Free Culture Elections

Recently, Students for Free Culture — a non-profit organization dear to my heart — elected its new board. Several months ago, the group voted to hold its elections using the same preferential election method system that Debian uses. To help make their election easier I agreed to support them with a new set of features in Selectricity aimed at more structured organizational decision-making. Currently Selectricity is more geared toward more informal QuickVotes.

From a democratic and voting technology perspective, the election was a huge success. With 16 voters and 13 candidates, a traditional plurality or "first past the post" election would have been a poor match for their group — the 16 first-place votes were very split among the candidates. The results also show one very polarizing candidate who won the plurality but was in the bottom third of most preferential rankings! The use of Selectricity helped SFC select a board who better represented the preference of their group than they would have otherwise. Exciting stuff! You can read more on the Free Culture website or on the Selectricity blog.

Thanks are due both to the previous SFC board who took the risk on the technology and to all of the candidates and voters! I’m currently integrating feedback and improvements based on the SFC election and will open the feature up the public in the next couple weeks. If you want hear about this when it happens, you should subscribe to the Selectricity Blog or drop an email to

3 Replies to “Free Culture Elections”

  1. Actually, that’s a rather troubling result.  Picture a country with strong tribal loyalties, where the A’s represent 60% of the population, the B’s represent 40%, the B’s have a strong, polarizing leader, and the A’s are politically split three ways.  The B leader would win the plurality but would be the least preferred candidate for the majority.  If you’re choosing one leader, it’s just that the leading A candidate wins.  But if you’re choosing a board composed of three people, then the B’s get no representation at all, because of the strong negatives from all of the A’s.

    Do you really want a system that excludes unpopular views from representation on multi-person boards?  I think Debian-style systems produce good results when choosing one leader, but I’m not sure if it’s the way to go when choosing a panel.  If every voter can pick N candidates for an N-person board, the traditional method of picking the top vote-getters may be better, especially for large N.

  2. Joe, what you are suggesting is a general problem with voting system and is why people have created proportional representation systems. Those introduce a series of other important issues and limitations.

  3. Also Joe. Democracy is a system that excludes unpopular views. There are lots of good reasons why one might not want a purely democratic system but it’s important to be straight forward about it.

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