I'm the executive director of The Center for Election Science (www.electionscience.org). We study and advance better voting methods. I also started Male Contraceptive Initiative but am no longer there. I first learned about EA in 2016 and went to my first EA event in 2017. My formal education is in the social sciences and law. You can find my writing and resources at www.aaronhamlin.com. Also at: https://twitter.com/aaronfhamlin, https://www.linkedin.com/in/aaronhamlin


How to make the most impactful donation, in terms of taxes?

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

How to make the most impactful donation, in terms of taxes?

Hi Katie!

This is a bit of a more complicated question with a number of options. If you like, you can contact me. aaron@electionscience.org. I write a lot in this space: https://www.aaronhamlin.com/articles/#philanthropy

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%. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/taxes/federal-income-tax-brackets/ [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!

Why SENS makes sense

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.

Thoughts on electoral reform

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.

EA Hub’s new features

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.

The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal

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.

The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal

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: https://www.electionscience.org/press-releases/new-poll-74-of-democratic-primary-voters-would-support-warren-for-president/

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.

What should EAs interested in climate change do?

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.


The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal

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).

The Center for Election Science Year End EA Appeal

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

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