It is a fundamental right of all human beings to gather together and make ridiculous decisions. This list of election facts is offered as proof that, while individual humans can sometimes be creative, groups of humans are guaranteed to be bizarre.
- How often do you think non-human animals or objects stand as candidates in elections, and even manage to hold public office? Probably much more often than you think. There's a great -- and extremely incomplete -- list here, including some highly successful rhinoceroses in Brazil and Canada, a deoderant that won a mayoral election in Ecuador, and a city in Kentucky where every single mayor has been a dog.
- A truly incredible electoral system was used to select the Doge of Venice from 1268 until 1797. 38 electors were chosen randomly, who were reduced to 9, who chose 40, who were reduced randomly to 12, who chose 25, who were reduced randomly to 9, who elected 45, who were reduced randomly to 11, who chose 41, who formed the actual electorate to choose the Doge. I know of at least 3 papers that formally analyse this amazing ruleset.
- Running for political office is an exciting time to change your legal name to gain an advantage. One idea is to insert your main platform plank as a new middle name, like Byron (Low Tax) Looper or Luther Devine None of the Above Knox. Another well-trod path is tricking minority groups into thinking you're one of them: Shannon P. O'Malley was named Phillip Spiwak until an electoral loss made him take seriously a study showing that people with Irish names did better in Chicago elections -- in addition to changing his name he also switched parties, and he won a judicial seat. Another way to win a judicial seat, of course, is to simply change your name to "Judge". Or, when you are running in a district where a lot of people speak a language that you don't, you could always claim that "Michael" translates to "Correct and Fair" (although I would be more inclined to vote for a candidate who, like Correct and Fair's opponent, declared the name Australia Horse). Or cut to the chase, get a big group of friends together, name yourself after some incumbents, and hope that people vote for you out of sheer confusion.
- Some candidates are lucky and don't even need to change their names: this was the case for Maxime Bernier, Rhinoceros Party candidate, who ran against Maxime Bernier, leader and founder of the People's Party of Canada, specifically to drain the more famous Bernier's votes. A similar case presented a conundrum to voters in Fargo, who had to decide whether to support Ben Hanson or Ben Hanson in the Democratic primary for North Dakota state representative -- an even harder challenge given that Business Insider described their physical appearances as "nearly identical". The amazing result was that one Ben Hanson got 3,349 votes while the other got 3,346 votes: obviously they split the pro-Ben Hanson coalition clean down the middle. Of course, this is an incredible opportunity for causal inference. These two candidates have the same party ID, the same name, and are "nearly identical", so if you can find any difference between them, the treatment effect of that difference is exactly 3 votes.
- How many different presidents and prime ministers can a sovereign autonomous state have at the same time? In early 2020, Guinea-Bisseau had 2 of each -- 2 presidents and 2 prime ministers, simultaneously (though this was a crisis, not an institution).
- You don't get much better than a guy named Bossy who literally sold manure for a living before becoming a politician.
- University College Dublin is not just the name of Ireland's oldest university: it is also the name of an electoral constituency that consists only of that University and elects THREE of the 60 senators to the Upper House of the Irish legislature! Imagine if Harvard had 5 seats in the US Senate ... (though of course the two bodies do not have comparable powers)
- One of the all-time greatest election shenanigans was performed by US Congressman Phil Gramm. He was elected as a Democrat to the US House of Representatives in 1978, but his status as one of the most conservative Democrats cost him a coveted position on the House Budget Committee. In response, Gramm resigned from the House and switched to the Republican Party. His resignation triggered a special election to replace him, which Gramm ran in -- now as a Republican -- and won! This story makes more sense when you realise that before his election to the US Congress, Phil Gramm was an economics professor.
- Another superb maneuver was pulled by Chuck Cadman and Dona Cadman. Chuck Cadman was a Member of Canada's Parliament for the right-wing Canadian Alliance party. It looked like he was toast when he lost a re-nomination race in his riding, but he went on to win the election even without his party's nomination. This proved fateful when Cadman turned out to hold the deciding vote in a non-confidence motion against the (center-left) Liberal government, which the (right-wing) Conservative Party was trying to topple and the (left-wing) New Democratic Party was propping up. Despite being a former Alliance politician, Cadman voted in favour of the government's budget, saving it from collapse! Cadman passed away a month and a half later, and his wife Dona Cadman endorsed a member of the New Democratic Party to succeed him. However, only one election later, Dona Cadman joined the Conservative Party and won Chuck Cadman's seat back for the Conservatives. I hope the good people of Surrey North like rollercoaster rides.
- How many executives have had to resign over cooking shows? At least one (well, ostensibly): Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. He had been a host of the show "Tasting, Grumbling" for eight years while serving as the governor of Bangkok without incident, but the four shows he hosted after becoming Prime Minister included accepting about 350 dollars for transportation, which was ruled to be an illegal payment to a public official.
- In the 2020 provincial election in Saskatchewan, nearly 10% of the candidates running with the Saskatchewan Party had been convicted of drunk driving.
- Risk-limiting audits have become a popular way to conduct election audits on a feasible number of ballots. Because they often involve samples of ballots across time or jurisdictions, multiple people need to coordinate on a random seed and the software that will be used to draw the sample. But of course the seed itself should be randomly (or arbitrarily) generated, because otherwise the existence of fraudulent ballots could be concealed by picking a seed that is known to produce a sequence of ballot IDs that do not correspond to fraudulent ballots. This has led to some very 21st century election administration, like secretary of state staff in Colorado rolling 20 d10s on a public livestream to generate the random seed that would be used to identify which ballots would be sampled for auditing. Maybe unsurprisingly, though, the proper role of physical dice in generating the seed for a risk limiting audit has been a fruitful topic of discussion.
This page was last modified on 2020 October 8 by Samuel Baltz