- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Hill and Wang; First edition (February 17, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0809048922
- ISBN-13: 978-0809048922
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 29 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #583,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can Do About It) First Edition
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“Mr. Poundstone is a clear, entertaining explicator of election science. He easily bridges the gaps between theoretical and popular thinking, between passionate political debate and cool mathematical certainty.” ―The New York Times
“A handy compendium of alternatives to plurality voting. … Poundstone gives math a leading place in politics.” ―Salon.com
“Gaming the Vote entertainingly probes the combative history of voting over the past few centuries.” ―Mother Jones
“Poundstone's book raises a big question: how mad do the rest of us have to get before we change a system that just isn't working?” ―Newsweek
“Poundstone has a lively style and a penchant for anecdote that make his more difficult passages of analysis accessible and at times even dramatic.” ―The Wall Street Journal
“Poundstone 'writes not with a partisan's bile but with a technician's delight in explaining all the ways our democracy can give us what we don't want.'” ―The Seattle Times
“Poundstone always writes with the premise that thinking can be entertaining. His latest book, Gaming the Vote, clearly reasoned, well-researched, and often amusing, deals with the crucially important question: How best does a government ‘by the people' decide what to do? He does not find a definitive answer, but he shows why it is so difficult and prepares the citizen to face the question responsibly.” ―Rush Holt, U.S. House of Representatives (NJ-12)
“In 1948 economist Kenneth Arrow dropped a bombshell on political scientists. He proved that no voting system can be perfect. Poundstone's eleventh book is a superb attempt to demystify Arrow's amazing achievement, and to defend ‘range voting' as the best voting system yet devised. His account is interwoven with a colorful history of American elections, from the corrupt politics of Louisiana to Ralph Nader as the ‘spoiler' whose splitting of the Democratic votes helped elect George W. Bush. A chapter covers Lewis Carroll's little-known valiant efforts to solve the voting problem. A raft of amusing political cartoons enliven Poundstone's prose. There is no better introduction to the inescapable flaws and paradoxes of all voting systems than this eye-opening, timely volume.” ―Martin Gardner, author of Are Universes Thicker than Blackberries? and more than 60 other titles
“Gaming the Vote is a witty, irreverent tour d'horizon of voting theories, voting theorists, and their quarrels. Unlike many academic brouhahas, the stakes here are high. Both citizens and politicians will delight in the tales Poundstone tells, but it won't always be easy to tell who's right. Nevertheless, Poundstone cuts through a lot of the obfuscation and takes sides, which won't please everybody.” ―Steven J. Brams, Department of Poltics, New York University, and author of Mathematics and Democracy: Designing Better Voting and Fair-Division Procedures
“Gaming the Vote is a must-read for anyone interested in the process and outcomes of voting. Poundstone gives a clear and remarkably accurate account of the rich theoretical literature. At the same time, his examples of voting anomalies in real elections are both lively and revealing.” ―Kenneth J. Arrow, professor of economics (emeritus) at Stanford University and winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize in Economic Science
“In this masterful presentation William Poundstone sketches the history of voting systems, elucidates ideas such as Borda counts, Condorcet winners, and range voting, and shows how changing our system could make it less likely to yield paradoxical and unfair results. Ranging easily over material as disparate as Arrow's impossibility theorem and recent presidential elections, he makes it clear just how unclear is the question, "Who won?" The book has my vote.” ―John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences and the forthcoming Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for Religion Just Don't Add Up
About the Author
William Poundstone is the author of ten books, including Fortune's Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street (H&W, 2005).
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I bought Poundstone's book rather than some others on the same general topic, because I was told it covered real historical examples and not just the math. It does, but not very evenly: the historical chapters are indeed interesting in places, but have a different feel from the theoretical chapters, more polemical and sometimes partisan. In mentioning the Great Figure-Skating Flip-Flop of 1995, Poundstone says "Trust me -- there wasn't [anything funny about the scoring system]. If I explained the whole voting system, you would nod your head and say, That sounds fair." Maybe so, but I'd rather you did take the time to explain it and let me nod for myself, and spend fewer pages on Lee Atwater and negative campaigning, of which I already know all I need to and more than I want to, and isn't exactly the point of the book.
Note that Poundstone is concerned almost exclusively with "voting systems" in the mathematical sense, he doesn't get into things like tampering with electronic voting machines at all. Similarly, for all the times he refers to the presidential election of 2000 it's to discuss Nader's role as a spoiler, not butterfly ballots or hanging chads, nor the disconnect between the popular vote and the electoral college. Not just OUR system, in other words, but the very theory of voting in general (albeit with virtually all examples and illustrations taken from US history)
As far as the "What We Can Do About It" part of the subtitle goes, there's not really very much about that. Poundstone has his clear favorite system (Range Voting) but admits it isn't likely to get much traction, maybe Instant-Runoff Voting is the best we can work for. He says there's not much point in writing to incumbent politicians, because they're too vested in the current system, but if you do want to he recommends writing to Senator McCain or Senator Obama -- this alone makes the book feel dated beyond its years.
Interesting, very readable, explains things I hadn't understood before; good notes, excellent bibliography. But all that said, it fails to change my life.
Poundstone set out his purpose in this book. He focused on singe-seat voting systems while putting aside issues like election fraud and campaign financing. You can only do so much with one book, and I make an informed statement when I say that the voting system is the most important component. But Poundstone's approach does much more than detail the voting systems. He has you experience the people that were affected by the system, countless who gamed it, and those who tried to make voting fairer. How many average people would have thought that the Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carrol (Charles Dodgson) had his hand in voting systems? Poundstone is truly skilled at the way he guides you through his stories with gripping narrative.
So what do you do after you read such a book? You learn more. You tell others. Ignorance is the obstacle to overcome. Fairer voting systems like approval and range voting need to be talked about. When others complain about the political system and vote splitting, you'll know what to tell them after you read this book. No longer can we get away with suggesting that there are no answers. And the stakes are too high to be fatalistic or apathetic. One is irresponsible to take this approach in the face of real solutions.
For example, I had a hard time deciding how many stars to give this book :-) I finally gave it a five because it's a book that I think all US citizens should read. But that's not my normal criterion which is that it's the best book I've read "recently". Do other people use the same criterion? Do you rank fiction and non-fiction the same way?
Another aspect of voting system that is mentioned, but not considered in much detail is strategic voting. That is, voting in ways that do not reflect your actual preferences. For me, a good voting system should discourage strategic voting. All the methods discussed are susceptible to strategic voting to some extent. But strategic voting always depends on knowledge of other voters preferences and sometimes on the ability to make agreements between voters. A voting system that encourages the latter behavior seems particularly prone to corruption. I wish there had been a more thorough discussion of this issue.