Voter Funded Media, the contest that accompanied the AMS elections for the second year this year, is an idea that’s meant to award media public funds by the will of the people, thus fostering better journalism, more informed voters, better elected leaders, and healthier democracies. The assumption is that media, as opposed to candidates or special interest groups, are able to engage larger audiences, since they are experts in communication. This, at UBC may or may not be the case, particularly considering the contest’s mismanagement this year, but in any event, voting for this “race” of sorts is on now on WebVote until the 31st. There’s an 8 thousand dollar prize pool that will be distributed among the various media according to votes. If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, I encourage you to login and vote for us.

Before you do that though, you should find out about the voting system: “interpolated consensus”. It’s a tad complex, so just bear with me – and by the end, you’ll know how to best allocate your votes! Alors, when you log into WebVote, you’ll notice that for each media, you have the option of allocating to them $0, $500, $1000, $1500, or $2000. Lets do a simplified scenario: after everyone has voted, the votes are counted, and the median is determined. The median is a number which 50% of the numbers in a set are below, and 50% or the numbers in a set are above. It’s the 50th percentile. The median will be one of the five amounts of money. If this is done for each media, you have an amount of money that each should receive. This is the “consensus” part of interpolated consensus. Taking the median, as opposed to the average, as a basis for awarding prizes is meant to discourage strategic voting – that is, it should encourage the voter to vote for the amount they actually believe that the contestant should receive. With averages, people are encouraged to engage in strategic voting (ie. voting above or below their real opinion) in order to “pull up” or “pull down” the average. If you use the median, on the other hand, the actual number you choose has no bearing on the amount that the media is awarded. All that matters is whether it is above, or below the median. Your vote will pull the median closer to your vote, whichever direction (up or down) that may be. You don’t know. So if both 2000 and 1500 is above the 50th percentile of votes, they will both have the same effect on the outcome – by how much they are above the median doesn’t matter.

Now, let’s abandon our simplified scenario, and look at how it actually works. First, your five voting options represents a discontinuous set. That is, you’re only allowed to award media in $500 intervals. To make the set more continuous, each vote for 500 is interpreted as 1/5 th of a vote for each 100-dollar interval between 300 and 700. Similarly, each vote for 1000 is interpreted as 1/5 of a vote for each 100 dollar interval between 800 and 1200. this is the “interpolation” part of interpolated consensus. If you didn’t get that, just ignore it – it’s a way of making the set of numbers more continuous. Second, we have to scrap thinking about the median (the 50th percentile) that we’ve been imagining. This is because taking the median of each media’s votes and giving them that amount of money may not add up to the prize pool of 8000 dollars. In order for the system to actually allocate the prize pool, the percentile which will allocate exactly 8000 dollars is used – lets call this the pth percentile. This pthe percentile arbitrarily represents the “consensus” vote, and voting above or below it will change the prize for that media.

I have a few problems with this system. It seems to me that strategic voting is still possible: if you want to be sure that you’ll have an upwards effect on a contest, always vote 2000. If you want to be sure to have a downwards effect, vote 0, or don’t vote. If you want the media to get a specific amount, you should vote for that amount. The system will bring the pth percentile closer to the amount you chose, no matter if it’s an up or down effect. The other problem I have is with using the pth percentile to determine how much money to give to each contestant, instead of using the median, scaled to $8000. It seems to me that it’s quite likely to have a highly discontinuous set of votes with some media. This makes taking some percentile and awarding it highly arbitrary. It could jump from quite high to quite low as the result of a couple people that didn’t vote (ie, voted 0) – or vice versa. If you’re going to use a consensus system I think it makes much more sense to use a weighted median. I tend to think a voucher system with averages makes more sense to begin with, but that’s just me. Thoughts?

For a more detailed explanation and simulation, go to


11 Comments so far

  1. Peter on January 27, 2008 9:52 pm

    OH SHIT.
    OH NO.
    OH WHAT -?!

    I just realized something…
    “There are 11 VFM contestants, any poll you do not vote in will be taken as selecting $0. “

    Umm… that means that EVERY SINGLE VFM is about to get about 44,000 votes for $0.

    Which also means, that we are all totally screwed.

    Does anyone else see this problem? Am I totally bonkers?


    Also, I continue to hold the opinion that Interpolated Consensus is not a good way to do this thing. In order for voters to make a real informed decision, they need to understand the system. How many of the people doing that will?

    I can guarantee you out of the 6% that voted in the AMS elections, only about 2% (tops) will vote in VFM. Of those, only 25% will know how the system works. That’s not good, any way you slice it. Giving money out ignorantly doesn’t work.

  2. eat cake on January 27, 2008 10:15 pm

    aside from the fact that this system is confusing to begin with- doesn’t anyone think it’s just kind of tacky to ask voters to assign monetary values to the work of VFMs? I just think it’s awkward- and that the regular polling method would have worked just fine

  3. maayan kreitzman on January 27, 2008 10:30 pm

    peter, it’s ok. that’s why it’s the not the median. Even if the median is $0, (which it probably will be) they’ll move the pth percentile up until it totals to 8 thousand. I think they’ll only count non-votes as zero when a person votes for one media and not for another – not when somebody doesn’t vote at all. At least i hope so. I’m not sure if paul has thought of that, since on webvote each media is arranged as a differnet “race” between the five options.

  4. Stephen McCarthy on January 27, 2008 11:08 pm

    I can’t imagine Webvote has the capability to automatically calculate the interpolated consensus amounts.

    So, since each VFM is a different race, do they even have the ability to calculate the result properly?

    Imagine a simple scenario, with only Insiders vs 432. Say if 100 people voted for the Insiders and not the 432, and a seperate 20 people vote for the 432 but not the insiders.

    Can the system figure out that 120 people have voted? Or will they just “top up” the 432’s votes to 100 by adding 80 “no money” votes.

    Still trying to work through my brain how this would affect the results.

    In any case, if you don’t want a media outlet to get any money, I’d recommend actually voting $0.

  5. Fire Hydrant on January 27, 2008 11:31 pm

    WebVote doesn’t need to do the calculation. It will provide vote totals for each race, which Mark Latham can put into his spreadsheet. He mucks around with a number for a while, and dollar values are magically assigned to media outlets.

    I very much doubt that one race can know whether you voted in another race, so if you want a zero vote to be registered, you need to go to that race, either select $0 or leave it blank, and hit submit. So a media outlet nobody’s heard of could conceivably get $2000 if both people who know about it vote and nobody else does. Webvote may be able to say how many people voted on all the races together, depending on how they’re linked, so padding might be possible.

  6. Jesse Ferreras on January 28, 2008 2:03 am

    No offense Maayan, but I just gave up reading this “interpolated condorcet” stuff about halfway through the post. It’s nothing on you, it’s just the process of voting in this contest is so complicated as to be ad nauseum.

    Personally, I don’t see why it’s so hard to just have an election where you vote for the media you want to see win and not the one that you don’t. No winning media should be penalized if people didn’t like another one.

  7. Anonymous on January 28, 2008 5:38 am

    the idea behind interpolated consensus is to put more power in the hands of voters in determining exactly how much funding each media source deserves. last year strategic voting turned out to be very successful, leaving arguably more deserving media sources such as this blog in the dust.

    I do agree that the default-$0 vote could turn out to be a problem, but we’ll have to see how things turn out. The whole reason that Mark will, from the back-end, be able to determine the consensus level in order to dish out $8000 in prizes, is so that the ginormous amount of $0 votes don’t skew the results. Finally, I’m just not all that convinced the system is that hard to understand- if you want a media source to receive a certain amount of money, vote for them to do so. The back-end stuff is really not all that significant in the big picture.

  8. maayan kreitzman on January 28, 2008 5:50 am

    how was strategic voting a factor? The same name-regognition factor could have a similar effect in this case.

    I’m also not convinced that it’s so very hard to understand. If you read Mark’s simulation, anyway. (which I’ve linked to the post)

    Can someone answer my question about the arbitrariness of the pth pecentile, though? Imagine the radical beer tribune, for example. What if te RBT had done a fantastic job, and everyone that voted for them had given them $2000. Everyone else, who had not read them, by not voting, gave them a default 0. let’s say 25 percent of people voted for the RBT, (all of them awarded them $2000, remember). If the pth percentile ended up being 74%, insted of 75%, they would get 0 dollars insted of 2000. These discontinuities (even with the interpolation) makes it a bit wonky.

  9. Peter on January 28, 2008 6:17 am

    You’re right! It’s not hard to understand if you read a 2,105 word explanation and have a decent understanding of statistics and are fairly intelligent.

    Umm… if you think that the average student is actually going to do/have that, you are sadly mistaken. As I said, even out of the 2800 voters that cared enough to vote in the election I’m guessing that VFM is not going to get more than 500 people voting in it.

    Out of that 500, at most 50 will have read even a little on the consensus method. Maybe 20 will actually understand how it works.

    Frankly, I don’t think this is a good system of judging popular opinion on who did a good job and who didn’t. Its simply too complex and too time-consuming for people to vote. At best you’re going to have most people voting for the one or two media outlet that they knew people working on.

    I somehow don’t think that’s effective.

    In order for this to work, it has to be easy for voters to jump though this extra hoop. People have to want to reward the VFMs and be able to do that at a minimal cost to themselves. This is especially the case when they are not paying the money themselves. As things stand, they simply have no incentive to take the time to understand and vote unless they are friends of a VFM entrant. Even then, they only have an incentive to vote, not understand.

    If that’s the point, fine. Personally, I’d rather that the people that were voting actually understood what they are doing. It seems undemocratic if they don’t.

  10. maayan kreitzman on January 28, 2008 6:39 am

    Actually, for the system to work the way it should, people don’t need to “understand”. I just posted this up for fun as an FYI (sick idea of fun, I know, but there you are). All you need is for people to vote for the amount they think each media deserves. Nothin’ complicated about that.

  11. Alex Lougheed on January 28, 2008 10:03 am

    I think someone ought to hack up a 20 second long flash video explaining the system. It’s not that difficult–it just needs pictures.

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