Vitalik’s latest speech: The traditional voting system is prone to abandonment effect, and the quadratic voting system can be used to improve democracy

IntermediateFeb 03, 2024
Explore Vitalik's latest speeches to gain an in-depth understanding of the shortcomings of the traditional electoral system and new voting methods to improve democracy.
Vitalik’s latest speech: The traditional voting system is prone to abandonment effect, and the quadratic voting system can be used to improve democracy


Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum, participated in the Tempo During forum. During the forum, he discussed the theoretical and practical applications of different voting systems, ranging from traditional voting to square voting. He explained how these systems work in different contexts and how they impact the democratic decision-making process.

*This report is from Youtube public video, and the content was generated using AI tools such as ChatGPT. The transcript can be found here. The copyright statement is CC0. If there are any translation issues, anyone is welcome to collaborate using the online files and provide comments.

The importance of voting mechanisms in various fields

Before delving into the major voting systems, Vitalik first discussed the diversity of voting systems and their applications in different fields. He noted that people often associate voting with national or city elections, but in fact voting processes occur in all sizes and settings. For example, in addition to government elections, there are also public opinion polls and voting within non-profit organizations. He further emphasized that although public opinion polls are theoretically non-binding, their results have a significant impact on discourse and culture.

Vitalik then turned to mentioning “micro-democracy” on social media platforms. He cited tweets as an example of how when people post content on different platforms, such as X, Farkaster and Mastodon, the likes and retweets of other users can influence how that content is viewed. He believes that these interactions are actually “millions of referendums” that occur every day, deciding whether a certain point of view deserves wider attention.

Traditional voting system and its shortcomings

Discussing the limitations and shortcomings of current traditional voting systems, Vitalik poses a fundamental question: Why is simply voting for A or B not good enough? He illustrates this with a simple example in which nine voters each support different candidates, with A getting four votes, B getting three votes, and C getting two votes. In this case, although A appears to win, A is not the most popular option.

Vitalik explains the shortcomings of traditional voting

Vitalik further analyzes the preferences of these voters, showing that even if A wins the vote, this does not mean that he is the first choice of the majority. He points out that if a large portion of the electorate strongly opposes A, and their votes are split between B and C, this could lead to A being falsely perceived as the most popular choice.

To make it clearer, Vitalik cites “Duverger’s law” to explain why such simple voting systems often lead to situations with only two major parties. For example, he said that in the United States, this phenomenon is very obvious, and the voting system often evolves into a competition between the two major parties.

The abandonment effect extended from Duverger’s law

From the perspective of Duverger’s Law, Vitalik explains why it is difficult for small parties to succeed in the current political system. He points out that voters usually believe that candidates from small parties have a small chance of winning because they have never won in the past. Therefore, even if voters strongly like these minor party candidates, they may choose to vote for the major party candidate who is more likely to win.

He pointed out that this way of thinking leads voters to usually only choose between the two main candidates, which further consolidates the status of the two major parties and makes it difficult for other candidates to enter the democratic system, which is the so-called “abandonment effect”.

Exploring the abandonment effect under Duvajie’s law. In short, the result of Vitalik’s electoral system is usually that even if the candidates of the two major parties are not ideal, voters will still vote for the party they think is “less bad”. This kind of mode makes it very difficult to hold stable elections with more than two candidates.

Pros and Cons of Ranked Choice Voting

Regarding Ranked Choice Voting, Vitalik explained that Ranked Choice Voting allows each voter to declare their overall order of preference for candidates, from most to least favorite. During the counting process, there will be multiple rounds of elimination, with the candidate with the fewest votes eliminated in each round until only one candidate remains.

Vitalik uses an example to illustrate how this voting method solves some of the problems in traditional voting systems. In his example, when three candidates, A, B, and C, were running, ranked-choice voting more accurately reflected voters’ preferences, ultimately allowing the candidate truly supported by a majority of voters to win. However, he also pointed out that the disadvantage of this voting method is that it is too complex and may produce intuitively wrong results in some cases.

Introducing the Case for Ranked Choice Voting

Approval voting is simpler in form

Then, Vitalik explained another voting method: Approval Voting. In the Approval Voting method, voters can vote for any number of candidates, including one, two, three, or even no vote.

To better understand how this type of voting works, Vitalik gives this example: Suppose four people like candidate A and five others strongly dislike candidate A, but they differ in how much they like candidates B and C. In this case, the four people who support A will vote for A, while the five people who are against A will choose to support B and C. This results in a tie between B and C with five votes each.

Vitalik pointed out that if this situation were placed in real life, because of the large number of people voting, there would be a high probability that there would be a small difference in the number of votes, eventually leading to one of the candidates winning. He emphasized that approval voting can produce meaningful results and is much simpler than more complex voting methods such as ranked-choice voting.

Vitalik explains consent voting

The dilemma posed by Arrow’s theorem

After this, Vitalik discussed Arrow’s theorem and its implications for voting systems. He pointed out that Arrow’s theorem simply illustrates a problem: in any voting with at least three candidates, all voting mechanisms may give clearly incorrect results in certain situations. This is typically because they violate the so-called “independence of irrelevant alternatives” principle, meaning that introducing a new candidate C can change the outcome between A and B, which is intuitively unfair.

Vitalik went on to explain that Arrow’s theorem suggests that it is impossible to design a voting system that avoids this situation. However, he noted an important assumption of Arrow’s theorem, which is ordinal preferences, meaning that the voting system can consider whether you prefer A over B, but not how much you prefer A over B.

In fact, Vitalik explained that as long as the voting system starts to allow for differences in voter preferences for candidates, the dilemma posed by Arrow’s theorem can be avoided. He mentioned approval voting as an effective method because it acknowledges the degree of difference in preferences. Finally, he mentioned quadratic voting, which is a more complex voting system that allows voters to allocate their preferences based on a fixed number of votes.

Considering the difficulties encountered by the voting mechanism mentioned above, Vitalik explained the mathematical logic of the quadratic voting method, that is, the cost of each vote has a quadratic relationship with the number of votes. This feature requires participants to consider their choices more carefully and avoid the overall election results being manipulated through a large number of low-value votes. This helps reduce the impact of extreme voting behavior, making the final result more representative and fair.

Vitalik mentioned practical applications of quadratic voting, such as secondary funding pools in Gitcoin grants and cases in different DAOs. He believes that this voting mechanism can be used not only in the field of cryptocurrency, but also in various communities and decision-making scenarios.

Finally, Vitalik emphasized the importance of practical experience and encouraged the community to actively participate and experiment with various different voting mechanisms. He believes that this will help to better understand how the voting mechanism works and improve its design, thereby providing the community with a more fair and representative way of decision-making.

Conclusion Q&A

At the end of the forum, Ethereum founder Vitalik particularly emphasized the value of the square voting method, but he also believed that in fact, in all voting systems, in addition to mechanism design, community participation is extremely critical. He encouraged experimentation and improvement. To achieve fairer and representative decision-making.

Vitalik believes that voting mechanisms can be applied in many ways, which is why people are interested in democracy and politics, and why those who care about cryptocurrencies and Web3 are in the same room as political activists, because these two groups are in many They care about similar issues and face the same challenges.

Regarding the democratic voting mechanism, many participants at Tempo X actively raised questions about Vitalik.

Jimmy asked a question

Q: Among the voting systems implemented in different communities and crypto ecosystems, I would like to know if there is one that you think is doing relatively well. If so, is there an evaluation framework that can be used to evaluate these different governance and voting systems?

A: Like the Optimism Public Incubation Fund, which is a unique method that allows people to choose the median after providing the ideal amount. This approach is different from the other voting mechanisms discussed previously, but I think they can mirror each other to some extent.

Additionally, I believe that each Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) has its own unique way of voting yes or no on proposals, reflecting the broad diversity of voting mechanisms. I also want to caution against placing too much emphasis on the voting mechanism itself. Although the voting mechanism itself is important, what is more critical is the “Communication Structure” surrounding these mechanisms. I think this accounts for about 75% of the decision-making process. The voting mechanism itself accounts for only 25%.

On the voting side of Optimism, for example, I support proxy systems because it allows people to state beforehand why they vote in a particular way. This way, representatives can create checklists that illustrate their voting decisions, and other delegates can choose to follow these checklists. This structure doesn’t just exist on top of the voting mechanism, it actually improves the quality of the mechanism.

In many decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), when it comes time to vote on mechanisms, members not only vote, they also participate in governance-related forums. These are also very important to me because they provide avenues of understanding and engagement. Although these governance-related communication structures and mechanisms are difficult to describe using mathematical models, they play a key role in the governance process.

Hong Zhijie asked a question

Q: I’m curious about the mechanics of cheating in Quadrature Voting (QV), specifically how to avoid or identify such cheating. I learned that under the square voting system, if someone wants to get 100 votes, they need to spend 10,000 points.

However, my concern is that if this person finds another way to get the same number of votes for only 1,000 points, the cost is significantly less than the 10,000 points needed to directly purchase 100 votes. Not only is cheating like this unfair to the system, it can be harmful to everyone involved, especially when no one else knows anything about it. What I want to ask is, how do we identify and avoid such cheating in this kind of system?

A: For dealing with the collusion problem of square voting, we can technically make cheating more difficult, like Macy did, but the challenge with this is that the publicity of personal voting information can be abused, as in Gitcoin What we see in funding is that people use these messages to conduct retroactive airdrops, thus breaking the entire mechanism.

We also face the issue of keeping personal identities secure, and need to take into account that technological solutions may not be completely perfect. Therefore, we also need to create a better incentive structure from the perspective of mechanism design. For example, limiting the influence of conspirators who control large numbers of accounts by giving more voting weight to people who disagree on other issues, so I think there is value in a combination of these two strategies.

Question from Chen Jingfang (Partner Lawyer of Ming Fu International Law Firm)

Q: Yes, I have a question about the new voting method that would require a constitutional amendment, and amending the Constitution would require congressional approval. However, Congress is usually elected through the old method. Established institutions are unlikely to choose a voting system that goes against their own interests, so is there any chance of breaking this cycle?

A: Yeah, I think it does depend on the situation. For example, in the context of the U.S. elections that I’m more focused on, what we’re seeing is how that collapsed into two major political parties. In this case we can discuss whether they will allow a third party to exist or whether they will not.

Even on this issue, I think the incentives may be more open-ended than people think. Even the Republican and Democratic parties are not a single entity but are made up of a complex group of people with different interests, which definitely includes people who may want to see some kind of third party exist.

So, I think incentives are very complex in any system, and I agree that this is one of the main reasons for the solidification of political systems. But sometimes, the world can be more complicated than it seems, even in the good ways. So, sometimes, change happens, you know.


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