Smith-Set Voting: Protecting Our Democracy

Americans routinely voice concern over our election system, including internal threats such as gerrymandering and voting fraud, external threats from foreign interests, and even the design flaws of plurality voting and the Electoral College.

These threats open us up to more than just fraud and split votes.  Our election process isolates ideological groups for party nomination, and then presents Americans with a choice between these nominees.  This excludes the broad consensus of Americans in the nomination process, encouraging extreme views and giving victory to whichever party activates a slim majority of swing voters.

Polarization of politically-engaged Americans

Such polarization robs the American people of consensus, while creating governmental instability:  extreme candidates win elections, and so the candidates become more-extreme and power shifts back and forth with disastrous consequences.  New administrations tear down the work of old at great cost to our economy and national security, each claiming progress while trampling over the will of half the American people.

A more-representative election system resists this pull, bringing victory to those who represent the electorate.  Many voting rules can even resist gerrymandering and minimize the impact of voter fraud, foreign influence, and other internal and external attacks.

The Legislature and Executive

Before we discuss voting systems, we should create a goal for our elections.  The United States Federal government and most States have a bicameral legislature, as well as an executive such as the President, Governor, or Mayor.  Their purpose and the method of election make an enormous difference in representation.

Most States divide their legislatures between the House of Delegates and the State Senate.  They elect multiple Delegates and one Senator per each legislative district.  By contrast, the States elect single Senators in separate elections at-large, and single Representatives per Congressional district.

City and County governments generally elect one member per district to a unicameral legislative body—City or County Council.

To provide fair representation, we must treat each of these as having different and very particular function:  Houses should represent the diversity of views; while Senates, Councils, and Executives must represent the electorate at large.

Proportional Delegates, Condorcet Senators
Proportional representation (top) and Condorcet representation (bottom)

The House of Delegates

The House of Delegates should represent the varied needs of the electorate.  Each Delegate should represent a block of voters with similar needs to which they more-fully commit than a more-majoritarian representative.

Ideally, the United States Congress would also increase representation and require multi-member districts—at least three Representatives per Congressional district—to enable proportional representation.  That’s a more-ambitious goal, whereas States only need change their voting rules.

Proportional representation strengthens the voice of subgroups of voters, even when mixed into population.  Across the district, those voters impact the election in such a way as to select a candidate for themselves, drawing their needs out from the broad geographical body.

The Senate and the Executive

Both the State legislative bodies and the United States Congress elect fewer Senators.  A body of voters has several representatives in the House, and only one Senator to represent them as a whole.  City and County Councils are effectively a Senate without a House.

City and County Councils, Senators, and the Executive must represent the electorate as a whole, rather than a simple majority.  Whereas each Delegate emphasizes the needs of a subset of the district, a Senator represents all of those needs simultaneously.

Structure of a Bicameral Representative Democracy
Proportional Delegates, with Condorcet Senators and Executives

This contrast between the House and Senate allows negotiation between the varied needs in the House along with the general approval of the outcome in the Senate.  Coalitions of Delegates where a simple majority holds a strong ideological tilt must pass Senator who individually represent a compromise ideology.


Elections must fulfill the above needs by voting rules.  Voting rules control how election boards count ballots:  plurality, majority, run-off, and more-complex systems such as Condorcet and Smith methods.

We must use election methods with ranked ballots to implement what are called Proportional and Condorcet voting rules.  These election methods select by consent of the governed:  Condorcet voting, especially, determines which single candidate has the greatest support overall.

Proportional Elections

Proportional representation requires a system called Single Transferable Vote, or STV.  While actually voting is simple enough, the voting rule—the method of counting—is unfortunately complex.  Those rules most-resistant to attack and most-effective at ensuring fair and correct representation carry the greatest complexity.

Most implementations compromise in some way, such as by simply using the Scottish method or the Meek transfer.  Rather than Schulze STV, one could consider removing the Condorcet Loser instead of the Plurality Loser each round.  The effects are questionable.

In general, any STV method produces satisfactory results.  Unnecessary complexity introduces risk of fraud, and so compromises have merit.  Likewise, strong election verification at the early stages allows independent third parties to count the ballots and challenge the outcome with trivial computer implementations.  The American People can decide their comfort and press for the finer details.

Single Transferable Vote, when electing three or more winners, nearly eliminates the impact of gerrymandering.  It works well for Delegates, and would be an asset to Americans with multi-member Congressional districts.

Single Elections

Single-winner elections, such as Senate and Executive, should use a Condorcet method such as Schulze or Ranked Pairs.  These methods elect from the broadest majority support, essentially selecting a candidate from voter consensus.

Condorcet methods generally elect only from the smallest set of candidates who, in one-on-one elections, would gain a majority vote over every candidate not outside the set—called the Smith Set.  If the Smith Set contains only one candidate, that candidate is the Condorcet candidate.

Each candidate in the Smith Set (top) defeats all of each candidate not in the Smith Set (bottom)
Each candidate in the Smith Set (top) defeats all of each candidate not in the Smith Set (bottom)

When a candidate gains the majority vote, that candidate is the Condorcet candidate.  As such, elections must provide a span of candidates sufficiently representing the voting base.  It makes sense, then, for primary elections to nominate two or three candidates per party via Single Transferable Vote, eliminating the tendency to run two extremes against each other while not exhausting the voter with an enormous number of candidates to research and rank.

Electing through STV primary and a Smith-set restricted general—such as Tideman’s Alternative Smith, which resists all kinds of tactical voting and nomination—ensures the winner represents the voting base as a whole, rather than the result of strategic politics, voter base rallying, and party loyalty.