Monday, September 23, 2013

Voting Rules and Perverse Outcomes: Understanding the Emmys

First, to be clear, I didn't watch much of the Emmys as my priority was, naturally and logically, watching the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad.

Second, I have no real knowledge of how the voting works for the Emmys.  This is all just ruthless speculation.

Third, I have not worked on voting rules in over a decade.

Fourth, I am just trying to avoid grading.

Ok, with those caveats out of the way, let me explain the importance of the "drunk frat brother" voter here.  When you have more than two candidates running for one spot and the winner is the one that gets a bare plurality of votes, then you can get strange outcomes, like Jesse the Body Ventura becoming Governor of Minnesota with 37% of the vote.  In many-sided elections, really small swings can matter a great deal, leading to outcomes where 2/3's of the electorate may have voted for someone other than the winner.  I saw that in Montreal, where a three sided race left the tarnished incumbent in power with just a bit more than one third of the vote with the majority of the city voting for two other candidates.

With the Emmys, I think what happens is that voters have to choose among five or six or even seven candidates, which means that someone could with just more than 20% of the vote, 17% of the vote or even 14%.....

So, what this means is that vote-splitting can lead to an unlikely outcome, such as Jeff Daniels winning Best Actor in a Drama when very few people consider that role to be deserving of an award, especially when Bryan Cranston is having an amazing run, where Jon Hamm still has not won for great performances, and so on.  This is probably one of the best examples of the least popular candidate winning because of votes being split among the more favored candidates, including Damian Lewis and Kevin Spacey as well.

The same could have occurred with Best Actress in a Drama but Claire Danes was viewed by most as the favored candidate.  To be clear, it is the best single episode since that is all that the voters have to watch, so Danes may not have been consistent (I don't know, haven't seen season two), but one could easily imagine her having the best episode.  I cannot say the same about Jeff Daniels having any episode better than the best that Cranston, Hamm, Lewis and Spacey delivered.

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama?  Breaking Bad dudes split their votes, and other folks split between Peter Dinklage and Mandy Patinkin.  Bobby Cannavale might have been swell, but better than these other folks?  Again, no way.

Since we cannot have a series of runoff votes, the solution would be to have a system where people get to vote their preferences, and once their candidate is eliminated, their second preferences get added to the surviving candidates and so on until someone gets a majority.  Such electoral systems do exist (in Sri Lanka), so why not with the Emmys and Oscars?  Because it would require folks in Hollywood to think a bit more, I guess.

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