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The STV system can be used allow voters to set a list of preferences up to the entire list of candidates, if they wish. And each voter still only gets the weight of a single vote, regardless of how many preferences they select.

So, is there a specific reason we are limited to having a maximum of three preferences?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Mathematically speaking, you are correct. The STV system does allow you to select your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th favorite… right up through the end of the list. But as a matter of practical consequences, allowing unlimited choices will capture LESS of the community's true intentions, not more.

Think about it: In an election, you typically have a reasonably strong conviction about who you would like to see win. But if that person doesn't win, single transferable votes (STV) let's you pick a 2nd person you would vote for in an "instant runoff" of the remaining candidates. Failing that, you pick a 3rd preference. But by time you get to your 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 30th vote, how much conviction do you really have in expressing a preference?

So, if your top three candidates do not win, what happens? If the highest voted candidate has not reached their quota, it will apply your 4th choice, then your 5th choice, … your 15th choice, … your 23rd choice, in sequence… until some candidate reaches their quota and is declared the winner.

It's true that your vote will eventually only be counted once, but what did your vote count towards? Probably a candidate that you barely know or care about one way or another… selected only because you were compelled to select someoneanyone.

The end result is that your "just select someone, already" vote has likely off-set another voter which probably had much more conviction about who should win from that latter pool. More choice is not always better.

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Well, people don't have to use all their votes, but in general I agree - beyond the top 3 most people don't really have any strong convictions – Kyle Cronin Feb 5 '11 at 2:06
This is also where the "primary" stage comes into play: if you voted for someone in the primary who didn't make it into the final election, that's ok - at least you're not throwing away one of your precious three votes on them. If the system went straight from nominations to three-vote STV, there's just that much more of a chance that no one you vote for gets elected. I do wonder if it wouldn't make more sense though to either reduce the primary cut-off, or expand the number of votes such that you must vote for at least one of the winners. – Shog9 Feb 5 '11 at 2:44
While I generally agree, except that many elections are single seat with very different candidates and so quite different, the problem with an arbitrary limit is it can (for example) encourage tactical voting. For example, on SU I think many assumed Sathya was a clear winner before entering the last stage; people could have decided to not vote for him, assuming others would, so that they could use there prefs on three others they wanted. Obviously, the results seem to show this didn't happen, so maybe it's a null concern anyway. Still, thanks for the input, nice to know the team's thoughts. :) – DMA57361 Feb 5 '11 at 8:43

Maybe because it would get confusing to go much further. I don't think I would even bother to select a 7th preference if I had the option. Might as well keep the interface cleaner and just put three down.

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You don't have to select the maximum number of preferences - so not bothering to pick 7 would be fine - in fact in the current elections you can specify just a first choice if you like (and if you check the data - people did do just that). – DMA57361 Feb 4 '11 at 13:55
True, but what I am saying is, I think most people would not care to make this many choices, so it is not worth supporting it (or the space on the UI). – jzd Feb 4 '11 at 13:58
Indeed. I'm interested however if this was done because of worries over the UI and user confusion, or because of an assumption that voters wouldn't care enough to select more candidates, or maybe something else. – DMA57361 Feb 4 '11 at 14:01

It's because I hate the surveys that tell me to "rank the following five things in order of importance:" then list nonsense such as price, quality, speed, reliability, etc, etc, etc.

I only ever care about three things. Ever.

Unicorns. Freehand circles. Waffles.





In that order.

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Mister Saffron is not going to like this. – Pops Feb 5 '11 at 3:52
@Popular Being third place is not bad at all. Balpha cemented unicorns with his endeavor, and freehand circles have gained me more rep than waffles ever have. If he wants me to re-prioritize, he's going to have to step up to the plate. – Adam Davis Feb 5 '11 at 3:59

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