Monday, 24 March 2008

The Single Transferable Vote system

In the publication How to conduct an election by the Single Transferable Vote, the following objectives for a valid election are listed:
  • To discover the wishes of the electorate
  • To ensure that as many voters as possible have an equal effect on the outcome
  • To ensure as many people as possible have their choice of elected representatives
  • To make sure that the outcome of the election is proportional to views of the nation
The publication goes on to say that multple voting systems fulfil these criteria, which is perfectly true.It is also true that multiple methods don't meet all those objectives. For instance, the United States use the Electoral College, which discovers the wishes of the electorate (the 'popular vote'), but not everyone has an equal say in the result as delegates decide who gets into the Whitehouse and there are also different types of delegates.

The authors of the publication believe that the Single Transferable Vote (STV) method achieves all the above objectives with "economy, efficiency and certainty". So, how does STV work? Basically, you have a list of candidates and you put them in your preferred order. In the first round of counting, the person who had the least '1's gets knocked out and votes for them get transferred. People who were the second choice get those votes added to their total and the person with the most votes at the end of the final round wins. There is a version of this system which uses Re-open nominations (RON). This means that if RON gets the most votes, the relevant officials have to restart the election for that position (or positions).

The Electoral Reform Society offers these arguments in favour of the STV system:
  • The system offers more choice
  • Fewer votes are wasted
  • Parties have a powerful incentive to present a balanced set of candidates (helping gender balance and opportunities for ethnic minorities)
  • Parliament is more likely to be representative of a nation's views and more responsive
  • No safe seats
  • Negative campaigning is diminished
  • Tactical voting isn't necessary
  • A more sophisticated link between constituency and representative
The Chief Executive of the ERS made the following comment in this article:
"Make no mistake. The change in the way Scotland votes has transformed the political landscape. It has empowered voters to boot out previously unshakable administrations that simply don’t enjoy popular support. It has given a voice to independents and party candidates in places that were until 2007 no go areas."
In 2003, voters in Vancouver decided they wanted to use an STV system. According to the author, a by-election (which was recent when that article was posted) would have had a very different using that method. He stated that under the current system, 66% of the people didn't influence the outcome. He went on to mention that votes wouldn't be wasted using STV. You can read the complete article here.

So, many people seem to think it's the way to go (not just in this country). A major organisation also has a large list of the system's advantages. It is also the de facto method of voting for elections in student politics. What could be wrong with it? Why would you want anything else? At the most basic level it achieves all four of the objectives at the top of this blog post.

There are problems with Single Transferable Vote though. The ERS list of advantages states that there would be "no safe seats". This is nonsense. With First Past The Post, it's true that you can get the majority of people voting for the same people every year. However, under STV voting preferences could also be the same every time. In that case it's not the system that makes the difference, it's the quality of candidates and party loyalty.

Another point was that parliament would be more representative and responsive. Unfortunately, STV doesn't stop candidates (or parties) from saying one thing during an election campaign and then changing their minds once they are elected. This is another area where the voting system makes no difference. It's not going to be more responsive either. That can only be improved with changes to governmental administration and faster decision making from the politicians.

As for a "sophisticated" link between the constituencies and representatives, I would have to disagree. The ERS says there is more incentive to campaign at a local level, which would mean that the politicians are in sync with the electorate. It's not STV that does this though - it's the approach of the politicians. You could have perfectly good local campaigning under First Past The Post aswell because you are still trying to get as many people as possible to vote for you.

The ERS also talk about reduced tactical voting. Sure, with FPTP you could hope that a third party takes away potential votes from your opponent to increase your chances - that can definitely be considered tactical. However, it's also tactical to say "if you're not putting me as your first preference, at least put me as number 2", because even if you're behind after the first round, you could always catch up later and win.

What about the article about voting and elections in Vancouver? It's true that under STV, your voting preference has greater longevity as you are allowed more than one choice. It would mean you would still have a say in future rounds if your first choice was the first to be eliminated. However, what if some voters only want to consider one person/party or less than the total number of choices? There votes aren't carried all the way through in that case. There is no real incentive to consider the views of all the candidates.

There's also the perennial evil that is voter apathy. How does STV counteract that. In all the articles and papers that I have found, nothing is mentioned about this. Getting the population of the country more interested in politics is the only real way to make a Parliament or set of officers representative. It means it is more likely that those who are elected will be the most responsive ('most responsive' doesn't necessarily mean 'responsive enough' though).

In conclusion, I don't think that Single Transferable Vote is a system that has definite advantages over other methods such as First Past The Post. I prefer FPTP because it means the party with the most votes wins and that is shown in a quicker way because there is only one round. It doesn't mean that a party is chosen because they were voted e.g. 5th choice the most times.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Voting, Politics

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

E-voting: should we use it?

There are multiple methods of voting and, for many years, a paper-based method has been preferred (in the UK, the United States and many other countries). However, in recent years there has been movements towards electronic methods. Several people have pointed out flaws, but there are also some great benefits. So, should we change to e-voting and what version of it should we use?

Governmental stances
The Institute for Public Policy Research published a background paper called E-voting: Policy and Practice and it revealed that the UK government has plans to implement an e-voting system as a way of increasing voter turnout. In the government paper In the Service of Democracy, there were four things listed that could help to achieve their goal:
  • Online electoral register
  • Online registration and online applications for postal votes
  • Online and text voting
  • Electronic counting and collating of election results
The United States have had e-voting systems for a number of years. In March 2002, California approved the Voting Modernization Bond Act, which allowed the purchase of modern electronic voting systems to replace their existing punch-card method.

The following shows the state's committment to this form of voting:
"In December 2003 California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley released My Vote Counts: California's Plan for Voting in the 21st Century, which outlines California's plan for complying with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The state expects to receive over $100 million in HAVA funds. In November 2003 the Secretary of State issued a position paper on the deployment of touch-screen voting systems in California."
The Electoral Reform Society disapprove of most of the current state of e-voting in their policy document that can be found here. However, one thing they do approve of is electronic counting of paper ballots. They feel it speeds up the whole process and if it failed, you could always do a manual count as there is a paper-baseed element to it. The IPPR document mentioned earlier also details the benefits of e-counting and goes on to say that "In India the electronic system allowed the results to be announced a matter of hours after the polls closed".

I'm glad that there is approval for electronic counting and I can understand why some people would want a paper backup. However, there really is no need for paper providing the technology is implemented properly. For example, you could have a voting machine using RAID 1, which means that if the primary disk fails, you still have the information on the second disk and you could even remove it and do the counting on another system. If you have to use paper ballots, you could always do multiple electronic counts (possibly on more than one machine) to ensure accuracy. That would reduce the amount of staff/volunteers required and therefor reduce costs.

Machine voting
The following is from the Electoral Reform Society's policy:
"To minimise the risk of fraud, voting machines should produce voter verifiable audit trails. Rather than the voter completing a ballot paper, the machine should produce a ballot paper which the voter verifies and then puts in a ballot box. Should there be a dispute over the result, the paper ballots should be regarded as the definitive votes rather than those recorded on the machines.

Additionally, there should be safeguards equivalent to those described for e-counting."
I get the impression that they would be happy happier if machines weren't used as their suggestion still goes through the same amount of paper as a non-electronic system, therefore reducing the machine to 'an extra hurdle', which could potentially slow things down.
"Following the March 2004 primary election, the performance of Diebold touch-screen systems used in some California counties came under increased scrutiny. In public hearings conducted by the Secretary of State's Voting Systems and Procedures Panel, it was confirmed not only that uncertified versions of Diebold software had been used in some counties, but that some of the software had been inadequately tested and had performed poorly, resulting in lost and miscast votes"
If you read the quote above, you can see why some people would stop trusting machine voting. However, that situation wasn't totally the fault of the machines. It was the counties at fault for not implementing approved systems.

Remote voting
I can understand why the ERS don't approve of this as networks can be hacked and if you have unsupervised locations, there's the possibility of coercion. Despite this, you could still have polling stations with electronic voting machines until the security for remote voting has been suitably improved.

In all the articles and research about e-voting, the biggest problem is security (especially in the case of remote voting). The IPPR document states that
  • ID cards and/or passwords could be stolen
  • If passwords are to be used, they would need to be short so they can be remembered, but that makes them more vulnerable
  • Biometrics could be used, but there would be a huge cost (the UK government estimates £31bn)
  • Viruses, firewall holes and network hacking
  • Voting programs are made by commercial sources. In the US there were calls to make the code 'open source' to ensure transparency, but doing that would mean voting systems could be hacked more easily
The last two problems could instantly be solved by not having remote voting until security has improved. You could just have unnetworked voting terminals and put together the totals at the end of the voting period. With biometrics, there is a long-term benefit, so the high cost might be worth it. Biometric cards would definitely be better than standard ID cards.

So, how would you improve security so that remote voting could be trusted? Well, you could use strong encryption on the database where the votes are kept. You could also use SQL stored procedures for website logins. This has been proved to protect against things such as SQL injection. There's also RAID, mirrored servers and making sure the server is in a physically secure location. Some would say that encryption can be weak, but there are also extremely strong varieties.

Paper-based systems
Dr. Rebecca Mercuri is a noted expert in this field and was involved with the decision to have a hand recount of votes in Florida in the 2000 US Presidential election. She strongly opposes any 100% electronic method (so she'll probably not be happy with the fact that 23 US states don't require paper records of votes). In this article, she mentions the problems in California. What Dr. Mercuri fails to realise is that is was at least partly the fault individual counties for not using approved versions of the Diebold voting system. She also doesn't consider the fact that a lot of security problems are caused by the machines being networked (they don't have to be). E-voting speeds up the counting process and can help people with disabilities, so there is benefits.

Disabled people
According to the IPPR background paper, privacy is increased for disabled people (this is because they can use the same systems instead of going to a separate location). The height of the machines could also be increased or decreased for those with back problems (or for people in wheelchairs). You could also have audio versions of the ballot for those who are blind. E-voting can therefore make democracy more inclusive.

In Britain there were several trials (15 in total) and the most notable ones were in Swindon and Sheffield. In both cases the voter turnout increased. In Swindon, 61% of voters in a survey felt that e-voting was better and 94% stated that they would use e-voting again in a general election. In 2002 (the Swindon trial), turnout was as high as 31.2%. This may seem low, but it's still a significant increase compared to previous years (for further details of the trials, see the E-voting: Policy and Practice document).

Usage in the student movement
Many student unions across the country have recently started to use e-voting and most seem to include remote voting in their implementation because it means people don't necessarily have to go to the campus just to vote (they may not necessarily have lectures/seminars/labs on that day). At Hull University Union, the first year of e-voting had had 1718 voters, which was a 25% increase on the 06/07 total. There has been a lot of controversy with remote voting though. The University of Essex's student union had to change the result of their presidential election because there was electoral misconduct and an unusually large number of votes coming from certain IP addresses. This could have meant that people were taking others over to a particular machine and influencing the way they vote. Coercion might have happened, but cancelling all the votes from those IP addresses could mean that some perfectly legitimate votes were made useless. They should have got the usernames and investigated those people instead.

There are (currently) a number of security issues with e-voting and many of those are linked to remote voting. This is unfortunate because remote voting allows greater flexibility. However, there are ways to improve security. E-counting and machine voting definitely have benefits and there is no reason why they cannot be used straight away (providing approved systems are implemented).

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: E-voting, Technology

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The BMA vs. MMA

Since 1982, the British Medical Association have had a strong anti-boxing stance. It has called for a total ban on all amateur and professional competition. However, everyone has ignored this and many people continue to watch and enjoy the highly trained competitors in action.

Now the BMA are taking on the world of Mixed Martial Arts:
"As with boxing the BMA opposes mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting and calls for a complete ban on this type of contact sport. Ultimate fighting can be extremely brutal and has been described as ‘human cockfighting’. It can cause traumatic brain injury, joint injuries and fractures.

The BMA believes that doctors cannot stand by while violent fighting tournaments are allowed to take place. Large amounts of money can be earned by participants, promoters and others linked to ultimate fighting but no amount of money can compensate for permanent brain damage and premature death."
There are two things in that first paragraph that really annoy me. First of all, it would be good if the BMA did their research properly so that they could get the terminology right. 'Ultimate Fighting' is a term that's linked to one promotion - the Ultimate Fighting Championship (which happens to be the first and biggest of the promotions). Mixed Martial Arts is the sport.

'Human cockfighting'
This was the second annoying thing about the above quote. It was the Arizona Senator (and current Presidential candidate) John McCain who used this to describe MMA back in 1997. This article tells you that he has attempted to get shows banned in the past. Back in those days, MMA was still relatively young and there were fewer rules. It was closer to Vale Tudo fighting, which means 'anything goes' (that particular style became popular in Brazil).

However, that was 1997. On November 17, 2000, UFC 28 was the first event organised by that promotion to follow the Unified Rules of Conduct, which were implemented by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. Now, all MMA events in the USA must follow these rules. In the UK, Cage Rage (the buggest British-based promotion) also follows these rules, even though they don't necessarily have to.

In the second paragraph from the quote, the BMA state that can cause "traumatic brain injury, joint injuries and fractures". You can get joint injuries and fractures in football and many other sports - why aren't the BMA banning those? You can get brain injuries if you're involved in certain types of driving accidents, so why doesn't the BMA ban both the sport and non-sport versions of driving? That's what you call double standards!

The rules of conduct
The following is what you aren't allowed to do if you follow the Unified Rules of Conduct:
  1. Head-butting
  2. Eye gouging
  3. Biting or spitting
  4. Hair-pulling
  5. Fish-hooking
  6. Groin attacks
  7. Intentionally placing a finger in any opponent’s orifice
  8. Elbow strikes that point downwards
  9. Small joint manipulation
  10. Any kind of strike to the spine or the back of the head
  11. Heel kicks to the kidney
  12. Throat strikes
  13. Clawing, pinching, twisting the flesh or grabbing the clavicle
  14. Kicking a grounded opponent in the head
  15. Kneeing a grounded opponent in the head
  16. Stomping on a grounded opponent
  17. Abusive language
  18. Unsportsmanlike conduct
  19. Attacking during a break
  20. Attacking the opponent if he/she is under the referee's care
  21. Being too timid
  22. Interference from a fighter's team
  23. Throwing your opponent out of the combat area
  24. Ignoring the referee's instructions
  25. 'Spiking' an opponent to the canvas on his or her head or neck
A classic theory of martial arts is that technique can overcome power and weight. However, as an additional safety measure, weight classes have been introduced in a lot of competitions. There is also no inter-gender contests.

What about non-mixed martial arts?
After doing several searches, I cannot find a single article which states that the BMA have similar campaigns against non-mixed martial arts, e.g. Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Muay Thai. As a brown-belt in Gendo-Kai Karate, I know that both minor and major injuries can happen e.g. dislocations and breaks. However, I also know that there are and regulations (e.g. these) that have existed for a long time. Competitive Karate has referees and you can be warned and disqualified for breaking the rules. The BMA should either drop it's campaigns against boxing and MAA or make attempts to get all competitive contact sports banned.

Recent news
The BMA reminded us of their policy recently because the first English-based women's MMA bout took place at Cage Rage 25. It was a short fight, but it meant that anyone doubting the ability of female fighters was proved wrong. It should be noted that there was a female MMA fight in Wales a few years ago and matches between women have been taking place in the likes of the United States for ages (competitiors such as Gina Carano have enjoyed considerable success). Yes, they get both minor and major injuries (proven in the match at Cage Rage 25) just like the men. However, if they have the talent and determination, there is no reason for them to not compete.

Criticism from the fighters
In this article, Ian Freeman (a veteran MMA fighter who has just announced he's coming out of retirement), expressed his annoyance at the BMA's stance and reminded us that they had a similar policy with Kickboxing a few years ago:
"You had people saying guys were going to get maimed, they were drawing comparisons with boxing and saying it’s more brutal and guess what? There wasn’t a single KO for something like 6 months."
We have learned that the British Medical Association are basing their opinions on outdated information. In reality, the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is well-regulated and has been for some time. Many promotions have drug testing policies and events have on-site medical staff in case there are any injuries. The BMA also use double standards in their reasons for wanting to ban the sport. In short, their campaign is incredibly weak.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Mixed Martial Arts, British Medical Association, Regulations

Friday, 7 March 2008

Images and applying licences

There are many situations where you wouldn't want your property stolen or misused. Fortunately, there are many ways to protect your work (if you want it to be protected). In the software industry there are a vast array of open source licences and the most popular has to be the GNU General Public License. Microsoft has it's own, proprietary, End User Licence Agreements (EULAs). An example of one of these is the licences is here. Microsoft also has it's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) and the music industry has a history of using Digital Rights Management (however, DRM is no longer used by some major music companies. An example of this would be Warner Bros.).

You also have a number of choices when dealing with images. First of all, there's the standard Copyright, where all rights are normally reserved. This means that the only way to do anything with the image would be to ask the permission of the owner (or pay for it if there's some form of revenue model in place). This can be considered very restrictive, but it does mean that nothing will happen if you don't want it to. If someone does try to break that licence, you could ask them for a share of the profit, get them to stop using the images, or in some cases you could take them to court.

When dealing with images, I apply licences, but they aren't forms of Copyright. I use licences created by Creative Commons. These are less restrictive, but they still have rules that you must follow. For example, their Attribution licence means:
"You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give credit the way you request."
Another example is the Attribution-Non Commercial-Non Derivative Works licence, which means you can use the image if you give credit to the author, but it can't be for the purposes of earning money and you can't change it in any way.

What do I use?
  • Photos - for all my photos I use Creative Commons Attribution. I like to have credit if my pictures are used for anything and I don't mind if it's commercial or not-for-profit. I don't mind people changing the pictures, simply because I'm not the best photographer and someone else could dramatically improve what I've done. However, if my standard improves, I might change my licence.
  • Photo-edits - Recently, I've been doing a lot of work in Adobe Photoshop. I take photos and play around with the program's various features to see what works. If I produce anything that I think is decent or better, I apply an Attribution-Non Derivative Works licence. This is because (as I've already said) I like getting credit for my work and if (either myself or someone else) can earn money from what I do, that's great. However, I have started to put a lot more time into making these photo-edits good, so I wouldn't want people altering them.
Other aspects of my policy
If I ever make a photo-edit using someone else's photo, I always ask permission first. They might not have the same licensing system as me, so if I took something they did without asking, I would be stealing. Also, if someone didn't want me to take a photo of them, I would never question their decision or forceably take a picture. If I did the opposite of that it would be unfair and could be considered an invasion of personal space. I would also remove a photo or photo-edit from the internet if the subject asked (they might not like what I've done).

One thing I've started to do recently is change the licence type on an image if someone made a request. For example, if I uploaded a photo, they might not want profit made from the work. I wouldn't question the reasons and in that case I would change the standard Attribution licence to Attribution-Non Commercial.

Enforcing Creative Commons
There is one notable case where breaking one of these licences initiated a court case. Adam Curry, a former MTV presenter who is currently the Founder and President of Podshow (a successful podcasting network) frequently posts photos to the online photo galler Flickr (a website that I use). The licence that he uses is Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike. However, a dutch gossip magazine used four of these photos for commercial purposes (i.e. selling their magazine) without asking permission. When Adam Curry found out about this, he took the magazine to court and won. This is now used as a test case.

Not using a licence
There are many people who don't apply licences to at least some of their work. This is fine if they don't mind people doing anything with what they've created. However, it might be difficult to e.g. win a court case if your image was used in a way that you didn't like. The person who did something with the image would not be under any obligation to remove it from wherever it was placed/posted.

So, licensing can be important. You must also remember that their are plenty of choices out there, so it's likely that you'll be able to find something to suit your needs. I have a licensing policy, but as you can can see I allow some flexibility.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Photography, Photoshop, Images, Licensing

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Two Democrats and a Republican

The following is the results from the Democrat primaries which took place on March 4th:
StateCandidateVote %ageDelegates
TexasHillary Clinton5116
Barack Obama4810
OhioHillary Clinton5462
Barack Obama4446
VermontHillary Clinton609
Barack Obama386
Rhode IslandHillary Clinton5812
Barack Obama408
N.B.Texas seems to have a caucus and a primary, which is something I've not seen before. I'm not showing the result of the caucus because at the time of typing, the results are still being processed.

This table shows the GOP results for the primaries on March 4th:
StateCandidateVote %ageDelegates
TexasJohn McCain5170
Mike Huckabee380
Ron Paul50
OhioJohn McCain6079
Mike Huckabee310
Ron Paul50
VermontJohn McCain7217
Mike Huckabee140
Ron Paul70
Rhode IslandJohn McCain6513
Mike Huckabee224
Ron Paul70
The wins for Hillary Clinton were very important. It meant she secured a significant number of delegates and gained some much needed momentum after losing Barack Obama in eight primaries in a row. However, it should be noted that Obama also increased his delegate count and that meant the victories weren't so spectacular. As a result, Obama still leads the overall delegate count (1451 vs. 1365).

The Washington Post has an interesting viewpoint:
"For months before his victory in Iowa, doubters questioned whether Obama had the stomach to deliver the blows necessary to wear down Clinton's advantages. Now, the question is whether he can take a punch..."
I don't understand why they think Obama is struggling. He's still in the lead - look at the statistics! He's won 25 primaries/caucuses, Hillary's won 16 and two of those had no delegates up for grabs. How on earth could that be considered 'struggling'?

According to CNN, the delegate count that's needed to secure the Republican nomination is 1191 and John McCain 1226, so he will become the GOP candidate at convention time. It's quite a comeback considering he was short of money early on and Mitt Romney was taking some big victories. Losing the first caucus (Iowa) was also a blow. However, McCain ended up winning in the places that had the most delegates and, as we all know by now, delegates are the most important thing in a US election.After the results were announced, Mike Huckabee dropped out of the race which means the only other active GOP candidate is Ron Paul, but his total is comparitively minor (21).

What McCain doesn't want to see is:
"...another tired debate of false promises, empty sound bites, or useless arguments from the past that address not a single of America’s concerns for their family’s security."
The following picture is from this article:

Yes - that's right. John McCain has now received the dreaded 'Kiss of Death'™. George W. Bush has officially endorsed him. You might see him smiling in that picture, but now McCain will struggle to attract the anti-Bush crowd.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: USA, Election, Politics, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, USA