Comment by aaronhamlin on Please use art to convey EA! · 2019-06-28T21:36:53.240Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · 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 · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

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

[Link] How to set up your planned giving now

2019-01-01T00:27:23.324Z · score: 23 (9 votes)

[Link] How To Be A Great Board Member—And Avoid Being A Not So Great One

2018-12-28T07:51:56.364Z · score: 8 (4 votes)
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 · score: 3 (2 votes) · 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 · score: 1 (1 votes) · 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)

Why You Should Invest In Upgrading Democracy And Give To The Center For Election Science

2018-12-15T01:43:39.636Z · score: 33 (17 votes)
Comment by aaronhamlin on Earning to Save (Give 1%, Save 10%) · 2018-12-09T05:05:49.034Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · 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 · score: 0 (0 votes) · 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 · score: 0 (0 votes) · 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 · score: 0 (0 votes) · 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 · score: 0 (0 votes) · 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 · score: 0 (0 votes) · 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.