Charitable Giving With Crytpo In the US (How-To & Taxes) 2021-09-01T02:38:19.070Z
Hiring Director of Applied Data & Research - CES 2021-03-17T21:00:56.695Z
The Center for Election Science Appeal for 2020 2020-12-19T02:01:28.687Z
A Case and Model for Aggressively Funding Effective Charities 2020-09-24T06:37:06.376Z
[Link] Guide To Charitable Giving & US Taxes 2019-12-19T23:04:28.318Z
The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal 2019-12-17T23:06:49.862Z
[Link] How to set up your planned giving now 2019-01-01T00:27:23.324Z
[Link] How To Be A Great Board Member—And Avoid Being A Not So Great One 2018-12-28T07:51:56.364Z
Why You Should Invest In Upgrading Democracy And Give To The Center For Election Science 2018-12-15T01:43:39.636Z


Comment by aaronhamlin on Gifted $1 million. What to do? (Not hypothetical) · 2021-09-01T03:01:35.916Z · EA · GW

Congrats, Ben! In terms of targets for any donation, I'd be happy to talk with you about The Center for Election Science, where I'm the executive director.

In terms of strategies relating to tax efficiency and giving, I'd be happy to talk with you and your financial advisor. I think a lot about this topic and have written about it quite a bit. I actually just finished my sixth essay on giving and taxes. Aside from working in the nonprofit sector for going on ten years, I'm also a licensed attorney. Feel free to email me and we can set up a call.

Comment by aaronhamlin on What EA projects could grow to become megaprojects, eventually spending $100m per year? · 2021-08-08T20:28:24.101Z · EA · GW

The Center for Election Science could easily make efficient use of greater than $50M a year with infrastructure and ballot initiatives. We've already laid out a plan on how we would spend it. We could also potentially build towards some hyper-aggressive $100M years by including lobbying in the remaining states that don't allow ballot initiatives. In any case, we are woefully underfunded relative to our goals and could at the very least surpass the $50M threshold in a couple of years with sufficient funding. If even greater funding were available, we could build in lobbying following more state-level wins.

For clarity, our lack of funding has already cost us approval voting campaign opportunities and is a big issue for us.

Comment by aaronhamlin on Research Topics in Nonprofit Operations · 2021-07-16T00:01:44.680Z · EA · GW

One idea may be predictors of successful fundraising (ex// sector, revenue source, revenue distribution)

Comment by aaronhamlin on AMA: Toby Ord @ EA Global: Reconnect · 2021-03-18T16:36:14.533Z · EA · GW

Do you see existential risks being mitigated without (1) strong governmental policy on those issue areas and (2) the ability for those policies to be sustained over a long time scale?

Follow-ups if yes:
1. How urgent is having a system where those governmental policies can reliably take hold?
2. Which country or countries should be prioritized?

Follow-up if no:
1. What would you recommend we focus on alongside or instead of governmental policy changes?

Comment by aaronhamlin on Hiring Director of Applied Data & Research - CES · 2021-03-18T16:15:16.144Z · EA · GW

If an applicant has a strong stats and data analysis background, I would still encourage them to apply. It can sometimes be hard to check off every single box. Either way, please share with your network as well. Thanks!

Comment by aaronhamlin on Why I find longtermism hard, and what keeps me motivated · 2021-03-13T09:20:27.785Z · EA · GW

I know it's a struggle to balance polishing and publishing. I find it challenging to balance myself. But I'd love to read your post when you have it up all the way.  I think a lot of us are curious about the interaction between longtermism, immediacy, and philanthropic investment.

Comment by aaronhamlin on Why I find longtermism hard, and what keeps me motivated · 2021-02-27T05:06:09.094Z · EA · GW

I'm also a heavy sympathizer towards longtermism. But I don't know that the dilemma needs to be framed as an either/or. Many of the endeavors I've personally gotten behind—bringing new reversible male contraceptives to market and fundamentally improving elections—impact the short-to-mid-term future as well as the long-term future. 

That's because these interventions have the ability to have a positive impact now, plus their staying power impacts the future. That contrasts with interventions that deal with consumables or models where you have to keep adding the same large inputs to sustain future good.

Of course, these interventions aren't the only ones. We can think of others such as with charities like SENS. That fits the category because any technology developed doesn't go away and creates benefit into the far future. Good Food Institute has many of these features as well because it focuses on technology that can permanently affect the market yet can also affect people and animals now.

Of course, one may argue that these types of interventions may be somewhat erroneous given they could happen anyway. Even if that's the case, speeding along their timeline helps many people (or other sentient beings) who may not have been helped at all. Or absent the intervention, they wouldn't be helped to the same extent given how far along the intervention was in time.

Perhaps this is a way to have your cake and eat it too.  You could focus on interventions that affect the near-term and the future rather than just the future. This way, you're also much more likely to see the interventions blossom or at the very least see their buds begin to form during your lifetime. And getting to see at least part of the excitement firsthand is a nice bonus.

Comment by aaronhamlin on The Center for Election Science Appeal for 2020 · 2021-01-20T05:57:58.824Z · EA · GW

We may have a campaign in 2021 (our initial play is riskier here), but we can't say yet for sure. We have other cities lined up for 2022. What I can say is all the cities we have in mind are over 750,000 people and are all very well known. We've laid out a strategic plan involving polling and legal analysis to factor in where to prioritize given our available funding. We're working for a surprise win in 2021 to excite our funders.

Comment by aaronhamlin on The Center for Election Science Appeal for 2020 · 2020-12-22T11:06:31.731Z · EA · GW

Thanks! You're right. There's so much to be said for making an approach as simple as possible.

Comment by aaronhamlin on The Center for Election Science Appeal for 2020 · 2020-12-22T11:05:39.464Z · EA · GW

Thanks! We look forward to continuing our impact. I'm always impressed with our team and what we're able to do with our resources.

Comment by aaronhamlin on Dan Hageman's Shortform · 2020-12-05T01:38:42.986Z · EA · GW

This is really good news and reduces the barrier to utilize a great giving tool. Thanks so much for sharing this!

Comment by aaronhamlin on Where are you donating in 2020 and why? · 2020-12-04T01:43:28.207Z · EA · GW

Sometimes membership dues can be deductable with a nonprofit but normally not in exchange for a service. For example, you could likely deduct ACLU membership dues. But they're not requiring membership in exchange for a service. I'd find the Alcor deduction much more questionable given that the only folks who get memberships are the ones who are being cryopreserved.

Comment by aaronhamlin on List of EA-related organisations · 2020-12-04T01:40:41.336Z · EA · GW

This is actually a more complicated response. One of my next essays will be on this topic, so thanks for asking!

Comment by aaronhamlin on Where are you donating in 2020 and why? · 2020-11-25T21:00:30.507Z · EA · GW

Congrats on your giving! I would maybe add a note of caution if you were anticipating deducting fees to Alcor on your taxes. Even though they're a c3, they're providing a service to you. An analogy would be deducting fees for a YMCA gym membership, which is also not tax deductible.

I also say this being an Alcor member myself. Also, here's a resource on charitable giving and taxes I put together that may be useful:

Note that I don't count my payments for membership/cryopreservation towards my giving.

Comment by aaronhamlin on List of EA-related organisations · 2020-11-15T23:19:29.899Z · EA · GW

It's interesting that you were working on this as this exact issue came up during a project I was working on with Dan Hageman on directing folks to EA-aligned charities for employer gift matching. You can see the criteria that we set, though we don't have a more exhaustive list that you're attempting.

Comment by aaronhamlin on List of EA-related organisations · 2020-11-15T23:18:21.812Z · EA · GW

Would you be able to add The Center for Election Science? We would fall under Far Future or Other, though preferably Far Future.

The Center for Election Science (CES) - Empowers voters through voting methods that strengthen democracy. CES accomplishes its mission through research and collaborating to pass ballot initiatives for approval voting. CES maintains that approval voting elects more consensus-style candidates and is more likely to maintain governmental stability over a long time frame in addition to providing near-term benefit.


Comment by aaronhamlin on Getting money out of politics and into charity · 2020-11-06T06:13:46.390Z · EA · GW

Naturally, as the ED for CES, this is my favorite idea!

Comment by aaronhamlin on If you like a post, tell the author! · 2020-10-15T06:34:02.410Z · EA · GW

This is a good suggestion, one I'll keep in mind as I read posts that I find valuable. As someone who appreciates how hard it is to write a complex essay, I can say that it's encouraging to see positive responses alongside critiques. Positive responses register more clearly than an upvote and often include useful information as well.

Comment by aaronhamlin on Five New EA Charities with High Potential for Impact · 2020-10-15T05:42:32.550Z · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing, and I like the easy-to-read format of this post! As a reminder for those considering giving that under the CARES Act (this year only) if you're in the US and don't itemize, you can make up to a $300 above-the-line deduction for cash-only charitable donations.

I'm liking LEEP & Giving Green in particular, but I'm always excited by the charities that Charity Entrepreneurship puts out.

Resources for those thinking of giving below:

CARES Act Details:

Tax Efficiency & Giving:

Comment by aaronhamlin on Net Salary after Tax deductions US · 2020-09-23T23:25:05.663Z · EA · GW

I've written an entire essay outlining how charitable giving and taxes work. You may find that helpful:

Comment by aaronhamlin on How to make the most impactful donation, in terms of taxes? · 2020-06-15T22:15:02.263Z · EA · GW

This is a good point! Katie very likely was considering that and right on target.

Comment by aaronhamlin on How to make the most impactful donation, in terms of taxes? · 2020-06-15T06:28:11.209Z · EA · GW

Hi Katie!

This is a bit of a more complicated question with a number of options. If you like, you can contact me. I write a lot in this space:

Some options:

  • The gift route is one idea. Though this comes with some complexity as you mention.
  • You could invest the money and wait for longer than one year to be able to deduct the appreciation and the original investment.
  • If you have a match through your employer, this is a great route.
  • If you do clump your donations together, it's worth shooting an email to the charity you're giving to so they have a heads up. Make sure to let them know you're just considering this option and that you're not promising anything. This does two things: (1) it doesn't bind you to a gift if you change your mind for some reason and (2) it lets their philanthropy department know that you haven't dropped off in odd years. They may (or should) worry otherwise.

Other recommendations:

  • A donor advised fund makes giving much easier once you start talking in the thousands and you're using stocks or other non-cash assets.

Also, the highest tax bracket is 37%. [Note that this is only Federal. I should assume that you're talking state and Federal as Gordon pointed out.]

And congrats on your charitable giving plans!

Comment by aaronhamlin on Why SENS makes sense · 2020-02-22T17:38:30.350Z · EA · GW

As someone who started a nonprofit to speed up pharmaceutical drug development, this quote rings very true:

"The amount of money you need to develop these technologies at the early stages is much less than what you need at the later stages, but obtaining money for the later stages, like clinical trials, is much easier because much of the de-risking has already happened. Since philanthropic money is only needed at the early stages, the answer to that question is a relatively tiny amount of money: 500 millions or even 250 millions over a period of 10 years, which is an order of magnitude of what SENS currently has, which is about 5 million dollars per year. 250-500 millions is still a pitifully small amount of money as compared to the kind that's spent in medical research generally."

Disclaimer: The bulk of my recent personal giving ($1k) went to SENS.

Comment by aaronhamlin on Thoughts on electoral reform · 2020-02-21T00:55:48.907Z · EA · GW

Disclaimer: I'm the executive director for The Center for Election Science.

There’s some good stuff in this post.

Excessive political polarisation, especially party polarisation in the US, makes it harder to reach consensus or a fair compromise, and undermines trust in public institutions. Efforts to avoid harmful long-term dynamics, and to strengthen democratic governance, are therefore of interest to effective altruists. One concrete lever is electoral reform.

Great stuff.

Still, I think the downsides of plurality voting outweigh its advantages, and there is some degree of consensus among experts that plurality voting is not a good system. … Still, I think the downsides of plurality voting outweigh its advantages, and there is some degree of consensus among experts that plurality voting is not a good system.

Understated, but still good stuff. Also, experts really hate plurality. See one such meeting of experts where not a single person approved of plurality. As an aside, they favored approval voting with IRV following in second.

All things considered, I think electoral reform, while probably not a “top tier” intervention, should be part of the longtermist EA portfolio.

I might disagree on the degree, but my sentiment overlaps with its place in longtermism.

The post gets at the idea that anything is better than plurality and that we shouldn’t feel like we have to pick among systems. But then it ultimately picks among systems. This is the dilemma we find ourselves in. We have to advocate for something, and when we’re presenting an opportunity, it is only reasonable for those exploring to consider the options. If experts don’t then do the correcting, then errors will go ignored, and poor decisions will be made.

My full empathy goes to anyone who does the legwork to create a post here (it’s challenging and it’s putting yourself out there). But practically all the arguments raised in this well-meaning post are addressed in the previous posting, which also links to the approval voting criticisms article and limits of RCV. If after looking, you don’t see it addressed, please reply and I’ll see if I can find an answer. You’ll find answers about later-no-harm and bullet voting, proportional approaches, the reflection of candidate support, practicality, and much more.

I'm noticing that the arguments referenced here come almost exclusively from FairVote. As a caveat, this organization repeatedly argues that approval voting should not be used in virtually any circumstance (despite when experts clearly disagree and even prefer approval voting). They also failed to acknowledge any faults within an RCV election where virtually every RCV mistake occurred. It’s hard to take them seriously after that. This refers to the Burlington election where voters got a worse outcome for ranking their favorite first, candidates could have been harmed by getting more higher-preference rankings, voter segments would have gotten a better outcome staying at home, and the candidate who could beat everyone head to head was eliminated due to RCV’s tendency to vote split along the middle. They also discouraged others from looking at election data from alternative voting methods in a Wall Street Journal article.

FairVote frequently cites Dartmouth while omitting any other reason that might have caused voters to choose fewer candidates (like few candidates being on the ballot and an enormous number of write-ins). As one can also get from the approval voting criticisms article, even when a majority choose only one candidate, the remainder who choose multiple candidates can (1) have a material effect in choosing a different winner and (2) give support to candidates who would otherwise be invisible. These repeals were not “often” the case. This argument also fails to acknowledge all the cities that repealed RCV due to either complaints of complexity or flat-out bad winners being elected. There are also cities that take forever to implement RCV or don’t do it at all due to the cost of software and new machines. This is one big reason why Fargo and St. Louis wanted approval voting instead of RCV.

This isn’t to say that any FairVote reference is bad, just that it potentially warrants more investigation.

When we are looking at voting methods, a good track record isn’t merely recorded uses. We need to see how it performs in competitive elections that have a different plurality winner. And note that practically any alternative voting method will handle spoiler candidates who get little support. Want more data? Funding a research department for CES would go a long way.

It’s also important to remember that no voting method can guarantee a majority and that methods like RCV merely contrive a majority through eliminating candidates via vote splitting—sometimes by eliminating the best candidate. Metrics that you can use to see whether a good winner was elected involve looking at Condorcet matrixes and candidate utilities (note that using explicit Condorcet methods is not practical due to “tie-breakers” from cycles). It’s not enough to say that a method didn’t provide a “majority” and so that method must have chosen the wrong winner.

It’s also important to note that CES was seriously vetted for close to a year before a grant was awarded. This grant from two years ago wasn’t a rash decision. This is a system that has been studied academically since the late ’70s with one of its developers on the CES board of advisers.

Also, CES went into this space agnostic about the voting method. We took the time in our early years (before we had any funds) to really think about the alternatives, including practicality as a concern. This is not the same approach that other organizations have taken either going with a system merely because it either (1) has previous use, or (2) superficially approximates the setup of a separate proportional method (STV).

Ultimately, I think for EA to switch to a voting method that already has funding relative to approval voting (and has serious issues) would be a mistake. This is a space that is overall extremely underfunded relative to other election reform areas given its importance (see earlier analysis). As an organization, we’ve already demonstrated how cost-effective we can be in a much shorter time frame compared to peers in our space. We hired staff and got approval voting in its first US city all within a year of initial funding.

Failing to provide further support or removing it at this crucial time wouldn’t be the optimal move here. It would just eliminate a promising alternative approach from being tested at all. If this is perceived as too much of a risk, then I would fear how this mentality would keep EA from pursuing other efforts where outcomes are even more unclear.

Comment by aaronhamlin on EA Hub’s new features · 2020-02-16T00:47:47.176Z · EA · GW

Any new updates on sending me the old information? I pester others on giving publicly and want to be sure that I model well personally. I'm thinking of adding a section to my personal website about my current, past, and planned giving for accountability.

Comment by aaronhamlin on The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal · 2020-01-22T03:49:52.255Z · EA · GW

The poll included only those who intended to vote in the Democratic Primary.

It's very difficult to manage volunteers in this way, particularly given our small staff size. We tend to contract polling out. That said, it takes some expertise to sort through the data. Having staff for research would help us dramatically in both evaluating voting methods and measuring progress within cities that we've won in.

Comment by aaronhamlin on The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal · 2020-01-19T05:13:52.112Z · EA · GW

Caucus voting still has vote splitting as voters aren't able to support multiple candidates simultaneously. With approval voting, you can support multiple candidates simultaneously. We haven't analyzed caucus voting. We did do this poll, however, on the democratic primaries:

I'd like to see us do much more research and evaluation, but we currently don't have it in our budget to hire a Director of Research and support staff.

Comment by aaronhamlin on What should EAs interested in climate change do? · 2020-01-11T05:39:29.749Z · EA · GW

I'm curious about the work that Citizens' Climate Lobby is doing. They push for a carbon tax that comes back as a public dividend. They're doing lobbying now, but I'd be curious about how their odds might improve if tackled as a series of ballot initiatives.

Comment by aaronhamlin on The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal · 2020-01-06T05:27:41.285Z · EA · GW

Hi Larks,

On the moderate component, it's important to note a couple things: (1) moderate can change depending on what the population is and (2) sometimes we get a distorted view of what moderate is through the media.

Here, we're looking at a subgroup—people registered as democrats. So the population is a bit different. One of the platforms that Warren and Sanders are similar on that separate them from Biden is Medicare for All. It tends to poll rather well, particularly among democrats despite it being considered more extreme by the media.

On the democracy not always being good component, I touched on this a little elsewhere with a kind of "what else?" type reply. But perhaps, as you mentioned, there are some positions that are best not elected. I would take less issue with positions best not elected but more issue with positions elected badly (ex// FPTP).

Comment by aaronhamlin on The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal · 2020-01-06T05:15:37.769Z · EA · GW

Replied at the bottom by accident. Starts with, "Hi, Adam."

Comment by aaronhamlin on The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal · 2020-01-02T20:13:58.098Z · EA · GW

Hi Adam,

Q: How would we know approval voting would give better policies? Why would the policies be good? And how do we know the policies would be good rather than merely popular?

A: I'm combining these ideas I pulled out because of their similarity. Approval voting tends to pull out the middle viewpoint (whatever that is for a particular electorate). And because viability is not an issue to gain initial support, it can provide a ramp for new ideas.

Is it possible that the popular opinion is bad? It sure is. But for this to be a real worry under approval voting would mean that the alternative of what we have now as being better. We might find that there is some popular issue that people win on that is not correct or overall good. This is also possible now, but with a poorer voting method. The question is whether approval voting provides a net gain so that popular issues that are good actually move forward at a pace faster than they would otherwise. Because of the quicker feedback and approval voting doing a better job of capturing candidate support, I believe this to likely be true. And to the degree that this is true in enacting better policies, many policies have carryover benefits that go well into the future.

I'm not sure I understood the question on supply and demand-side politics.

P.S. I accidentally added this as a main thread reply. Sorry about that.

Comment by aaronhamlin on EA Hub’s new features · 2019-12-30T04:28:22.815Z · EA · GW

Sending my old data would be awesome. Thanks! It took awhile to track everything down. myfullname@gmail.

Comment by aaronhamlin on EA Hub’s new features · 2019-12-29T20:16:45.594Z · EA · GW

I have a little bit of hesitation doing much on EA Hub because I lost all my data (including donation history) from my last profile. It was deleted without warning during the switch—or at least I missed the heads up. That aside, the updates sound exciting.

Comment by aaronhamlin on The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal · 2019-12-19T22:56:44.199Z · EA · GW

Right now, initiatives are our main path, but with more funds we'd be open to experimenting in lower-risk scenarios. I'd be excited to read what information you come up with.

We use polling as an initial indicator to see how receptive a demographic would be to the initiative. Fortunately, the simplicity helps us with receptivity.

Within a particular target city, we don't want to add more dollars than necessary to an effort. Winning soundly is important, but we didn't need to throw $1M directly into Fargo, for example. I suppose if we had, the support may have gone nonmonotinic in relation to the spend and backlashed against us. But I don't see that as a particularly big risk for us. We're more efficient than that.

Also, being as early as we are in the game, we're a little cautious about taking on a city we don't think we can win. We're aggressive, but not more aggressive than we think we can get away with.

Comment by aaronhamlin on Ramiro's Shortform · 2019-12-19T05:43:48.717Z · EA · GW

I agree with you that this is an important area. I wrote a whole essay on the technical aspects of planned giving.

I have some more related essays here:

Comment by aaronhamlin on The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal · 2019-12-18T21:38:46.178Z · EA · GW

Hi, Matt! Thanks for the question.

This estimate is based off of me asking our Director of Campaigns and Advocacy about likelihood of success with lobbying. He gave me an estimate and then I did a correction based off what I'd seen, which lowered the success probability to 5% per effort. The expected cost per person (factoring in this probability) is much lower because when it does work, you can get an entire state to change their voting method. The scale counteracts the cost and probability rather quickly.

That said, lobbying is a challenging effort. I'm cautious about spending too much time and money here without having a 501(c)4 as it can push away our resources from wins that are more likely. We have a need for momentum at the moment. Still, with the potential cost effectiveness, this is an area we're considering in the future. It's likely we'll be risk averse initially as we gain experience.

If you have particular resources you've found on lobbying, feel free to share. Like I said, this would be a new space for us. We had one opportunity here recently, but we decided against it based on the particular circumstances.

Comment by aaronhamlin on Please use art to convey EA! · 2019-06-28T21:36:53.240Z · EA · GW

I was surprised not to see documentaries on the list. I recognize the show, don't tell aim. But you can do a lot of showing with documentaries. The price point is higher and also harder to create, but it has potentially large reach and is easily shareable. It also has a lower commitment for consumption than a book and can have a clear call to action. Perhaps this approach misses the premise of what you're aiming at though.

Next up would be a fictional movie, but that's potentially even higher cost.

Comment by aaronhamlin on [Link] How to set up your planned giving now · 2019-01-07T23:21:32.566Z · EA · GW

Very welcome! And thank you for taking the steps, Cullen. :)

Comment by aaronhamlin on Why You Should Invest In Upgrading Democracy And Give To The Center For Election Science · 2018-12-28T07:22:34.499Z · EA · GW

1a. You mentioned that other groups are trying to implement IRV and may not even understand that approval voting is superior. Can you explain why you think other people think this and even advocate for apparently inferior methods? Your article seemed convincing at first glance and I don't think this is a particularly partisan issue.

I think the relative support issue is a matter of those IRV advocates deweighting the likelihood of failures in IRV and overweighting the value of IRV's existing use compared to approval voting. There’s also a lack of knowledge on many of the nuances, which is just a product of voting theory being so complicated.

1b. "We also haven’t faced organized opposition." What kind of opposition do you anticipate facing? IRV supporters? Elected officials?

With ballot initiatives, the most likely opposition will come from those who currently benefit from a choose-one voting method. If an official or party would have likely won under a choose-one method versus approval voting, then they’ll likely oppose approval voting.

We don’t anticipate IRV supporters to oppose specific approval voting ballot initiatives, though we have seen articles from those groups publicly attacking approval voting. In public venues, we’re often bumped to keep room for IRV speakers even if there’s redundancy. This exclusion can affect our perceived legitimacy with donors, media, and other people in the reform network. We’ll likely have to continue with large ballot initiative wins before excluding us becomes unacceptable.

As an opposition example, there was a piece of state legislation that had enabling language permitting cities to use approval voting and IRV. A left-leaning organization opposed the inclusion of approval voting because they thought (rightfully) that approval voting would elect a more moderate government. In my conversation with the left-leaning organization, they told me that with IRV, they’d at least have some wins—even if there was some back and forth losses in the complete opposite direction. I told the person that if they wanted more partisan ideologies to be represented then they should support including proportional methods in the enacting language, but they seemed uninterested in listening to me at that point.

2. Since legislative reform is a nonstarter according to you and ballot initiatives for changing voting methods are present in less than half of US states, what is the medium-long term plan? Get as many cities on approval voting as possible and hope that this builds pressure for approval voting nationally?

I think yes. It’s hard to understate how frantic our pace is compared to how long it took IRV to move with reforms. That said, if we don’t have sufficient funding to run large initiatives, then approval voting could get shut out early. There’s a lot riding on us having that immediate momentum.

Also, while legislative reform is most likely not on the table now, it may be in the future. But that's likely only if approval voting has more of a track record and the choose-one method is more regularly publicly scorned.

3. What factors led to the convincing margin of victory in Fargo despite it being seen as a long shot by the media?

This is a technical subject, and I think it just takes too much energy for media to gather the information necessary to make a more accurate prediction. For instance, I would classify “long shot” as an event less than 10% likely to occur. Yet, using base rates from similar initiatives and eventually polling, there was never an indication that the odds were ever anywhere near that low. In my calculation, I don't think my assessment ever dipped to 50%.

Most initiatives focusing on single-winner voting methods pass. Not all of them, as we’ve learned since, but the vast majority do. We also had a convenient narrative in Fargo. Their commission created a task force that recommended approval voting—which the commission then ignored. We also had strong support on the ground. I also had the benefit of talking with lots of other people who successfully ran initiatives at a conference in earlier 2018.

So long as there’s sufficient funding, we’ll only get better at this.

4. What would make you change your mind about approval voting being the best option to advocate for?

Part of the strategic rationale for going with approval voting versus a higher-utility method that’s more complicated is that a more complicated method is less likely to get enacted. Another higher-utility method would be range/score voting where voters score each candidate on a scale. It also has a number of desirable qualities in terms of practicality (though it may take some effort to have it work on the worst of US voting machines).

There appears to be a small but measurable gain in utility going from approval to score where there is little added complexity. If we were to advance score voting in the future, for instance, we’d have to repeat the same process we did with approval voting (i.e.: proof of concept, replication, then scale).

Beyond score voting, there is little to be gained in utility between where score voting lands and where an unattainable magic best voting method would be. There are lots of other variations that scatter around this space, but those methods often add extra complexity and present practical implementation burdens that may also reduce their impact. Keep in mind, a voting method’s simplicity also helps its ability to do other jobs like convey support for other candidates who didn’t win.

I’m at a loss to imagine what might be present for the current choose-one method to be preferred over approval voting. If it somehow showed evidence of consistently electing worse candidates, that would be evidence. The same would be true compared to other voting methods. These are the types of empirical questions we can ask by being able to fund a director of research position. It’s clear that without our work that those polls comparing different voting methods just wouldn’t be done.

Comment by aaronhamlin on Why You Should Invest In Upgrading Democracy And Give To The Center For Election Science · 2018-12-17T19:15:14.042Z · EA · GW

On a mix of voting methods being used across states

I think this mixed approach is good. I wouldn’t worry about IRV not getting a foothold here though. My worry is IRV taking over the map. Also, there are other places that use IRV like Australia. To my knowledge, there’s been limited research on international and US IRV data. That could change once we have our director of research position.

Approval voting in presidential elections.

I’d point to the FAQ on presidential elections here. If you’re using approval voting, it should be part of the national popular vote. Otherwise, you get strange tactics coming up.

IRV variants & variants in general

One way to evaluate the performance of a voting method in electing a good winner is to use simulations. You have a computer take different conditions like candidate scenarios or different kinds of voters (you might call these dials) and then run these elections millions of times. Then you can see how much of the maximum utility was captured by the voting method.

We’re dealing with a model here, so there are assumptions that will vary from simulation to simulation. But in the models I’ve seen, approval voting fares well even with tactical voters, particularly against IRV and way better than the choose-one method. Also, there is a “magical best” in these simulations. That is, the “magical best” voting method magically picks the winner in each election that maximizes voter utility. "Magical best" is the unattainable ceiling of voting method performance in choosing a good winner.

That “magical best” mark is not terribly far away from approval voting’s mark. And you could get some small but likely meaningful increases by going from approval to score/range voting. Once you’re at score voting though, there’s not a lot to be gained.

And it’s because there’s little utility to be gained beyond score voting (and not much even beyond approval) that I don’t get particularly excited about the fanciest idea of a new voting method. And believe me, I hear all kinds of those ideas. I’ve actually gotten phone calls from random people on the weekend concerning this before.

The point is, we have some voting methods like approval that do really well in electing high-utility winners that are so easy. And not only is it easy but it has perks like giving an accurate reflection of support for losing candidates. And it is precinct summable and easily auditable. These factors are important. It’s not just about maximizing utility from the winner. A voting method has other jobs, too. (See the FAQ on how to evaluate a voting method.)

In terms of CES mission strategy, score voting is really the only other single-winner voting method that makes sense for us to try because it has so much simplicity going for it as well. It just has some small implementation hurdles and slightly more complexity that approval voting doesn’t have. But it’ll likely be a little bit before we consider anything with score voting, and it’ll have to be a strategic target. One step at a time, as they say.

(Bayesian Regret example for reference)

Comment by aaronhamlin on Earning to Save (Give 1%, Save 10%) · 2018-12-09T05:05:49.034Z · EA · GW

I sympathize with a lot in this article. In addition to emergency funds, there's also retirement. I took a crack at this topic last year. Feel free to take a gander.

Comment by aaronhamlin on Medical research: cancer is hugely overfunded; here's what to choose instead · 2017-08-09T18:41:24.295Z · EA · GW

Given that these all seem to connect with aging issues, I wonder how open the EA community would be to tackling aging as an illness. The foundation that focuses on this is the SENS Foundation ( Aubrey deGrey is the leading figure behind this focus (

Comment by aaronhamlin on Are Giving Games a better way to teach philanthropy? · 2017-08-09T04:10:12.548Z · EA · GW

Giving games are a great interactive activity and an awesome idea. A big component that may be being overlooked here is how participants vote on the charities. That plays a role in how the winner is determined as well as how the results are reflected. The voting method can also play a role in how participants assess candidate charities. To expand on the role of the voting method in giving games, I've put together an article. I hope this information brings even more success to giving games:

Comment by aaronhamlin on Clarifying the Giving What We Can pledge · 2017-08-09T03:59:58.928Z · EA · GW

I have friends who are middle-income who also focus on retirement (as you reference as an issue). Unlike many EA folks, they are more unclear about how giving fits with their long-term financial plan. To address this, I've written an article that goes into retirement accounts and US tax law. To some extent, it's more conservative than the traditional pledge described in its current form, while in other ways it's more aggressive. Feel free to have a look and consider how you think it fits:

Comment by aaronhamlin on Open Thread #36 · 2017-08-04T05:18:39.820Z · EA · GW

This is a topic I've thought about and just searched to see if anyone had posted on it. I've also written a moderately in-depth article on it here:

My personal background is that I run two nonprofits and am a licensed attorney. I think about charitable giving a lot. I also put money into retirement while balancing giving.

P.S. That you think about donor advised funds is a good sign! Those are so awesome that I dedicated an entire article to them:

Comment by aaronhamlin on Vote Pairing is a Cost-Effective Political Intervention · 2017-07-09T03:54:37.038Z · EA · GW

Another approach is to work to advance voting methods that are robust to vote splitting. Vote splitting is, after all, what we're talking about here. In this context, the focus is on vote splitting within swing states. Vote splitting is when multiple candidates have a similar ideology and because of the single selection voters are required to provide under plurality voting, the vote divides between those candidates. This creates an advantage for candidates who don't have a similar competitor and randomness when both leading candidates have a similar competitor.

The most straightforward way this is being addressed currently is through an inter-state compact called the national popular vote plan ( The issue with that is that at the end of the day there can still be vote splitting at the national level because the system still uses plurality (choose one) voting.

An alternative that would fix that is approval voting ( This allows the voter to choose as many candidates as they want and can use current ballots and machines. It is highly robust to vote splitting and allows the voter to support their favorite candidate no matter what, even if that candidate isn't' viable. The other advantage of this method is that it is precinct summable, which means you can take state totals and then use those totals to get national totals. You don't need the raw ballot data to be collected in a central location. It also allows for hybrid counting for if certain areas still use plurality voting. Because of these properties, this would be an excellent candidate for an improved national popular vote plan.

As a note, there was no spoiler effect in the 2016 election. As noted in other comments, the vote pairing approach requires trust. Also, an alternative candidate method, instant runoff voting/ ranked choice voting does not let you vote your favorite every time and is not precinct summable. One of the challenges of approval voting is its current lack of use in government elections, which would mean acquiring a track record in localities and states before use at the national level. For disclosure, I'm the executive director of The Center for Election Science, which promotes approval voting.