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The Voting Decision Pattern

Voting happens all the time. From national elections to deciding what type of pizza to order, we use voting as a method of making group decisions.

But just what is a vote? And how do you know when you’ve cast a good vote?

A vote expresses your preference for how to make a decision, but the final result of that decision comes from combining the preferences of others involved in the decision.

Votes differ from most decisions in that you have no direct control over the outcome. You can influence the final decision, but not determine it.

Voting Has Two Sides

Each voting decision involves two separate sets of decisions:

  • Individual
    Each voter must make a decision on how they plan to vote.
  • Group
    All the votes get aggregated together to determine the final decision.

How a group makes a decision by asking for votes from individuals and aggregating them together is called a voting system.

Today I want to address an individual’s vote and discuss what aspects are relevant to your voting decisions.

Votes Express Your Preferences

Votes express your preferences. A voting decision may allow you to express your preferences by:

  • Selecting
    Indicating which options you prefer. For instance, selecting which candidates you want elected.
  • Ranking
    Specifying the order in which you prefer your options. For instance, ranking the first, second and third choice for movies you want to see.
  • Weighting
    Setting the value of each option to you. For instance, prioritizing options as high, medium or low importance.
  • Proposing
    Adding your own options. For instance, writing in a candidate on a ballot.
  • Abstaining
    Deciding not to vote.

Each of these become decisions you need to make in the process of determining your final vote.

The best strategies for determining each of these preferences varies based on the voting system. And most voting systems don’t allow you to express all of these preferences.

What Makes a Good Vote?

A decision pattern ideally helps us make better decisions. Which begs the questions:

What constitutes a good vote?

What constitutes a better vote?

In Why Successful Decisions Aren’t Always Good Decisions, I discussed how the terms “good” and “bad” don’t accurately describe our decisions. Instead, we should use the terms:

  • well-informed
    Do you know the information that could affect how you vote?
  • well-made
    Did you use a reasonable process to decide how to vote?
  • successful
    Was the result of your decision what you were expecting?
  • relevant
    Does it matter if you vote?

Let’s look at these from last to first.

Is Your Vote Relevant?

Not all votes count equally. The weight of your vote depends on the voting system and how others intend to vote.

In consensus, your vote has a direct effect on the outcome. A single No vote can cause no action to be taken.

In a simple majority, your vote plays a greater or lessor role depending on how many other people are voting and how they vote. In a close call, your vote could be the deciding factor.

From a lean perspective, if your vote isn’t relevant, any vote will do. Go with your gut, flip a coin or ask a friend.

Otherwise, vary the amount of information and process you use based on how likely your vote will affect the group’s final decision.

Is Your Vote Successful?

Rarely do we go back and evaluate our votes. We talk about successful or failed decisions, but rarely do we talk about successful or failed votes.

The problem lies in defining what “success” means to a vote and how to measure it.

If you aim simply to cast a ballot, then any random vote will do. Casting your vote becomes your measure of success.

If you aim to affect the future through your vote, you should think about what outcomes you desire. Do you want to:

  • Change a specific issue
  • Agree with the decisions being made
  • Improve your situation
  • See progress toward a goal
  • Feel good about the decision being made

When looking at outcomes, write them down and be specific. Consider how they affect you, your business, your family, your community and society at large.

If you want a specific issue changed, what changes would you like to see? In what timeframe? What alternatives would be acceptable? And then, of course, which option do you believe can create this outcome?

If you want multiple outcomes, list each and rank how important each is to you. Use this as your guide to decide how to evaluate your options.

Is Your Vote Well-Made?

Flipping a coin may be an easy way to vote, but it removes any intelligence from the decision.

For votes where your vote has only a weak influence on the final result, making a gut-based decision makes sense. But to make a well-made decision, you need a process.

Use your success criteria to frame your decision. 

Look at your desired outcomes. Decide how important each outcome is. Then rank each option on its likelihood of producing each outcome. Multiply the importance of each outcome by the likelihood it’ll be achieved, then add up all your scores to get a total score for each option.

Is Your Vote Well-Informed?

Information can inform us, bias us or just overwhelm us. How do you know what information to use and when to stop gathering more?

Aim to gather only relevant information—information that has a direct impact on your final choice.

Rely on your desired outcomes to focus your attention. Ignore information which does not help you clarify these outcomes or each option’s likelihood of bringing about these outcomes.

All information comes from a point-of-view, whether consciously presented or unconsciously. When possible, triangulate your own understanding by choosing sources with differing viewpoints.

If pressed for time, use trusted sources as proxies. Delegate your information gathering to a person or organization you trust, and ask them for their opinion. But before you do, understand their viewpoint and make sure you agree with it.

Stop collecting information once most of the information you continue to gather repeats information you already know, or is irrelevant.

After the Vote

We improve only by examining our past decisions and figuring out what we would have done differently.

To become better at voting, take the time to reflect on your votes:

  • Did the group decision reflect your individual preferences?
  • Did the decision achieve the outcomes you expected?
  • Do you have different preferences knowing what you know now?
  • How could you have made your vote be better informed, better made, more successful or more relevant?

In the end, voting decisions can be the hardest to evaluate and learn from. When the group decides differently than we voted, it can be difficult to figure out how the result would have been different if our preferences had won out.

How do you evaluate and improve your voting decisions? 

Credits: The photo used in this article was taken by League of Women Voters of California LWVC.

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