Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Emerging Technology from the arXiv

A View from Emerging Technology from the arXiv

How to Fix an Election

Manipulating election results may not be as hard as previously thought.

  • September 21, 2009

In recent years, computer scientists have begun an aggressive program to study elections, using both theoretical models and agent-based simulations. Their motivation is not just to ensure the proper functioning of a democratic society but also to investigate the increasingly important role of elections in areas such as collaborative decisionmaking, artificial intelligence, and recommendation systems on websites.

So the question of how to fix an election is of some concern. However, one recent key insight is that it is possible to design election systems that make this kind of rigging NP-hard.

(By fixing, computer scientists mean either the blatant adding and deleting of votes/candidates or a more subtle strategy in which groups of voters change their allegiances to achieve a specific goal.)

This result gives succor to those who worry that elections can easily be fixed. What it means is that rigging is so complex that it is computationally impractical to achieve. It’s as if the election has a built-in shield that prevents fixing.

Now Piotr Faliszewski from the AGH University of Science and Technology in Poland and a few buddies say they have found a special case in which this protection vanishes. The special case is in elections where the vote is dominated by a single issue such as war or economics. This is known as a single-peakedness.

And the worry is that it may be a common feature of human elections. In fact, many political institutions seem designed to achieve single-peakedness and so may be more vulnerable to manipulation than we imagined.

But it by no means guarantees it. One potential weakness of Faliszewski and co’s approach is that, while many human elections are dominated by a single issue such as defense or taxes, there are always a few extreme individuals whose vote is determined by some other issue, such as the sex of the candidates or the color of their skin.

It may be that these extreme individuals protect the veracity of elections by ensuring that the single-peak weakness does not apply.

Faliszewski and co are working on their idea to see if it can be extended to elections that are almost single-peaked. Until then, we can but wonder that we may end up relying on extremists to make our elections more robust.

Ref: http://arxiv.org/abs/0909.3257: The Shield that Never Was: Societies with Single-Peaked Preferences are More Open to Manipulation and Control

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.