Should You Cast All Four Votes for School Board?

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018, 5:17 am
Alice Dreger

Above: MSU Professor of Economics Mike Conlin

Back in 2015, a number of ELi readers asked how they should think about casting votes in the City Council election if they had three votes but only really liked two candidates. One reader specifically asked:

Should I cast my vote only for the two candidates I really like—figuring that way, voting for the so-so candidate won’t accidentally bump one of the two I really like out of the top three positions? Or should I use all three of my votes even if I don’t feel very excited about the third candidate?

I asked Mike Conlin, MSU Professor of Economics and a Glencairn resident, to help us answer this question, and today we thought we'd rerun Mike's analysis since voters the November 6, 2018, election have the opportunity to cast four votes for School Board, and the election looks to be pretty tightly contested.

Answering the question is not so simple:

Conlin says political scientists and economists have used game theory to figure out what makes the most sense here. According to Conlin, “There is actually a decent amount of research by political scientists and economists that looks at this type of issue. The basic idea is called strategic/tactical voting.”

According to Conlin, “A relatively early (and influential) paper looking at these types of issues was written by Myerson & Weber (1993) entitled ‘A Theory of Voting Equilibria’ in the American Political Science Review. In my opinion, political scientists and economists have not made incredible progress in terms of understanding and analyzing these types of voting behaviors—even though some of the best and brightest have worked on these issues. (Myerson won the 2007 Noble Prize in Economics.)”

Why is this a tricky question even for top scholars to answer?

Says Conlin, “The main reason is because the environments are quite complicated (as your reader indicates). Another reason is that it is difficult to obtain accurate, individual-level voting information because surveys are often not very reliable, because many people do not respond truthfully.”

So what should you do?

In the situation the voter describes in her question, Conlin thinks “the insight from game theory provides guidance in terms of what factors the reader should consider (which is just common sense in my opinion)."

First, he says, consider how much you prefer your top candidates relative to other candidates you'd be willing to vote for, but also the other candidates. In other words, consider how you feel about all the candidates as you’re calculating whether to cast one, two, three, or four votes in this School Board election.

Also figure out whether your preferences for a particular candidate depends on which other candidates win the election. (Does it matter to you what the final composition of School Board will look like, or just whether one particular person is on or not on School Board?)

Then try to figure out how voting or not voting for your so-so choices will influence the probabilities the different candidates will win. (Again, this can be difficult to guess at.)

So, at least in theory, you should:

  • only vote for candidates you would want to see on School Board, even if that is only one, two, or three candidates;
  • not vote for someone you don’t feel great about if that person has a real chance of bumping out someone you do feel great about;
  • otherwise use all four votes to vote for the four people you would most like to see on the ELPS Board of Trustees.


Want to learn more about the upcoming election, including about the candidates for School Board?

Check out ELi's voter guide to the local election. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info