No voting system is flawless. But some are less democratic than others
via Anthony Gottlieb @ The New Yorker
Whenever the time came to elect a new doge of Venice, an official went to pray in St. Mark’s Basilica, grabbed the first boy he could find in the piazza, and took him back to the ducal palace. The boy’s job was to draw lots to choose an electoral college from the members of Venice’s grand families, which was the first step in a performance that has been called tortuous, ridiculous, and profound. Here is how it went, more or less unchanged, for five hundred years, from 1268 until the end of the Venetian Republic.
Thirty electors were chosen by lot, and then a second lottery reduced them to nine, who nominated forty candidates in all, each of whom had to be approved by at least seven electors in order to pass to the next stage. The forty were pruned by lot to twelve, who nominated a total of twenty-five, who needed at least nine nominations each. The twenty-five were culled to nine, who picked an electoral college of forty-five, each with at least seven nominations. The forty-five became eleven, who chose a final college of forty-one. Each member proposed one candidate, all of whom were discussed and, if necessary, examined in person, whereupon each elector cast a vote for every candidate of whom he approved. The candidate with the most approvals was the winner, provided he had been endorsed by at least twenty-five of the forty-one.
Don’t worry if you blinked: bewildering complexity was part of the point. The election aimed to reassure Venetians that their new ruler could not have been eased into place by backroom deals. Venetians had been coming up with inventive ways to make political decisions for a couple of hundred years before they concocted this rigmarole. Earlier elections in Venice, and in other Italian communes, required a winner to be endorsed by two-thirds, or sometimes three-quarters, of the voters. The hallmark of the Venetian approach has come to be known as “approval voting,” in which electors do not need to pick a favorite but may vote for several candidates they like.