September 30th, 2013

In How To Change The World, John-Paul Flintoff writes:

…[In t]he Borda count—named for French scientist Jean-Charles de Borda (1733-99), or preferendum, voters simply express their preferences on a range of options, ranking them from highest to lowest. The winning option may not have been any individual voter’s first choice, but will have won higher overall approval. The losing option, though it may have been some voter’s first choice, will have the lowest overall approval. … Whatever the context, people usually have the same basic interests, [Peter] Emerson says, but in a different order of priority. The preferendum allows them to recognize this. They may not agree on the first choice, but will quickly agree on the second or third.

What is particularly interesting about Emerson’s experience is that adopting a different technique for finding common ground can change the way individuals regard people they formerly saw as opponents. They start to see them as more like colleagues. This is because, in the preferendum, nobody votes against anything. Instead, you vote for every option, but in your own order of preference. No matter how strongly voters disagree, they must give at least on point to those of an opposite persuasion. “The effect of having to accept literally everyone as a neighbor may make an incalculable contribution towards mutual understanding and accommodation,” says Emerson. “Every individual starts the reconciliation process … with himself.” If someone wants a particular policy to be adopted, he or she must persuade not only the mild supporter to become more committed, and give 9 or 10 points instead of 6 or 7—but also the opponents must warm a little, to give 6 or 7 instead of 1 or 2. Rather than merely preach to the converted, there is more to be gained by gently wooing those who would previously have been seen as political adversaries, and ignored. Thus the very use of a consensual system will in itself promote consensus, both in the course of a civilized debate and in the resolutions that may follow.

Eventually, as people discover their common interests, they find themselves able to overlook differences that previously seemed so important. p. 149-51

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