Thursday, 11 February 2010

On Voting Systems

Most enlightening yesterday afternoon, watching the electronic voting system at the Church of England General Synod break down.  They had to resort to walking through the "Aye" and "No" doors to register their votes on whether to vote on the amendment to the amended amendment, as I explained to Burton until he so unexpectedly fell asleep.  I blame it on the three hours he spent in the Marquis of Granby while I was at the Synod.  He came out babbling something about having to watch the pigeons flying.

Personally, I'm always in several minds as to the best voting system.  I generally go for the "One Archdruid, One Vote" system - where, being the Archdruid, I get the one vote.  But sometimes people get shirty and demand more of a democratic say at Moots.

So we've experimented with the "Aye" and "No" doors concept.  And the good news about the Moot House is that it has four doors - "Aye", "No", "I'm not sure" and "I don't think it's so much an either/or as a both/and".  The problem with the fourth door is the enormous cost of the lettering.  But on the bright side, it's the door that everybody goes through so as not to cause offence.  And then I get the casting vote.  And if there's ever anything really contentious, I find that the good old Slazenger helps people to determine the "right" door.

Now one system I really enjoy is the "Beaker" voting system. Everyone fills a beaker of water, and then pours the contents either into the "Yes" or "No" tank of water.  In an idea we got from 1970s editions of "It's a Knockout" we then get Burton to measure the result using a dip-stick.  He then declares the result in his celebrated "Eddie Waring" voice.  In another idea we got from the same programme, people on the other side of the argument are allowed to throw beach-balls at the voters, as they balance along the see-saws and tight-rope walk over the big pools of water on the way to the voting tanks.

Then we have the "trained cat" system.  In this, every Beaker person brings his or her trained cat, and instructs them which way to vote.  The cats go and sit on either the "Miaow" or the "Purrrrr" mat to indicate objection or agreement.  Of course, this system is liable to fraud; on occasion we have detected traces of catnip on the "Miaow" mat.

But with an electronic system all this is rendered irrelevant. As long as Keith's got the programming right, I can ensure that every vote goes my way.  The best kind of democracy is always the one that comes up with the right answers.


  1. So which branch of the Anglican Communion do the Beaker Folk come under?

    Or were you attending Synod as a visiting dignitary or a flying Archdruid?

    Or do they let just anyone in?

    Andy Jones

  2. Andy

    They do indeed let anyone in, as long as they sit quietly upstairs and don't get involved in the debate.

  3. Excellent work. The most compelling argument for electronic voting that I've read, though I'd be sorry to see the hydraulic and feline systems fade into history. Progress, I guess.

  4. You haven't mentioned the Scrodinger's cat method of voting, which of course involves a box, a cat, a yes vote and a no vote.

    According to Schrodinger, if you can remember where you left the box, you have no way of knowing which way the cat has voted. But if you know how the cat has voted, you can't find the box for anyone else to verify this.

    Secret CIA experiments with this system of voting in the State of Florida were partly responsible for the election of George W Bush as US President.

    They did, however, have the positive side effect of giving Noel Edmonds the idea for 'Deal or No Deal'.

    Andy Jones

  5. Andy

    I think you may be confusing Schrodinger with Heisenberg.

    But I'm uncertain.

  6. Sorry, I'm very embarrassed. Did Heisenberg have a cat?


  7. "Did Heisenberg have a cat?"

    We're not sure.

    Schrodinger's Cat says if a cat's in a box and has a 50% chance of being dead, it's half-dead and half-alive until the box is open.

    Whereas Heisenberg says that if you know precisely where a cat is, you won't know what it's doing - and vice-versa.
    Certainly sounds like our cat.


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