifically approval voting. The first half of the year was spent researching the topic and writing a literature review. The second half was spent conducting an experiment within my school.

At first, I reached out to the experts to understand where to begin my research. Jameson Quinn from The Center for Election Science and Dr. Jason Sorens guided me along the project. It quickly became apparent that studies and experiments on voting methods are severely lacking. The experiments that do exist do not specifically answer the question of which voting method better represents the will of the voters. Using my research from the past months, I designed an experiment I felt would.

Inspired by Warren Smith’s experiment that utilized the idea of Bayesian Regret, I attempted to see which voting method would provide the most voter satisfaction. There were 525 students in the school’s population which I randomly split up into two groups. In addition, I created two ballots, one of which used the plurality method and the other used the approval method.

The students were informed that the music of only one out of the five singers on the list would be played at the next school dance and that they could vote for who that would be using the assigned ballot. The school dance was chosen because I wanted this to mimic a real election, where an individual’s choices affect the rest of the population as well. In addition, two of the options were singers related to one another to see if vote splitting could be caught in the plurality ballot.

After collecting the results, each student who chose to submit his/her ballot received a voter satisfaction questionnaire where they rated their satisfaction levels with the result of the election on a scale of 1-10. At the end of the experiment, I conducted a smaller focus group to discuss the process of voting itself with the students.

The conclusion of the experiment was that there was no difference between the satisfaction levels of the two groups. That being said, this experiment would need to be replicated in order for a valuable conclusion to be reached.

The students in the focus group who voted using the plurality method were disappointed that they were unable to express their opinion more fully, while the students who voted using the approval method said that they voted more arbitrarily then they would if they could only vote for one singer. In addition, the question asked in this study was not of the same caliber as a political election, and therefore voters did not put as much thought into the question.

This project introduced 525 students, the teachers at the school, and hopefully many family members to the idea that there are other voting methods to consider which could improve the political landscape. I believe that more choices is always the answer and I hope that this project will inspire future experiments on the topic. Please email me with any questions at [email protected]