Different uses for voting need different types of voting.

Earmarks in the US Congress

Chicago's 2011 PB Ballot

Better Voting Rules for Participatory Budgeting

Ballot for Participatory Budgeting in Chicago

There are serious problems in using old voting systems to set budgets.

Analysis: Below is the May 2011 ballot for Participatory Budgeting in Chicago's 49th ward. The instructions in the gray box above the ballot imply the 2 tally methods: averaging and plurality.

The averaged votes for street resurfacing invite low strategic votes by those who want money left to fund other projects. To lower the resulting average, a voter would mark “0%” even if he or she wants some resurfacing. Using the median vote would avoid this problem.

No one can tell which plurality rule will be used, bloc vote or limited vote. That will depend on 1) the amount of money left after road repairs and 2) the costs (and therefore the number) of winning projects. Bloc voting tends to exclude minority interest groups from winning. So it has been ruled illegal in some federal voting-rights cases. Limited voting tends to be semi-proportional. But any group, even a majority, can lose everything if they divide their votes among too many proposals.

Six Equal Votes: Your sixth vote counts as much as your first choice.
So your sixth item might win by causing a more important choice to lose.
This leaves some voters feeling what they helped fund was not what they wanted most.
It motivates some to cast less than 6 votes, perhaps only 1.

Unequal Ballots: Worst of all, your 6 votes probably do not equal the cost or value of my 6 votes.
Six votes for low-cost items:
item   1     $15,000
item   2     $15,000
item   3     $25,000
item   8     $40,000
item 14     $40,000
item 16     $12,000
Low Sum $147,000
     Six votes for costly items:
item   5       $175,000
item   9       $130,000
item 11       $120,000
item 12       $120,000
item 13       $320,000
item 19       $145,000
High Sum  $1,010,000
This can motivate voters to vote for less efficient uses of money.
It can motivate leaders to seek a wider appeal by combining projects.

Our previous page showed the Chicago winners. And it showed that some losers got more votes per dollar than some winners — those losers were more cost effective at attracting support than the winners.

Ballot for Participatory Budgeting in Chicago


This year, you will be asked to vote on two separate ballot questions.

First, you will be asked to cast one (1) vote on the percentage of the 2011 49th Ward aldermanic menu budget that you believe should be devoted exclusively to street resurfacing. The average of all the votes cast on this question will determine the percentage of the menu budget that will be allocated to street resurfacing.

Second, you will be asked to vote on how the remainder of the 2011 49th Ward menu money should be allocated. You may vote for up to six (6) projects. Only one vote may be cast for each project - no weighted voting. Ballots marked with more than 6 votes are invalid and will be voided. All 49th Ward residents, age 16 and over are eligible to vote.


Mark boxes clearly with an "X" or check mark, or fully shade them in, with black or blue ink. No ballots marked in pencil will be accepted.

Participatory Budgeting is a big improvement over the old ways of finding and selecting local projects worth funding. The Chicago results would have been better if the same ballots went through a cost-aware tally. The cost-aware tallies using these bloc-vote ballots is just one of several steps toward the really efficient use of money that they could get through fair-share spending.

Notes about fair-shares. Notes about fair-shares

español Chinese

Search Accurate Democracy