Writing Assignment 2:

You have two choices of what topic to write about, option 1 and option 2 below.

Option 1: Voting for the Best Picture Oscar

Recently, as reported in a Wall Street Journal blog and elsewhere, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has changed how it decides the Best winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Formerly, the Best Picture was chosen from a list of five nominees using plurality voting. Now there will be 10 nominees and plurality with elimination voting will be used.

With plurality voting, the Best Picture Oscar could in principle be awarded to a picture that got just over 10% of the votes. To avoid having a Best Picture win on the basis of just over 10% support, the Academy has moved to plurality with elimination voting, which requires each voter to rank the 10 nominated pictures in order of preference. But some people see problems with this too. For example, with 10 nominees, there may be voters who haven't seen several of the pictures. Previously one might assume that voters simply chose the picture they liked best among those that they had seen. But how should a voter rank the nominated films if they haven't seen all 10 of them?

Which way do you think is better for choosing the Best Picture, plurality (like they used to use) or plurality with elimination (like they'll use now)? Or do you think some other method is better? Explain which method you think is best, and explain on what basis you feel this way.

Option 2: Cumulative Voting and the Lani Guinier Affair

Some people see it as a problem that under certain traditional methods of voting, small voting blocs may rarely if ever manage to gain represention. For example, consider a 4 person city council which must be chosen from a slate of 10 at-large candidates. One way of running the election is to use a system in which the top four vote getters are the winners. Under this system, small political blocs may rarely if ever win representation, because their votes get swamped by larger blocs.

One method meant to address this is called cumulative voting (also accumulation voting or weighted voting). A simple version of cumulative voting is "one person n votes", where n is the number of candidates. Each voter can spread these n votes among the candidates in any way the voter likes (they could all be placed on one candidate, or spread among several candidates). [Note: although this system is sometimes referred to as "weighted voting" it is different from "weighted voting" as discussed in section 3.3 of our book. Here every voter would get the same number, n, of votes, whereas the weighted voting system discussed in section 3.3 allows different voters to have different numbers of votes, such as in a stockholder election where stockholders get more votes if they own more shares of stock.]

In the example of the 4 person city council, you could spread your votes among the 4 people you prefer, or you could put all 10 of your votes on your top preference.

Opponents of this system have suggested that it is "undemocratic" or "radical" (see for example, a June 14, 1993 column in Newsweek by George F. Will about Lani Guinier, an advocate of cumulative voting, among other things).

Write about cumulative voting. Why might it help address the problem mentioned above, of small blocs having trouble getting representation? Is it just a proposed system, or has it been used for actual elections? What fairness criteria does it satisfy? If you like, you can focus on the Lani Guinier affair. Who was she? Why did Will take an interest in her? Why did she advocate cumulative voting?