Is Condorcet Voting Too Complicated?

By far the most common initial reaction to the Condorcet voting concept is that it is "too complicated" to be approved for public elections. Is it? Well, yes and no. Yes, it is too complicated for a public that is almost completely ignorant of alternative election methods. But for a public that is educated on the major democratic advantages of Condorcet voting, it is exactly as complicated as it needs to be. The purpose of this website is to provide that education.

Yes, Condorcet voting seems complicated at first. But so did many other mathematical concepts we take for granted. If written out in detail, for example, the instructions for multiplying and dividing decimal numbers by hand would certainly seem complicated -- particularly for those with no previous exposure to it. Yet anyone who complained that division is "too complicated" to be trusted for critical applications would be dismissed as an idiot. The Condorcet election rules are arguably less complicated than multiplication and division.

More importantly, voters need not remember or even understand the rules of Condorcet voting any more than they need to remember the rules of long division to divide numbers with a calculator. All they really need to understand is that, unlike any other election method, Condorcet allows them to vote sincerely without the risk of hurting their own cause. But good citizens should understand their voting system, of course, just as educated people should understand how to multiply and divide numbers by hand.

The complexity of Condorcet voting comes in two parts. The first part is in interpreting the rankings on each ballot as an equivalent pairwise matrix; the second is in resolving cyclical ambiguities when necessary. The determination of pairwise matrices is very basic and should be understandable with moderate effort by eighth-graders. The resolution of cyclical ambiguities is slightly more complicated, but it should be understandable with very moderate effort by average high school juniors. If that level of intellectual effort is now too much to ask for something as fundamental as a superior election method, democracy is in trouble.

The real problem with Condorcet voting is not so much that it is too complicated, but rather that it is perceived as such, usually by those who have little difficulty understanding it themselves, but who assume it is too complicated for the masses. Because it takes a few minutes to explain, they assume that the masses will not pay attention long enough to comprehend it. But the masses will be much more interested in Condorcet voting when they become aware of its fundamental importance to the advancement of democracy. Until that time, they are likely to regard it as some arbitrary crackpot scheme, and they will have little incentive to pay attention.

The implementation strategy, therefore, requires at least two major steps. First, a consensus must be developed, among those interested in election methods, that Condorcet voting is indeed a superior method in principle, regardless of how difficult it will be to sell to the general public. After that consensus is reached, the job of selling it to the general public can be effective. Private polling organizations can then begin experimenting with it to determine which candidates the public really prefers. When the general public finally wakes up and realizes that Condorcet voting can finally give them the kind of leaders they really want, they will pressure politicians to take action.