Voting Procedures for Complex Collective Decisions. An Epistemic Perspective

Ratio Juris 17 (2):241-258 (2004)
Abstract
Suppose a committee or a jury confronts a complex question, the answer to which requires attending to several sub-questions. Two different voting procedures can be used. On one, the committee members vote on each sub-question and the voting results are used as premises for the committee’s conclusion on the main issue. This premise-based procedure can be contrasted with the conclusion-based approach, which requires the members to directly vote on the conclusion, with the vote of each member being guided by her views on the relevant sub-questions. The two procedures are not equivalent: There may be a majority of voters supporting each of the premises, but if these majorities do not significantly overlap, there will be a majority against the conclusion. Pettit (2001) connects the choice between the two procedures with the discussion of deliberative democracy. The problem we want to examine instead concerns the relative advantages and disadvantages of the two procedures from the epistemic point of view. Which of them is better when it comes to tracking truth? As it turns out, the answer is not univocal. On the basis of Condorcet’s jury theorem, the premise-based procedure can be shown to be superior if the objective is reach truth for the right reasons, without making any mistakes on the way. However, if the goal instead is to reach truth for whatever reasons, right or wrong, there will be cases in which using the conclusion-based procedure turns out to be more reliable, even though, for the most part, the premise-based procedure will retain its superiority.
Keywords voting  discursive dilemma  Condorcet  jury theorem  truth-tracking  voting procedures  Philip Pettit
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