26 November, 2000

Dear Friend,

With this letter, I want to formally acknowledge my defeat in the recent election for Land-Rent Assessor for the Village of Arden, Delaware. There are no party zealots refusing to let me concede. There is no army of lawyers charging ahead to argue trivialities. I didn't especially want to run in the first place. I certainly won't ask for a recount.
. . . Actually, recounts in this election are impossible. If that sounds odd, consider this -- in this election you vote for everyone on the ballot but there's no telling who will get your vote. Arden is a quirky utopian village where everyone marches to a different beat down the road less traveled. I love it.
. . . The cultural influences here in the Village of Arden are not those found anywhere else, not in this combination. Shakespeare's plays, the Arts and Crafts Movement, Garden-City Planning, Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and the political economy of Henry George all influence our village's way of life.
. . . For those of you unfamiliar with Arden, it was founded one hundred years ago by followers of the Single Tax Movement, inspired by Henry George. People here may own their houses but don't own the land on which their houses sit. If you buy a house in Arden, you get a 99-year lease on the land. How much you pay in land rent (the Single Tax) is determined by a board of seven assessors who are elected using the Hare System of Proportional Representation.

If I was nominated as an assessor, it was because I attended the last village meeting. They needed fourteen nominees. There weren't fourteen people at the meeting willing to serve. So, even though I've been a resident less than a year, I was nominated. Had I won, I would have served. It would have been a learning experience.
. . . Watching the votes get counted was itself a learning experience. There were no butterfly ballots, punch cards, or voting machines. There were certainly no hanging, swinging, or double-somersault chads. Instead there were colored pencils, piles of paper, and sticky notes. There were paper ballots listing me and the other thirteen nominees. Each voter had ranked the nominees from 1 to 14.
. . . The essence of the Hare System is that each ballot cast goes to a winning nominee but you don't know which nominee. It depends somewhat on how the ballots are shuffled. Your vote might go to the candidate you ranked number one. It might go to the candidate you ranked number ten. You can't tell ahead of time.

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer had an article by Faye Flam suggesting alternatives to the Plurality Method of voting currently used to select the President of the United States. She offered the Single Transferable Vote Method, the Borda Count, and Approval Voting. She didn't mention the Hare System, which seems to be a variation on the Single Transferable Vote Method. This latter method is used in Australia and parts of Ireland.
. . . In the Single Transferable Vote Method and the Hare System, votes cast for losers are transferred to other candidates. For example, five people picked me as their number one choice for assessor -- God bless them! This meant I came in dead last. Anyone who picked me first had their votes transferred to someone else. But who?
. . . Their votes went to their second choices, maybe. But if any of those choices were eliminated later in the process as losers, those votes went to third choices, fourth choices, etc., until, at last, their votes helped put someone over the top. Each ballot eventually goes to a winner; you just don't know who.
. . . In the Hare System, even if you pick a winner as your first preference, your vote might not go to that person. I won't try to explain that here, or why recounts are impossible. I will say that who gets elected depends, to some degree, on how the ballots are shuffled before they are counted. If you reshuffled the ballots, you might get a different count each time. Who knows, with a different shuffle, I might have been a winner!

As you may note, there are some obvious similarities between elections here in Arden and in South Florida. In both, you can vote without knowing for whom you are voting. A degree of randomness is built in. You can get different winners on each recount.
. . . The difference between voting in Arden and South Florida is that, here in Arden, we choose to give our elections these qualities. In South Florida, everyone and their ballots get bent out of shape. A better way is possible. Elections can be somewhat arbitrary and random without dissension and political turmoil. Arden can show the way.
. . . I've put together a committee of Ardenites whose knowledge of the Hare System of Proportional Representation is second to none. If election officials in South Florida would like to pay our way down (perhaps in February), we would be delighted to share our expertise.

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