Friday, April 24, 2020

Publication: Against Detaching the Duty to Vote

I've not had much time for research lately, but a paper that's been in the works for a while has just appeared in print in the latest issue - 82(2) - of The Journal of Politics. (I'm afraid this is, as ever, restricted to subscribers.)

Here's a word cloud, indicating the content:
If you prefer the more traditional abstract, here it is:

Many people believe that citizens of a democracy have a duty to vote, yet this overlooks an important distinction between voting well and voting badly. Those who vote well may be doing what they ought to do, but it does not follow that those who vote badly are doing anything that they ought to do. While one cannot vote well unless one votes, a duty to vote as such cannot be detached from a more particular duty to vote well. Thus, even if there is an obligation to vote well, there may be no obligation to vote simpliciter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Turnout thresholds violate monotonicity

I thought I'd share some number-crunching that I've just prepared for a lecture. Since this year's Democratic Theory students were disrupted by industrial action, even before lockdown, I figured that I'd use the strike ballots as a topical example.

By law, a strike ballot needs 50% turnout. Here are the results from October 2019 ballots. (If the link doesn't work, there's a redirect:

Let's focus on the LSE:

241/602 (40%)
206 (86%)
33 (14%)
361/602 (60%)
206 (57%)
153 (43%)

The actual result (top row) meant that the motion failed, owing to insufficient turnout, despite having 86% support from those who voted.

However, this means that had an extra 120 people voted against the motion - the possibility illustrated on the bottom line - it would have passed. (Actually, around 60 would have been enough to hit the 50% turnout threshold - and it could have been as many as 172 without changing the majority outcome.)

It's perverse that more people voting against something makes it happen. However, this isn't unique to strike ballots. A similar situation arose in a 2018 referendum in (the Former Yugoslav Republic of) Macedonia (BBC; Wikipedia).

Saturday, April 04, 2020

A REAL postcode lottery

Long-time readers will probably remember my aversion to the phrase 'postcode lottery' (e.g. here, here, and here). This is usually wheeled out whenever people in one place are treated differently from those in another.

The trouble with this, of course, is that postcodes are not allocated by lottery. These inequalities are usually down to different local jurisdictions making different decisions. Whether that's justifiable or not, it shouldn't be conflated with a lottery, which can be an appropriate way to allocate a scarce resource.

Anyway, I've made this point enough times. The actual reason for this post is to advertise something that actually is a lottery, namely Pick My Postcode (formerly known as the Free Postcode Lottery).

The idea is simple: every day a number of postcodes are picked (there are several different draws). If you're registered, then all you have to do is visit each day to see whether you've been picked. If you have, then you could win tens, hundreds, or even thousands of pounds (depending on the draw and rollovers).

Chances of winning aren't that high and the prize amounts are mostly modest, but it's funded by site advertising so it's entirely free - the only cost is the time it takes to check each day.

If you'd like to join, the link above (and again here) is my affiliate/referral link, although I don't actually expect to receive any benefit - any commission is paid only as a 'bonus' that I won't receive unless I win the draw. Still, you never know. It my (letters and) numbers could come up some day...