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Alternative voting, math oversight of redistricting shot down by N.H. House committee

  • This example of ranked choice voting was used in Maine. The House Election Law Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 13, rejected a proposal to allow this voting system to be used in New Hampshire.  Courtesy

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    "I voted" stickers are seen on a table at the ward 3 polling place at Beaver Meadow Golf Course Club House in Concord on Nov. 7, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 2/13/2018 6:49:11 PM

Amid all the high-profile discussion of possible changes to New Hampshire election laws and processes, a trio of less-mainstream proposals were shot down Tuesday.

One of them would have used mathematics to draw legislative districts, and the other two would allow people to vote for more than one candidate, showing their ballot preference by systems other than the traditional process.

All three were marked as inexpedient to legislate by sweeping votes in the House Election Law Committee, which makes their demise in the full House likely.


Under one bill, House Bill 1666, a calculation known as efficiency gap analysis would have been applied to statewide districts in New Hampshire after the next redistricting in 2021. If the analysis found problems, “the redistricting for that elected body shall be deemed to be gerrymandered and therefore not valid” and the districts redrawn before the next election.

It was unanimously voted as ITL by the 20-person committee.

Efficiency gap analysis tries to objectively gauge fairness of districts by measuring “wasted” votes – those not necessary for a particular victory – to spot gerrymandering tactics such as packing one party’s voters together.

It is one of several mathematical systems being touted around the country to overcome debates about partisan drawing legislative districts.

The main sponsor, Rep. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, submitted a similar bill last year that did not specify a particular method of measuring district fairness. It also failed to get out of committee.

Alternative voting systems

Two bills would have allowed New Hampshire to adopt methods of electing officials using something other than the traditional system in which whoever gets the most votes wins, even if they don’t get a majority.

Advocates of such alternative-voting systems say they do a better job at reflecting voters’ wishes than the traditional system when more than two candidates are running for a position; reduce the need for “strategic voting,” in which people don’t vote for their preferred candidate because they fear it will bolster a candidate to whom they are strongly opposed; and force candidates to appeal to a wider range voters than just a solid base that can win if other candidates split the majority.

Critics call such systems unnecessarily confusing and lacking in transparency, and not necessarily an improvement. It has been mathematically shown that no voting system is perfect, in the sense of being able to avoid all paradoxes or strategic voting behaviors.

One bill, House Bill 1240, would have led to what is known as approval voting by allowing voters to cast ballots for as many candidates as they wish for any given office. It was unanimously rejected.

Currently, voters can cast ballots for only as many seats as are open in a particular race. For example, voters can mark just one candidate for governor from however many people are running, or mark at most three candidates for state representative in a district that has three seats on the ballot.

Under HB 1240, that limit would be removed. Voters could vote for every single candidate on the ballot if they wanted to. The winner in the race would be whoever gets the most total votes, even if it is not a majority of the votes cast.

Proponents of this system, called approval voting, say it allows voters to show support for alternative candidates without fearing they will harm a major candidate that they also like, because they can vote for both.

The second alternative voting bill, House Bill 1540, would allow a system known as ranked-choice voting for federal and statewide offices. It was rejected, 19-1; only Travis Bennett, D-Plymouth, supported it.

Under ranked-choice voting, voters don’t just mark a check next to candidates; they can rank them from first to last, allowing more leeway in expressing preference. Those rankings are then used to weed out candidates if nobody gets a majority of the initial vote.

This is the third time that some variation of ranked-choice voting has been proposed in New Hampshire. No previous attempt has made it out of committee, either.

Variations of ranked-choice voting are used in a few places around the country. Most notably, Maine voters approved its use in statewide elections, the first time that has happened in the country; the state’s high court overturned that vote, however, saying the system violated Maine’s constitution, and the state is scheduled to vote on the issue again this June.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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