Archive for November, 2016

Those of you who are not particularly aware of the way electorate boundaries are drawn may not be aware that New Zealand actually has a quota for South Island electorates. Basically, regardless of the relative population imbalance, the South Island is always guaranteed to have at least 16 electorate seats. Essentially how they work is that the median electorate size is set to 1/16th the population of the South Island at the time electorates are reviewed, then the North Island seats are divided up relative to this so that they don’t vary by more than 5% from the median size. After that, Māori electorates are “superimposed” over the borders of the general seats in a way that divides them roughly by the Māori electoral roll population, and so that there’s a proper proportion of Māori seats to General seats.

Unless there’s a sudden exodus of North Islanders to the South Island at some point, or a mass immigration to the South Island to get away from Donald Trump, there’s likely to be a long-term issue with that. Why? Because of something I call “list seat parity,” which is the idea that parties with significant shares of the Party Vote, like National, Labour, the Greens, and New Zealand First, should never have overhang seats.

MMP is intended to have a healthy proportion of list MPs- the original ratio was that just above 41% of MPs would be list MPs, presumably with the intention that the ratio would stay around 5 list MPs to every 7 electorate ones. We have added two new electorates to the North Island since we switched to an MMP system, reducing the number of list MPs to 49, assuming no Independents are elected. (independents elected at a general election remove a list seat vacancy rather than creating an overhang so that Parliament doesn’t inflate grossly due to independents being elected, a rule which hasn’t become relevant since like, ever, as every “independent” in our system has either been someone who quit their party, or a lone MP optimistically having their own political party, presumably on the theory that they’ll earn a second seat again sometime in the future. Not happening, Seymour and Dunne, not happening.)

It theory, there’s really nothing wrong with actually having less electorates than we do, but 60%-ish of MPs being electorate MPs isn’t unreasonable and doesn’t hasn’t threatened parliaments much larger than about 125 MPs in the past.

With 70 seats, there’s a reasonable expectation of list seat parity, but it’s not guaranteed. Almost all electorate seats are won by National or Labour. There are only five others likely to be in serious contention in the current political climate, (which as we know, can rapidly change, but this list is actually somewhat on the high side by historical standards) and those are Epsom, Northland, Ōhārui, Waiariki, and possibly Te Tai Tokerau. (As nobody polls for electorates, we have no real clue whether the Māori party agreeing not to stand there will matter enough to unseat Kelvin Davis in 2017. I’m assuming it’s within the realm of possibility until I have good reason to think otherwise) Let’s assume that small parties won’t take more than five electorate seats. That currently leaves 66 currently for Labour and National. Labour, with roughly 27.5% of the party vote, earned 27 seats in 2014.

That’s not currently a problem, but with some small changes to the way our elections work, and a small boost in North Island population, (ie. a few more electorates) it might be.

Imagine for a moment that the Greens start eating into Labour’s party vote but not their electorate vote. Let’s assume in this calculation Labour can hold on to a similar number of electorate MPs- it only takes about a 5% shift to the Green party for Labour to start getting overhang MPs, compared to current polling, and that’s without any extra North Island electorates, and assuming Hone takes back Te Tai Tokerau. A roughly 4% shift to the Greens from Labour will start giving them overhang seats if the 2020 election adds a new electorate seat again. (note the link shows all of Labour’s seats as electorate seats with no overhang, that’s because the Commission’s calculator doesn’t allow for us to award more than the current 71 electorates. I take it you’re capable of using your imagination)

I would much prefer that instead of having a South Island quota, we simply set the number of electorates to 70 in legislation, and the South Island get its share based on how many 70ths of the population live on the South Island and are part of the General Roll. This will limit the chance that either Labour or National (but most likely, Labour) will end up with overhang seats in the future. This should limit the likelihood of overhang seats for Labour in the future, especially as we’re approaching the point where certain Wellington electorates like Wellington Central might actually spontaneously decide to elect a Green candidate even though they’re not campaigning for the electorate vote. (In terms the party vote, most Wellington electorates are three-way races between the Greens, Labour, and National)

If we don’t adjust the South Island Quota, however, we’re in for an interesting problem in the long term. Until relatively recently, about .5% more of the population would live in the North Island every census, but that rate’s actually increased a little bit recently. Assuming that trend continues, it won’t take too long for us to end up with nearly 90 electorates, (it only takes a population growth of just over 1 million in the North Island, if you assume the South Island population stays static) which would make breaking list parity the rule, rather than the exception. (in fact, it was actually one of the potential “reforms” to MMP that Labour had been talking about at the time of the MMP review was to add another 20 or so electorates, because they knew that the party most likely to get overhang seats that way would be Labour) This could actually happen in 20-30 years time, depending on migration numbers, so I hope I’m not the only one noticing that the South Island Quota is a terrible way to determine how many electorate seats we have.

God that’s a technical name, right? Anyway, it’s time to discuss voting systems again. I’ve been looking around to see if anyone is advocating further electoral reform in New Zealand, and it looks like there’s no active organisations, which is a shame, as there’s some improvements we could do to our council elections at the very least. (I’m thinking maybe I need to help co-found one if anyone’s keen)

Re-weighted range voting is an interesting system that could suit our ward elections. (or even be used instead of FPP for the electorate vote in MMP, potentially) It’s a district-based system, but like STV1, it uses at-large districts and is semi-proportional. (that is, you have big wards which typically elect at least three winners, and it’s proportional for each district, but when all the districts are taken together as a larger whole, it generally works out less than ideal in terms of representing the entire city/country/etc… because of the limited amount of winners in each district amounting to “rounding errors” that multiply through the number of districts to a degree)

It is a multi-winner variant of Range Voting, which in my opinion is probably the ideal voting system to use when you have three or more candidates running for a single vacancy. Most Range Voting proponents don’t advocate it as a multi-winner system because in that environment it is beneficial to clones, (that is, normally the best strategy to win one of the additional vacancies is to imitate the best winner from last time, “cloning” them, and eventually leading to one-party rule in each district, similar to US “blue states” and “red states”) however the re-weighting part controls for this effect to make the system semi-proportional2.

From the voters’ perspectives, Range Voting and its Re-weighted cousin are exactly the same, they just elect different numbers of people. They get a list of all the candidates in the race, and each one either has a series of tick boxes next to them (indicating a range) or a space where a number can be written, say between 1-99. Votes under 50 indicate a bad candidate, and votes over 50 indicate a good candidate, with 99 being the best choice available, and 1 being the worst, and with most variants allowing for candidates left blank if a voter doesn’t know enough to consider them either good or bad. (generally there is a quota requiring a certain percentage of valid votes not to have left a candidate blank for them to be a winner)

In vanilla Range Voting, a simple average of all ratings for a candidate determines their result, exactly like an approval rating. Whoever has the highest approval rating wins. Strategic voting does happen in this system, but it’s not too harmful- it mostly revolves around making a call whether to exaggerate certain candidates up to 99 or down to 1 instead of being honest, in which case the election isn’t too different to just being able to tick as many people as you like on an FPP-style ballot.

In re-weighted range voting, once all the average scores are calculated and the highest score wins, they fill the first vacancy. In order to get a proportional vote, everyone who supported that candidate has the “weight” of their vote reduced for the purposes of subsequent vacancies, as they got a choice they like already, and you use an algorithm to determine whose ballots are weighted less, and by how much. (for practical purposes, this does mean that you would want to determine the winner using an electronic system, and would need to count each unique permutation of scores for an accurate result rather than simply tabulate averages, making variants with larger “ranges” difficult to count, and favouring single-digit variants where you rate candidates from say, 1-9) The system then shows you a new set of re-weighted approvals for round 2, and the second winner is the highest of these. Rinse and repeat for each additional vacancy.

Note that unlike STV or IRV3, your vote never “moves,” so at all times the full information you provided while voting is being considered. You moving a candidate from 50 to 75 can cause them to win even if you rated another candidate 99. In IRV, if you rank a candidate number 1 and they’re one of the top two candidates in the race, all your other preference information is irrelevant. Proponents of STV consider this a problem because they essentially consider that it’s a bad thing to be able to vote in such a way that you can compromise and “hurt” your first preference. In reality, isn’t it sometimes better that the winner be a compromise candidate that we all agree is above average?

The version of Re-weighted Range Voting I’ve seen advocated usually proposes that anyone who votes above the minimum for a candidate should have their ballot re-weighted as a fraction of the maximum score. The disadvantage of that algorithm is that it discourages people to vote honestly about candidates they think are below average, but not terrible, as their actually preferred candidates might not be elected due to the re-weighting if they vote honestly and a below-average candidate is selected in an early round. Let’s call this the distance-from-minimum model.

I briefly considered that perhaps the re-weighting should calculate a difference from the median possible score (ie. 50 in my example, which should intuitively mean that the voter believes the candidate is average) and use distance from that score that as a multiplier, so that people actively opposed to the winner of the first vacancy would have their chance of picking the next winner go up, while those who rated them average or didn’t rate them experience no chance, and those who like them have less influence on the second winner.

The really weird thing about that algorithm is that it could cause some perverse incentives for third-party voters, and actually does have some weird strategic voting implications. Say for instance there’s a strong Labour vote in your ward, so you’re sure they’ll win the first vacancy, and you support a Green winning the second vacancy. You know that your Green voters can’t bring the Labour candidate’s average down enough to cause them to lose altogether. In that case, you’re actually better off to rate the Labour candidate 1 (ie. the worst possible score) so that your Green candidate is more likely to get elected, even if you think the Labour candidate is well above average. If people misjudge the chances of who’s likely to get elected, that sort of strategic voting could muck up the winner pretty badly, or if voters’ inclination or ability to vote strategically this way is unbalanced, it could make the election very unfair, so that algorithm doesn’t make sense, either.

The best way to do the rating seems to me to be to weight down the scores of everyone who votes a winning candidate as above-average, that is, who rates them above the median possible score. This doesn’t introduce too perverse an incentive to highly strategic candidates, (at worse, strategic voters may reduce strong candidates that are their second-choice or less to the median possible score) it doesn’t punish people for honestly rating candidates they don’t like closer to the median possible score, and it still achieves proportionality by re-weighting the ballots of everyone who thought a winner was above-average, and in practice I would expect every vacancy winner to have an approval rating above the median possible score during the first-round tally anyway.

Re-weighted Range Voting has already successfully been used in organisational elections, such as winnowing the fields for certain oscar nominations, so I think it’s probably ready to be trialled in local elections and see how it works in practice. Bayesian statistical analysis suggests that in both strategic and non-strategic elections, the distance-from-minimum model performs very well, and I would expect the distance-above-median model to perform even better, however these are mathematical experiments and the real world sometimes differs from models in unexpected ways, so I certainly wouldn’t advocate RRV yet for national elections, even the relatively low-stakes electorate contests we have in MMP that normally don’t influence the makeup of Parliament by more than 1-5 seats in a 120 seat Parliament.

Variants of the single-winner system, Range Voting, are already used in all sorts of places. A version that discards extreme scores and doesn’t allow for blanks is used at the Olympics for judging performances, for instance, which is about as high-stakes as you can get for organisational voting, as the ballot isn’t actually secret so the judges can be criticised for getting it wrong. That would be an excellent system to use to determine who should be our mayors, and would make impossible some of the weird edge scenarios in IRV where an intuitively “wrong” winner is picked. (these usually involve some variation on a strong contender doing very well on second preferences, but being eliminated in an early round because of low first preferences. These scenarios have been observed in actual elections and aren’t exactly incredibly low probability given how often elections occur. In comparison, the nightmare scenarios applicable to Range Voting are much more unlikely in terms of actual observed voter behaviour, and are arguably desirable results)


I realise I haven’t yet done a breakdown of the US election, and given the quakes hitting New Zealand, this is probably a welcome distraction.

If the US ran its elections like any other country that votes on their President, Hillary Clinton would have won. This is the fifth time this has ever happened, and the President-elect had some oddly prescient feelings about the electoral college about four years ago. Of course now he’s totally respecting the result of the election because he won the most electoral votes and isn’t the United States’ system of government great?

This is not quite the nightmare scenario, as with a close result, Donald Trump effectively has no mandate, is the most unpopular President at the time of his election ever, with close to 60% unfavourables, and looks poised to screw things up massively in a way that could hand Democrats the mid-term elections in 2 years and possibly even the Presidency in 4.

The Electoral College is an interesting system that made a lot of sense in the in the era of America’s founding, back when the most practical way to send a message was to put a chap on a horse and have them ride to a recipient. In those days, there was little practical difference between simply having riders bring totals, and appointing riders to go to Washington DC and simply vote for whoever won their district or state.

While small states get an outsized share of the electoral college votes compared to their population, it’s not actually small states specifically that the Electoral College is biased towards. Why? Well because some of those small states already have very strong opinions on which party should control the federal government, and are considered “blue” or “red” states because they have recently supported Democratic or Republican candidates. Other states, however, have softer opinions or decide in ways that aren’t wholly contingent upon political party, and these states are called “purple” or “swing” states. As they typically decide the election, most campaign resources are spent on swing states, and US citizens who live in states like California or Texas or New York, despite having large electoral votes to distribute, effectively don’t count because everyone knows which way their votes are going to go in terms of the presidency. This generally takes the decision-making power on electing the president away from the northeast and west of the country, and giving the northern southern states a hugely disproportionate importance.

Now, in the age of phones and the internet, there’s no real positive reason to maintain an electoral college unless of course you live in a swing state. There have been attempts in the past to abolish the electoral college, but it’s rather hard to amend the US constitution, which mandates the electoral college choose the President. (whoops! Maybe it should have just mandated that a fair election be held and then left to Congress and the Supreme Court to decide what a fair election was)

A lot of Hillary supporters have been understandably upset with this result. Some have pointed out, with some reasonable basis, that the electors ought to vote for the person who won the popular vote. While I agree in principle, in practice electors are hardcore party faithful, and so-called “faithless electors” have never swung a US Presidential race in the past, so I can’t see it happening now. If you really want to stop this happening in the future, however, there’s a more practical way than an amendment. The states individually can simply pass a measure signing them up to the NPVIC, which is basically an agreement that once there are enough electoral votes signed up to the agreement to guarantee they all determine the President, then all the states who signed will instruct their electors to vote for the popular vote winner. Because the constitution and existing case law says that states get to determine how their electors vote, it’s a perfectly legal end-run around needing an amendment to abolish the Electoral College.

Other Hillary supporters have been less constructive, to whit, this Sesame Street-style garbage bin grouch masquerading as a journalist, who argues that Sanders caused Hillary to lose, drawing an analogy with Nader in the race between Bush and Gore. This again goes to how poor a system the electoral college is, as it results in 59 opportunities for near-ties that are likely to be decided through court battles, gerrymandering, and voter disenfranchisement rather than legitimate campaigning. It is also worth noting that it is Clinton’s responsibility to earn people’s votes, a fact that Gil Troy does not seem to get.

Back to Time’s “article.” Firstly, the analogy to Nader is a poor comparison, because if you ask anyone but the US Supreme Court, Gore actually won the 2000 election, and even if you do believe the Supreme Court was correct to halt the recounts, (in which case you don’t really believe in democracy, so why are you reading about election results?) not only were there multiple third party candidates in the race, each of which earned more votes than the margin between Bush and Gore, but there were also more registered Democrats that voted for Bush than the 560 vote margin as well.

But even ignoring that, Gore suffered from the same problem that John Kerry, who actually lost to Bush, and Hillary Clinton both suffer from. And that is that he wasn’t particularly good at connecting to voters. In Gore’s case he was able to squeak out a bare win in the electoral college, had the vote been counted fairly, and in Clinton’s she managed to hang on to the popular vote, but all three candidates were not good picks. (and this is an excellent argument against primaries, btw. It would actually be much better to use a voting system that allows people to pick between multiple Democrats and multiple Republicans without a spoiler effect) Gore was a technocrat who’s much better at making people think than making them feel, which makes him a great part of a leadership team, and arguably very good at governing, but a terrible Presidential candidate. Obama got things right in 2008 when he showed that you can make the public both think and feel, when he captured the progressive spirit of the US and won in a landslide. The Democrats unfortunately didn’t learn the lesson of 2012, where his support eroded significantly after it was revealed that Obama wasn’t a progressive, he just knew how to campaign like one.

Hillary didn’t campaign like Obama, she tried to pick up moderate Republicans, and effectively kicked the actual left aside. That done, it was actually suprising that many of the most progressive demographics worked out well for Clinton, (the BBC has an excellent article covering the demographics of the 2016 presidential race, the only thing it’s missing is a split of the “independent” vote, ie. people who weren’t registered as Democrats or Republicans, as I imagine they probably showed for Republicans and not Democrats a lot more than in 2008 or 2012) if not necessarily as well as they did for Obama. For that to happen, some of the new voters Sanders brought in to the fold must have come over, however she likely bled a huge amount of soft support from people who viewed her as emblematic of corruption, as a phony career politician, from people who dislike the idea of political dynasties, and of course from sexists and even racists who don’t like her strong ties to voters of colour.

Clinton’s vaunted electoral college “advantage” didn’t show up because the advantage was actually contingent on her popular vote performance being four to five percent above Trump’s like it was when his campaign was imploding, when it was instead bare fractions of a percent above his vote in the general election.

Arguably Sanders was less successful in bringing his supporters over with him when he endorsed Clinton than previous primary losers have been, but this is due to a fundamental misunderstanding much of the US establishment has had about both the Trump and Sanders campaigns. They were populist campaigns about two different visions of how to make the United States work for the working classes again. Sanders had a bold vision with further progress on healthcare, education, opposing pro-corporate trade deals, ending Wall Street fraud and misconduct, and fair taxation that refocuses on the wealthy instead of the middle class, who bear a disproportionate burden in terms of total taxation in the US, and of course, reforming the campaign rules so that candidates like him would stand a real chance again in future races, amending the constitution to get money out of politics. Clinton could never have kept all of Sanders voters no matter how he tried to bring them over without adopting those policies, and even then, some of them wouldn’t have trusted her to carry them out anyway. We saw this in action when she came out as against the TPP- her previous stance had poisoned the well for her in taking a populist position on trade, so all it did was limit the damage against her for that issue.

The one area where Clinton’s supporters are correct in apportioning a share of her blame is in directing their ire at James Comey for turning some additional emails uncovered in an investigation of Anthony Wiener into a political football against Ms Clinton. The re-appearance of email-related stories close to the election absolutely would have hurt her in some crucial states, although we can’t know by how much. I personally suspect she probably may have lost the Electoral College anyway, but we can’t know for sure. Ironically, this issue of emails is also a great counter-punch to Time’s stupid think-piece of pro-estabilshment propaganda: Sanders ran such a kind, issues-based campaign in the Primary that he deliberately refused to discuss her emails, because he actually wanted to talk about issues that mattered to the US people. If he managed to “hurt” Clinton in that primary enough to lose her the election, despite running such a positive campaign, she was obviously too fragile a candidate to ever be a serious contender for the Presidency. Any candidate that is hurt by more democracy doesn’t deserve to win anyway.

What a weird race for US President this has turned out to be. Most of us (bar some enthusiastic elites for Clinton) are looking at these two candidates and holding our noses if we have any preference. As I mentioned earlier, I am reluctantly cheering from the sidelines for Ms. Clinton, largely because Trump is an authoritarian, and I judge that a bigger danger than Clinton being an establishment candidate.

It’s hard to be enthusiastic about the US joining New Zealand in breaking the final glass ceiling when the person doing it only seems to be likely to make it because she’s running against the worst candidate ever.

For those of you who are interested but not following along, here’s a breakdown, with conclusions or rough probabilities for each front-loaded:

Trump: Not paying income Tax

Probability of being real: 90%+

Donald Trump has steadfastly refused to release his taxes during the campaign, a move that is unprecedented in recent Presidential history. He released an abridged version of his financials instead, which defeats the point of releasing taxes, which is to have a financial transperancy which can then be verified and confirmed officially.

Donald maintains this is due to an active audit of his company, however eminently qualified people have stated that an audit does not prevent him from releasing his tax returns, and when he tried to claim other business-owners would minimise tax similar to the way he is accused of, Warren Buffet, a Hillary Clinton donator, released his own taxes (showing he paid more than he had to) and confirmed he was under audit at the time, suffering no problems with the IRS, further disputing Trump’s protestations about not releasing his taxes.

Donald also claims that if he did avoid income tax, (he won’t confirm still) that it would make him smart, which not only is an argument whose logical conclusion is that the US shouldn’t have any public infrastructure at all, but it also backs up speculation that Donald views his supporters as “marks” who he doesn’t respect.

We also have a leaked tax return that shows he registered a paper loss of US$1 billion in a single year, which he could realistically have carried forward for several years. Doesn’t look like a particularly savvy business man to even be able to inflate his losses up to $1 billion.

There’s also reasonable speculation that Donald over-reports how wealthy he is and that he’s not even a billionaire any more, and that most of his wealth is from his inheritance. Given the level of narcissism he exhibits, this is actually more likely to be a reason he wouldn’t release his tax returns.

Clinton: Anthony Wiener email probe

Probability of any new emails coming out that actually impact Clinton: 5-10%

Much fanfare was given to the FBI “reopening” the case of Hillary Clinton’s emails, which is suprising given that’s actually not what’s happening.

Rather, a separate case about Anthony Wiener allegedly exchanging sexual pictures with an under-aged girl is being investigated, and there is a set of emails (and it’s a relatively large set, despite early incorrect reports that it was just 3 emails) that nobody has read yet that may or may not be relevant to that case, that happen to reside on a computer belonging to the Clinton campaign, because Anthony’s ex-wife Huma Abedin is a prominent member of Clinton’s staff.

Ironically, the real story here is that James Comey is probably breaking the law1 in making such an announcement so close to the election, especially given the confusing wording in his letter to congress that implied any of this somehow being related to Hillary Clinton or her private email server. While there are, potentially, emails that relate to Hillary Clinton or her campaign in this set, they were neither to nor from Clinton, and they may even be duplicates of emails already reviewed by the earlier probe.

Backing up the perspective that James Comey is out to make a political point, he held a press conference inappropriately to announce his conclusions to the original investigation, when his only role was to sign off a report to the DoJ recommending no prosecution, as it’s ultimately their call whether or not to go ahead, which paints a picture of a man wanting to increase his public profile.

There is no evidence that any of these emails could negatively impact Clinton, however it is an outside possibility given how many embarrassing revelations have been in the Podesta leak.

Trump: Sexual assault and rape allegations

Probability of at least one instance being real: All but confirmed.

With at least eleven women coming forward now, with them independently telling consistent stories that paint a pattern of sexual assault, it’s not only looking credible that at least one allegation is true, it’s looking very likely that all or most of the harassment happened as described. Trump is the Right’s own Cosby moment, and they’re handling it a lot less gracefully than the African-American community did.

Trump claims the women coming forward are liars who are just out for fame. There are a couple of good reasons to doubt this claim. Firstly, none of the victims came forward until after the Billy Bush tape was leaked to the public. This is consistent with their stories of feeling intimidated and dis-empowered by his sexual assaults, and is exactly what you would expect in this sort of case. Were they some sort of hatchet job from the Clintons, it might have made sense to bring them out earlier in the campaign. While one set of allegations could plausibly be politically motivated, it would be astoundingly difficult to get women from so many different backgrounds, some of them with real conservative credentials, and coach them to consistently lie with similar stories. At least some of these women are definitely telling the truth. (whether or not the allegations ever end up being tested in court)

Adding to the credibility of these allegations, there was also a prior allegation by an (alleged) victim of child rape and sex trafficking, which did not go to trial due to minor technical errors in the filing. The details in that allegation contain some incidental facts about Mr. Trump that check out, (including naming a friend of Trump’s who has already been convicted for similar behaviour as a co-offender) so Donald’s assertion that those allegations are also a lie would require it to be a very well-researched one. There’s also the fact that she had a witness willing to testify to the events, and while coaching up a witness to corroborate a single story is a more credible claim, taken together with the other 11 allegations which represent the profile of a sexual predator, and the creepy treatment of his daughter Ivanka, such a crime would not be out of character for Donald.

Clinton has, demonstrating her feminist credentials, decided not to politicise the rape allegations without the consent of the victim, who hasn’t come forward because she is still protected by anonymity.

Clinton: Unethical use of the Clinton Foundation?

Did Clinton behave unethically? Confirmed2.

Let me state at the outset that the Clinton Foundation, unlike her opponent’s “charitable” foundation, actually did real charity work, and there is no question of funds being misappropriated.

The issue here is rather a question of corruption and the appearance of corruption, and whether it is appropriate for a candidate to “house” their staff in a charitable organisation, as Podesta wikileaks have made it quite clear that the Clinton Foundation was viewed by those running it as primarily a political vehicle, not a charitable cause.

We can tell by the behaviour of those donating to the foundation that many of its prominent donors viewed it this way too, as they did not donate to other charities dedicated to reducing global poverty, which is behaviour you would reasonably expect from wealthy heads of state and similar. Instead it seems that her donors, at least, perceived that the Clinton Foundation provided them enhanced access to Hillary Clinton, and the Podesta leaks paint of picture suggesting the same thing.

Is there concrete proof that Clinton used her influence inappropriately as a result? (ie. can we prove she engaged in “pay-to-play” politics?) No, not yet. I suspect there never will be, as that’s not how things are done in Washington and Clinton is too careful for that, and most of the Sec State’s influence is through advice to the President, which is largely verbal.

But this absolutely does meet the “appearance of corruption” test which is the standard all cabinet offices should be judged by regarding corruption. If this scandal had come out while Ms. Clinton was still Secretary of State, my opinion would have been that she should have resigned as a result. It is a definite black mark on her candidacy, and were she running against a normal Republican, you would expect something like this to lose her the race. I am continually surprised that this isn’t where the Trump campaign is hitting her, as he’s essentially conceding to Hillary that she gets to keep much of her soft support. He is spending too much time on emails and Bill Clinton’s behaviour, and not enough on Hillary’s conduct regarding the Clinton Foundation.

Then there’s also the murky ethical issue of whether it’s appropriate to provide “jobs for the boys” in your charitable foundation when you’re not yet campaigning for president. I have heard mention that campaign activities prior to a certain time period are illegal, but couldn’t find a reference for that myself, so take that with a grain of salt for now.

Trump: Colluding with Russia?

Probability of Trump actively colluding with Russia: 5-20%

Probability of Trump being unduly influenced by Russia: 90%+

Previously there was no evidence that Trump was in any way colluding with Russian interests, but a recent story came out with some interesting evidence here!

Before that story, all we could say was that Russian interests held a lot of Mr. Trump’s debts, which would have opened him to unprecedented influence by a foreign state.

While arguably a warming of relations with Russia would be a very good thing for the US, essentially being a neighbour to Russia, that shouldn’t be achieved by electing a puppet-president who might ostensibly simply do what his debtors tell him to.

Slate has an interesting article suggesting collusion with Russian interests through a dark server sending private mail to the firm Alfabank, The Intercept also has a counter-piece with some evidence that the server in question was probably just sending out low volumes of spam, so I don’t rate it very high probability at this stage that there’s any secret collusion with Russia going on.

In short, you should be concerned about Trump and Russia, but more because he’s a loser who’s in debt to Russians, and less because of media and Clinton campaign stories about cyber security to deflect from their own Wikileaks issues, but if you’re a Clinton supporter, you should probably be asking her to be a bit less aggressive towards Russia.

Clinton: Coordinating with Super PACs?

It has been confirmed, at least if you believe that Wikileaks is a reliable source2, which I do, that the Clinton Campaign is illegally co-ordinating with Super PACs. This is not only a violation of campaign finance law, it’s also a pretty worrying mistake for a candidate who thinks that the Citizens United decision (which allows Super PACs to exist) should be remedied by constitutional amendment that she can’t even abide by the current law under that decision. If she does repeal Citizens United, I’m not sure how Hillary Clinton would run a successful re-election campaign, so I’m pretty pessimistic about her likelihood of successfully doing this in the first four years.

Incidentally, repealing Citizens United by constitutional amendment is basically the very least the US could do to clean up its elections. That would basically just reset the donation playing field back to the 1990s. There is still the issue of undue influence of large donors, gerrymandering of congressional districts, the unrepresentative and disproportional nature of plurality voting to determine the house, the electoral college distorting the winner for the presidency to the point that the “wrong” candidate has won in the past3, and two-party domination. Neither main-party candidate is proposing anything that will put a serious dent in this problem.

Trump: An actual authoritarian?

Yes. Political scientists have been commenting for media throughout the campaign that Trump bears many of the classic signs of being an authoritarian candidate, and that isn’t just something that happens in less-developed countries, it’s about a candidate, usually right-wing, exploiting a populist mood among an electorate.

That does not necessarily mean he’s the next Hitler, but it does mean that if elected, he will likely start doing things like discarding the idea of separation of powers, of judicial independence, of freedom of speech and association, of relatively open immigration policies, jailing his political opponents and threatening his personal enemies, using his office to enrich himself, etc…

These democratic rights are very difficult to claw back once they’ve been systematically violated or even repealed, as has been demonstrated with the US backing out of its conviction against torturing detainees and the Obama administration’s refusal to even hold non-judicial inquiries into the matter, let alone prosecutions, despite torture actually being illegal.

Clinton: Illegal private email server?

As I mentioned earlier, James Comey, a Republican, concluded that Hillary had taken no illegal action in using a private email server. It wasn’t secure practice and it certainly wasn’t entirely ethical to do so, but it’s less a scandal and more an issue of the law needing to require public officials to use public emails only for official business.

The main bulk of this is a non-issue and the kind of thing that, for anyone who wasn’t in a cabinet position, would be resolved by a simple meeting with your supervisor or maybe an official warning.

The one place where Republicans may have a point is that she was potentially not sufficiently informed to take the appropriate care regarding confidential emails, but there is no public evidence to date that suggests this caused any intelligence leaks or that any information that was classified at the time was handled through the private server. Much of the “classified material” was due to retroactive classification.

Trump: Racial profiling to deny housing to black people?

Yep, he got taken to court for it and lost, and the case was regional one in New York, not part of some national-level investigation like he claims.

Clinton: Benghazi?

No. This is categorically not a thing, and anyone talking about it is essentially just redistributing hot air. In fact, if anything, the real “scandal” here is that the policies supported by the very people who are outraged by Benghazi likely caused it, ie. the US’ entire approach to terrorism causes blow-back and exacerbates the problem. (which, ironically, is one of the few areas Trump has been correct in critiquing Hillary’s judgement. Of course his “solutions” seem to be even more of the same with a side-dish of extra war crimes, so…)

Trump: Misappropriating charity money

This is a massive yes.

While the Clinton Foundation is the one really knock-out scandal out there for Clinton, it not only pales in comparison to Trump’s other scandals, it actually also pales in comparison to Trump’s scandals regarding his own foundation, which is likely a vehicle for tax evasion, has been used to pay legal settlements owed by Mr. Trump personally, has engaged in self-dealing, and he has a poor record in donating to his own foundation to the point that he’s now actually stopped donating since about 2010, when normally a family foundation like this is funded in large part by its namesake. Oh, and it’s been ordered to stop soliciting donations. (Trump’s lack of donations to his own foundation also fuel the case made by speculation that he’s not as rich as he says he is)

Clinton: Advocating fixing foreign elections?

This one’s a little tricky. Clinton has, back in 2006, made some comments about Palestine that are relevant to free elections. However, whether she was advocating election-rigging hangs on how you determine the meaning of the word “determine” in context:

I do not think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake, and if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.

You can either take this to mean they should have ensured that Fatah, their preferred partners, won the election, as many seem to be doing, or if you’re a bit more charitable, you can take this to mean that Clinton wanted to have information about who the likely winner was, ie. polling, before advocating for an election, and then only advocate elections if Fatah would win. (see definitions 1 & 2 of determine here)

On the balance I’m willing to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt that it’s the less objectionable option for now, (it’s still pretty objectionable anyway…) not that the US in general and people Clinton holds in esteem in particular haven’t done things just as bad as election-rigging in the past.

Now, this is definitely hypocrisy from Clinton, who supports democracy at home and derides Trump for undermining it, but it’s orthodox hypocrisy in foreign policy, where most nations believe in realpolitik4 for foreign policy, and she wouldn’t have been viewed as a contender for Sec State if she wasn’t willing to undermine democracy in developing nations. This is a legitimate criticism of US foreign policy, but it’s not on the same level in my opinion as Trump’s authoritarianism, as Clinton is essentially stopping democratic values from spreading, while Trump is effectively advocating to get rid of it at home too.

Trump: Trump University

It’s a scam, and again, it fuels the case that he’s not as rich as he says, because genuinely successful people do not risk this kind of exposure to lawsuits.

Trump: Bad at business

This one is also true. Donald Trump’s entire image is one of being a winner who’s great at business and is with only the most attractive women. While the occasional bankruptcy isn’t proof that someone is objectively bad at business, serial bankruptcies are a different story,  and he has business failures beyond his bankruptcies. There’s also been allegations of him engaging in unreasonable management practices.

The sad thing is that there are also probably newsworthy Trump scandals I’ve missed evaluating here, because the man is just that odious. (I mean, the man just recently used a racially-charged insult and kicked out one of his African-American supporters from one of his rallies because he assumed he was a protestor) But this should cover the main ones people may have heard mentioned in election coverage and give you some idea if you’ve been cruising through this terrifying roller coaster because it’s all happening overseas.