Archive for September, 2015

So, I stumbled across a link to National Business Review talking about the Red Peak flag being added to the referendum today. (Briefly: I support it being added, I don’t think this is the Greens playing into National’s hands, and it’s exposed that Labour is being petty to try and upset the public about how badly National has dealt with this process. But I don’t think all of that is worth a blog)

Chris Keall from NBR claims that due to what he calls “preferential voting”, (generally known in New Zealand as Single Transferable Vote or STV) that Red Peak will be disadvantaged in the first stage of the referendum, due to the fact that the three fern designs are similar. (In evaluating electoral systems, we call similar choices “clones”. Some systems split the vote with clones, disadvantaging the clones. Others allow you to stack points for clones, making it easier for a choice to win when it has many clones to pad out its score) As someone who actually follows how voting systems works and advocates for reform of our voting system, (yeah, I’m not actually perfectly happy with MMP, but it’s better than any other systems New Zealand parties have proposed) let’s go to the classroom on why that’s not the case.

The problem with this argument is that STV is not vulnerable to this flaw. (every voting system has numerous flaws and advantages, the trick is picking one that’s suited to what you want to do) Similar options generally1 neither aid nor hurt each other in a single transferable vote, unlike the plurality system where you can check only one option. STV does an “instant runoff” if no choice achieves at least 50% of the votes when it’s used in a single-winner contest like the flag referendum. With five choices and no likelihood of a landslide, we’re definitely going to have a runoff in the election. Let me show you how this works. Let’s say the first preferences are as follows:

  • Silver Fern (Black and White): 6%
  • Silver Fern (Red White and Blue): 25%
  • Silver Fern (Black Blue and White): 35%
  • Red Peak: 30%
  • Koru (Hypnoflag): 4%

No design has more than 50% of the vote yet, so STV eliminates the option with the least votes in this round. That’s the Koru design. The algorithm tallying votes then looks at how the Koru’s second preferences were set, and reallocates all its votes according to that split. Let’s say 50% of Koru voters wanted Red Peak, 25% wanted the Black and White fern, and 25% only voted for Koru with no second preferences. Koru’s 4% is reallocated according to their second preference, and round two looks like this:

  • Silver Fern (Black and White): 7%
  • Silver Fern (Red White and Blue): 25%
  • Silver Fern (Black Blue and White): 35%
  • Red Peak: 32%
  • No votes/discarded options: 1%

We still need 50% for a winner, so we eliminate the least popular option again, this time the Black and White fern. Those votes are reallocated according to the second preferences of people who voted for the fern, and the third preferences of people who voted for the Koru but had their votes transferred to the fern. Let’s say half of them were Red Peak supporters, a quarter liked the Red White and Blue fern, and a quarter didn’t express any more preferences. We proceed to the third round.

  • Silver Fern (Red White and Blue): 26.75%
  • Silver Fern (Black Blue and White): 35%
  • Red Peak: 35.5%
  • No votes/discarded options: 2.75%

We still don’t have a clear winner, so we’ll have to eliminate the Red White and Blue fern, and proceed to the final round. If we say 10% of Red White and Blue voters didn’t express any further preferences, and 45% each supported the other two designs, Red Peak wins, despite the fact that first preferences for the Ferns added up to 66%. (If you do the maths, you’ll note that Red Peak doesn’t achieve 50% to win. This is because we actually ignore the no votes in determining 50%, but that’s difficult to show)

It doesn’t matter how many people vote for similar options in the first round, it only matters whether enough of the voters for those options rank them all in a block ahead of the other options. If Red peak had polled higher than any of the ferns in the first round, then in fact, the only other proposed system would have caused the ferns to lose, even though it’s likely fern voters will normally prefer other ferns over the two remaining designs.

The other system I mentioned is the one Labour proposed it its amendment bill that was shot down- using a Plurality Vote (the same as we do for electorates) to determine the winner, and rolling both referenda into one paper. If we had done that with the above example, the Black Blue and White fern would have won instead, because the less popular desgns split the votes away from Red Peak, even though Red Peak and the Black White and Blue fern designs were the most popular overall when people’s full preferences were accounted for.

This system is actually the best suited for the kind of referendum we’re holding in the first stage. It’s simple, (you rank as many preferences as you want, and all your consecutive preferences are counted. The only way to null vote is to not write a 1 anywhere) it doesn’t suffer from vote splitting, (that is, it doesn’t punish clones) and it allows you  to relatively1 safely vote your true preferences. Everyone’s vote is counted


So lately we’ve seen some right-wing politicians in the USA come out swinging against the idea of Net Neutrality. The current favoured talking point about why they’re doing this is that Net Neutrality is a form of price control. For those who aren’t aware, the internet has informally functioned on a system described as “Net Neutrality” for most of its lifetime- until recently. It’s the principle that internet traffic should work like phone calls. That is, barring certain exceptions for law enforcement reasons, all traffic should be forwarded to its destination without interference or delay.

The argument that Net Neutrality is a price control relies on people not understanding how the internet works in order to be persuasive. They argue, look, you pay your Internet Service Provider to deliver you content. Why shouldn’t the content provider have to pay for this? They’re getting content delivered to you for free.

Only someone who has never had to deal with the realities of hosting a website would say this. Everyone who puts up a website pays hosting fees either directly or indirectly. If you have your own server in your home, you pay your ISP for the ability to upload certain amounts of bandwidth. For small websites that probably works fine. You might instead pay a specialised hosting company to perform this service for you as well, in which case, they manage the server. You also pay a fee to have a human-readable address (like “”) to the Domain Name Registry Service.

Sites like that offer “free” hosting services for certain types of content manage these fees for you and gamble that they can make money off advertising on your pages. Ending Net Neutrality would essentially open anyone hosting content to blackmail from large ISPs. They could block access to services that compete with them or their parent company, (so you wouldn’t be able to use the internet to move your service to a new ISP, for instance, or if your ISP owns a video streaming service, they might block or dramatically slow down competing services to the point they don’t function) and they could slow down sites hosted by large content providers if they refuse to pay for so-called “fastlane service” in order to extract extra fees. (in reality, they would be paying to get out of a slow lane that had been newly invented, as currently all “lanes” travel at the same speed)

This won’t just affect customers of one ISP, either. Internet traffic uses a system called “routing” that has regional servers direct your traffic. You’re often passing through six or ten intermediary servers when you request internet content. If just one of those intermediary servers slows or blocks content, it effects the whole route. Other ISPs who don’t support this sort of behaviour would need to develop systems to skip biased parts of the internet that don’t forward traffic on a neutral basis.

It’s as if someone actually had the power to mark a speed limit on a section of the ocean, or actually block it off altogether. The way ships are navigated would have to change.

The other argument used by opponents of Net Neutrality is, as I’ve alluded above, that the ability to prioritize certain types of traffic allows them to offer better service- that is, they can fast-lane the things that are important to their customers.

This is a better argument, but it’s still wrong. If prioritising internet traffic is helpful, (and I can see why it would be) a better way to handle it would be to allow software developers to opt in to having certain internet traffic handled slowly. This would allow things like periodic e-mail checks to be deprioritised, (because do you really need to know the instant you receive a new email?) but manual e-mail checks to go through at a full speed that might be slightly faster, and it would also let developers expose options to have all internet traffic sent at full priority.

That puts whether your traffic is handled as a priority in your hands, and the hands of people who actually design software, and whose job it is to know when an internet request needs to be fast or slow. Centralising the priority of internet traffic with ISPs leads to situations like torrent throttling, which slows down things like peer-to-peer video game updating in order to also discourage pirating of TV and blu-ray content, or at worst political censorship by ISPs or simple anti-competitive behaviour like mentioned above.

The worst thing is that if this happens in the USA, it sabotages the Internet for everyone else as well, given the large amount of traffic routed through the USA. It would pose big routing issues for any New Zealand or Australia-based ISPs wanting to avoid slow service. All internet users should be crossing our fingers that a Democrat (most likely either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton) ends up winning the USA’s next presidential election, otherwise this is going to be a problem we have to deal with.