Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


An unethical strategy?

Voting is a means of aggregating individual preferences in order to obtain a collective choice from a set of potential outcomes. Arrow notwithstanding, various voting schemes are often used for very important decisions.
Voting is also used to select the winner of the Guy Toph Award, in Hillsborough County, Florida. In this case, the voters are a group of coaches and journalists. The voting rule appears to be the Borda count. In such a system, each voter ranks the N candidates. The least-preferred candidate gets 0 points, and the most-preferred gets N-1 points. Points are summed across voters, with the winner being the candidate with the most points.
Opportunities for strategic voting are obvious. A voter can try to bury a perceived strong alternative by deliberately ranking it low, for example. By deflating the total for an alternative thought to have substantial but not overwhelming support, an intelligent voter maximizes the power of her vote.
In Hillsborough, such a voter also maximizes the probability of losing her job:

Rozel A. Lee was among 19 journalists and high school coaches who ranked eight top football players competing for the award, which considers athletics, leadership and academics.
Lee, 51, who had worked at the Tribune for 10 years, gave her top selection to Robinson High senior Marcello Trigg, who ultimately won the award Jan. 20 with 135 points.
But Lee said she intentionally gave her lowest ranking to Jarred Fayson, a move that knocked the star Hillsborough High quarterback into second place by two points. Due to the ranking system, Fayson would have won had Lee ranked him fifth or higher. Lee was the only voting member to rank him lower than fifth.
Lee said Fayson is an exceptional athlete and gifted student, but she intentionally placed him last to reduce his points and increase Trigg’s chance of winning.
“I’ve always voted like this,” said Lee, who does not know Trigg but watched him as a player. “When you want a desired outcome, you are going to eliminate the closest opponent to that desired outcome.”
Tribune Executive Editor Janet Weaver said Lee’s “dishonest” voting practice does not comply with the paper’s ethics policy.
Journalists are not supposed to influence the things we cover,” Weaver said. “It moves us from covering the news to making it.”

From the above, it is clear that Lee was using the burying tactic. In the sentence I emphasized, Janet Weaver shows her ignorance. The whole point of casting a vote is to “influence things”.
Rozel Lee’s problem is she is both smarter and more honest than her peers.

2 comments on "An unethical strategy?"

  • I discuss tactical voting in my intro blog article Systems for Collective Choice. Over the next few months I will be digging into each system quite a bit more.
    I wanted to point out that there is some support for a concept called “Arrow’s Theorem”, which basically states that all voting systems have flaws in them. So basically any voting system that they may have selected would have been vulnerable to some form of abuse. Also, voting systems are more vulnerable to problems when there are small numbers of voters.

  • Chris Walsh says:

    If you call a Nobel prize “some support”, I suppose you’re right about Arrow having garnered some mindshare :^).
    I referred, perhaps too obliquely, to his impossibility theorem in the second sentence of my post.
    I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Wikipedia entries on voting systems and public choice. Folks looking to come up to speed on this subject might also want to look at them.

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