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Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can Do About It)
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Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can Do About It)

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  285 ratings  ·  60 reviews
Our Electoral System is Fundamentally Flawed, But There's a Simple and Fair Solution

At least five U.S. presidential elections have been won by the second most popular candidate. The reason was a "spoiler"--a minor candidate who takes enough votes away from the most popular candidate to tip the election to someone else. The spoiler effect is more than a glitch. It is a
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published February 5th 2008 by Hill and Wang
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May 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Most books that attempt to propose new ways of carrying out elections are nothing more than sour grapes: "Since *my* guy didn't win the last election, the system is obviously flawed and should be overhauled." Therefore, most of these sort of books are a waste of time. This one, however, is simply brilliant. Instead of approaching the subject through party results, Poundstone instead takes a historical walk through many different voting schemes in terms of the mathematical theory behind them. Don ...more
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The first half is a bit repetitive, mostly just a run-down of past US elections ruined by "spoiler" candidates. The second half gets more interesting with a description of different voting methods and the ways in which they could be implemented in the US. A proponent of "range voting," Mr. Poundstone spends quite a bit of time on its merits and almost completely disregards the extreme manipulability of the system. He barely mentions its logical sister, majority judgment, which carries all of the ...more
Alan Zundel
Sep 23, 2015 rated it liked it
“Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It)” is an entertaining primer on the craziness of our usual method of running elections in this country and the various alternative methods proposed to replace it. Long on anecdotes and short on in-depth analysis, it whets the desire for electoral reform without making a definitive case for “what we can do about it.”

Not that it doesn’t reach a conclusion. The book was recommended to me by an online acquaintance who takes issu
Gaming the Vote is an impressive overview of the convoluted math and psychology behind different voting systems and the benefits and drawbacks of those systems.

OK, that probably sounds boring to anybody who isn’t a math and/or political science geek, but this book does a terrific, and often humorous, job of showing the reader the impact that plurality voting has had on the US Presidency (especially vote splitters – Ralph Nader wasn’t the first third-party candidate to impact an election) and how
Xavier Shay
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
3 stars + 1 for new useful information on a topic I am unread on.

Summary: Ranked voting systems are fundamentally broken (proven with math), plurality vote (American system) is *really* broken: major parties regularly fund extremist parties *on the other side* to try and splinter off votes from their main opponent. As a result, democrats regularly win deeply conservative states (and vice versa). Clearly an insane state of affairs. Range voting (i.e. give each candidate 1-5 rating) is the least b
Jonna Brewer
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Good critique of the election system of the US, with reviews of other possible voting methods we could use and what limitations those have as well. The author does give us what might be the best system, but allows that our chances of ever achieving it are slim.
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Giving this 5 stars, because I think the subject is VERY important, especially now, and I'm not (yet) aware of another book about the topic that's even half-remotely consumable by the public at large, despite this one being a bit dense at times.

The first third of this book is about history of plurality voting (i.e. what the US has today ––electoral shenanigans aside) and its biggest flaw: spoiler candidates. My eyes started to glaze over a bit here because it's the exact same story over and over
Jan 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Machiavellians, math-enthusiasts, and other political animals
Shelves: social-science
Gaming the Vote is a book for all those who are better test-takers than learners. I don't have much to add to what others have said about this book, which is fairly entertaining although eventually a bit on the redundant side. William Poundstone starts by explaining Kenneth Arrow's Nobel-prize winning mathematical proof that applying different "fair" voting schemes will yield different results, the upshot being that anyone familiar with the voting rules in effect can manipulate them to their adv ...more
Ryan Routh
May 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read this book during the 2016 election season, and it felt very timely. Poundstone's book is partly-historical and partly-analytical. It reviews the history of vote splitting in the United States, identifying situations where the "wrong" candidate (i.e., one not preferred by the voting populace) won due to the presence of third party candidates that shaved off votes. It talks about the Arrow Theorem that proved that any voting system fails a quite minimal test at least some of the time.

The bo
Anya Weber
Nov 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Anya by: Doug Orleans
I learned so much from this book! I learned that when you click on one to five stars to rate a book on a site like this one, this is called "range voting," while the type of voting we do in US Presidential elections is called "plurality voting." This book isn't about voter fraud or no-paper-trail voting machines; it's about how, even when elections are run with the best of intentions in this country, their results are deeply vulnerable to weird mathematical skewing. So the person who winds up wi ...more
Jan 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Poundstone discusses various voting methods to contrast with the current plurality vote method of electing most public officials in the United States; a voting method which is often subject to the phenomenon of "vote splitting" by spoiler candidates, which has five times in US history led to the election of a president who failed to receive a majority of the popular vote.

He covers the dilemma of Kenneth Arrow's "Impossibilty Theorem" which states that no ranked-choice voting system can be design
Mark Desrosiers
Nov 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, math
Not to... spoil anything, but the answer to the book's subtitle is Range Voting, wherein candidates are scored, scores are added up (or averaged), and the winning score wins. (This is very different from Instant Runoff Voting -- my own city's voting method -- which, despite it's spoiler-free benefits, can still produce some odd results if three or more strong candidates are competing.)

In getting to the benefits of range voting, the author takes us on a geeky math-historical journey among voting
Josh Hamacher
Nov 14, 2011 rated it liked it
This is an overview of various voting systems, presented informally, primarily in the form of historical sketches, interviews with modern experts, and various "what if" scenarios concerning famous (and not-so-famous) elections of the past with "undesirable" outcomes. By the end of the book it's clear which voting system Poundstone endorses, and I must say I agree with him.

Overall I found it very interesting and had to consider carefully whether it deserved three stars or four. I ended up going w
Fernando Pestana da Costa
Nov 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book gives an entertaining and informative tour of the most important voting systems (plurality, instant-runoff, Condorcet, Borda, approval, and range voting), their features and their problems. But this is no dry academic work: Poundstone's lively style, the large number of episodes from real live political situations (of U.S. history) that illustrate some of the effects (or defects) of plurality vote, and his letting the various academics he interviewed (Arrow, Brams, Saari, Smith, etc) t ...more
Joseph Hoehne
Oct 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Content-wise this is a great book. I really love how it dove deep into the various voting methods as well as the history and mathematics behind each. (Did you know that Lewis Carroll was big into voting methods?)

I just couldn't get over the structure of this book. The first half is just story after story of why the current system is flawed. These are in-depth and sometimes I felt they were just too long.

The second half is where the real "meat" of the book lies. This is where the pros and cons of
Aaron Hamlin
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is THE BOOK on introductory voting methods. And what a guide! Poundstone takes a subject that can be dry and tells you through stories just how screwed up our political process is. And he points to a culprit that most people are simply not aware of.

Beyond this, Poundstone doesn't just leave you without answers. He points to cardinal systems as a potential path, with his preference at the time being range voting. Poundstone provides all the nerdiness you could want in plain English.

This book
Mario Rivas
Jan 23, 2017 rated it liked it
It caught my attention early on. Lots of history in the beginning. Later half of book discusses, in detail, various voting methods. that took a while to get through but I persevered. the first half is definitely worth reading. Second half is decent to explain why some voting systems are failures. Seems most are and he suggests a "fairest one of all ".
Mike Brisson
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Solid book about different electoral reforms, situations where they would make differences, and relatively simple explanations of complex topics. The book includes many references to other works, so if you're looking to get intimate social choice theory or electoral reforms, this is a great book to start with.
Oct 26, 2009 rated it liked it
An interesting read with only a bit of new information. Much of the book is spent discussing the history of spoilers in elections. Most people will agree this is a problem unless they are busily taking advantage of said spoiler(therefore the title).

The author goes into historical solutions that have been proposed over time: Cordocet, Borda, single transferrable, IRV, approval, and the author's apparent preference, Range voting.

The arguments against most of these range from interesting to absurd
Feb 11, 2008 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Oriana by:
Ok ok ok, I admit that putting this on the 'to read' shelf is a bit disingenuous, because I really don't think I'm actually going to read it. There's too much Cortázar and Pynchon and Murakami in the world. But for those of you who have the time, this book sounds really interesting. This is from the review:

While most Americans would characterize our electoral process as "one person, one vote," the route to the White House is considerably byzantine. For example, think of the system of
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Consider the standard system of voting in most of America: The voter is given a choice of roughly 2 -5 candidates and has to pick just ONE. This is commonly known as PLURALITY voting (or Majority voting). Pretty democratic right? Well it works pretty well in a lot of cases (especially if there are only two candidates) but it is to well known to be vulnerable to the what I'll call "The Gore-Nader Effect." That is two candidates who appeal to the same base can end up splitting the vote and hence c ...more
Sep 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Picked this up when looking for another of Poundstone's books and I'm extremely glad I did. This is a detailed (but not dense) look at various voting systems and their inherent flaws, including the spoiler effect that makes the United State's plurality system unfair, the strategic voting that dooms the Borda count, and the complexity of instant runoff voting. If the ideal voting system is one that elects the candidate most palatable to the greatest number of voters, then we're more than overdue ...more
Jan 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The Good: I think this book did a good job exposing some of the flaws in today's voting system and how both major parties attempt to use these flaws to their advantage in order to win without actually having the support of the majority. Gaming the Vote focuses on the mathematical aspects of how the system can be manipulated, which is interesting and applicable on all levels of politics.

The Bad: For many people, math is essentially boring and will turn of readers regardless of how well Poundstone
Andy Love
Mar 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Poundstone provides a good popular account of various voting systems and the problems with most of them (especially plurality voting - the current system used in most elections in the U.S.); he covers Arrow's theorem, which shows that most varieties of voting systems can't meet minimal conditions that one would expect a "proper" voting system to meet, and talks about a variety of system that isn't covered by the theorem, and might therefore be a better alternative. In addition to providing an an ...more
Xenophon Hendrix
Jul 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: persons interested in political science
William Poundstone, the author, describes the contradictions inherent in several different voting schemes. The book serves as a lucid introduction to Kenneth Arrow's Impossibility Theorem and the history of voting. Poundstone enlivens the text with many anecdotes.

The book also promotes range voting as a superior voting method. Like all methods of voting, range voting is subject to anomalies, but the author believes it is the best scheme yet devised.

Poundstone's writing style is clear and often w
Nov 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book so much, I am buying a copy of it. The 1st half tells some fascinating stories from history about elections gone wrong, or just gone 'weird'. It explains about Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. Then it goes on to explain the history of the development of other voting methods, and describes the methods, showing the advantages and disadvantages of each. The glossary is a nice resource (as a math teacher, we actually teach a unit on this stuff if there's time). But the other seems ...more
Rick Edwards
This is a book citizens who care about democracy ought to read. In addition to accounts of elections which gave weird results because of the spoiler effect, it delved into the history of efforts to find a better way to elect public officials. It goes into the math in very helpful ways. It describes various proposals to make elections yield a result in greater conformity with what the citizenry desires. It reveals fallacies in instant runoff voting (IRV) and points to range voting as a far better ...more
Very interesting and informative book if you want know about all the different types of voting mechanisms that have worked over time. The one knock I have on this book was that the author spent a lot of time with the history of voting and providing a lot of inciteful research versus the problem with today's voting and how it should be fixed to avoid manipulation. He only spent about 50 pages on that subject.
Sean Hoskin
Aug 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book does an excellent job of reviewing voting systems and the modern science behind them. I am not sure if the conclusion is the optimal solution but do not blame Poundstone for this; as with any solution it is ALWAYS a series of tradeoffs and solutions thus must constantly be adjusting algorithms reacting to the current circumstances. The anecdotes and theories covered make this a worthwhile and intelligent read.
Gabriel Pinkus
About the impossibility theorem in which is appears impossible to have a voting contest in which does not violate what many would consider to be "fair" conditions for an election.

For the less mathematically-inclined (like me), there is also a journalistic-approach to the history of elections in the USA. Absurdities in situations, as well as how campaigning and getting elected has changed over the decades is covered.
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William Poundstone is the author of more than ten non-fiction books, including 'Fortune's Formula', which was the Amazon Editors' Pick for #1 non-fiction book of 2005. Poundstone has written for The New York Times, Psychology Today, Esquire, Harpers, The Economist, and Harvard Business Review. He has appeared on the Today Show, The David Letterman Show and hundreds of radio talk-shows throughout t ...more

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