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Democracy Around the Galaxy: A Hitchhikers Guide

October 9, 2010

In celebration of 42 day this Sunday here is an entry I offer from Pop The Stack for inclusion in that most remarkable of all books ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The subject is an introduction to some democratic systems in use around the galaxy.  This should be especially interesting to Earthlings who famously don’t pay enough attention to galactic governance to even bother to find out that their own planet was being scheduled for demolition to make way for a hyper-space bypass.

Sure, democratic reform in the different nations on Earth is an important cause, one I support wholeheartedly.  But what does it really matter how such a (mostly) harmless planet chooses their leaders?  How about a race that actually has had an impact on the galactic scale?

For example, the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax weren’t very fond of democracy in general, since it usually got in the way of having wars, so they had an emperor, at least until he was assassinated by someone else wanting to be emperor.  However, they did have a Senate to pass what laws were necessary and carry out paperwork.  Incidentally, Senators were also the important renewable source of people attempting to assassinate the Emperor.  Senators themselves were actually elected using a fully proportional voting system with a reasonable cut-off of 5%.   Each candidate for a Senate seat received votes from citizens in his/her/it’s region and then all the candidates were thrown into a pit to fight each other to the death.  The proportional part came from the number of weapons they received to fight with, each candidate getting an amount of firepower, knives, swords etc. in proportion to their votes.  The cut-off part was that if you didn’t get 5% of the vote they cut off your head.  The last  Armorfiend standing was the elected Senator. Thus they had a proportional system that allowed for a kind of transferable vote between candidates in a post election…debate, if you will.

The Vogons, as the administrators of all bureaucracy in the the galactic government, are another very influential civilization in the galaxy.  As one would expect if they ever have had the misfortune of meeting a Vogon, their democratic system is exhaustingly complex and tedious.  Many people here on Earth often complain that this or that electoral system is too complicated for people to use. This is despite the fact that all voting systems in common usage are equally complex if voters truly consider the potential of their vote to impact the makeup of the legislature.  But the Vogon’s scoff at such complaining, just one more excuse for them to scoff at humans. Scoffing, it should be noted, being an action that a Vogon they never actually need a excuse to partake in.

Vogons are very proud of the fact that their electoral process is actually more complex than is necessary to achieve a fair result.  Voters fill out 250 separate forms, in triplicate, implementing each of the voting systems approved by the bureaucracy for democratic bureaucracy. More are added each election cycle.  They then combine these results from all the systems using a complex weighting scheme that is devised by the standing committee on gerrymandering.  The system in use currently include FPTP, STV, MMP, BordaMMP, A*STV{x}, M38*@&!kmop and Citarancian feather reading.

The sentient mattresses of Squornshellous Zeta even have democracy, of a sort. Each year they need to select their chief negotiator for the next year’s mattress culling.  The matresses have an enlightened system of tiered primary elections to select candidates.  Each stage allows multiple rounds of voting and losing matresses can throw their support to other candidates for the next round.  Finally a single, planetwide election is held with multiple runoffs between all the local candidates. In theory, this can lead to the second longest and most complex election process in the galaxy, after the Vogons.  This is in theory only because in reality the sentient matresses of Squornshellous Zeta are all named Zem so any electoral system would be sure to elect Zem. Thus they sidestep actual elections entirely and declare the nearest mattress, Zem,  as their representative whenever one is needed.  The theoretical democracy researchers at the Ursa Minor Mega-University, who only study theoretical democracies, not real democracies, spend an inordinate amount of time exploring the complexities of the democratic system that the mattresses would have if all of them weren’t all named Zem.

Finally, we end our tour with  one of the most vexing questions of galactic democracy, what kind of voting system allowed Zaphod Beeblebrox to become president of the galaxy?  The system used for selecting the, largely ceremonial, galactic president is actually a ranked pairs Condorcet method where voters are presented with each combination of two candidates, with their pictures side by side on a computer screen and asked which they prefer of the two.  Using all the ranked pairs a full ordering can be selected that voters prefer and the most preferred candidate wins.  As with all Condorcet methods there is a small theoretical chance of a loop but in reality with trillions of votes this never occurs.  However, the pairwise selection process using photographs does have one unexpected bias, people with two heads, such as Zaphod Beeblebrox, tend to beat those with one head.  This perhaps was the reason Zaphod was advised by his campaign team to end all answers with the phrase “and remember, two heads are better than one” during the campaign.  This, as well as mobilizing the froody vote by promising everyone who voted for him would be invited to the greatest inauguration party the galaxy had ever seen, were large factors in his landslide election to President of the Galaxy.

So now you hopefully now you’ll see that we’re actually being quite conservative down here on Earth with how we vote.

Happy 42 Day.

PS. If you are Canadian an have an opinion about how we should can improve our democratic system that doesn’t involve fights to death in a pit you might consider filling out this survey on DemReform priorities.

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