Friday, April 8, 2011

Voting theory in medieval times

"Blanquerna" is a 13th century Catalan novel by Ramon Lull. The protagonist Natana renounces her possessions and enters a nunnery. When it is time to choose a new Abbess, Natana has a suggestion: she tells the twenty sisters that they should first select electors, who would compare candidates with each other according to four conditions, namely:
- which of them best loves and knows God,
- which of them best loves and knows the virtues,
- which of them knows and hates most strongly the vices, and
- which is the most suitable person.
The electors should compare the candidates two by two, and, for each pair, determine which they judge to be better. In the case of 9 candidates, 36 compartments will be produced in which the votes for each candidate will appear. The candidate to be elected should be "the one with the most votes in the most compartments."

The phrase is somewhat ambiguous, but another work by the same author, "Artifitium electionis personarum" (which was discovered in 2001) is more explicit: first create a matrix for pairwise comparisons of candidates. Then, "each elector shall respond and choose the one that seems best to him. One mark shall be made against the letter representing the person who has received more votes. This mark is made against that letter wherever it appears in various places [in the vote matrix]."

Of course, one has to worry about ties. Indeed, "one of the sisters asked her: "If it turns out that some candidates have as many votes as each other in the compartment, what procedure does the art recommend?" Natana replied: "The art recommends that these two or three be judged according to art alone. It should be found out which of these best meet the four aforementioned conditions, for she will be the one who is worthy to be elected.""

(Gathered from reading "Voting in the Medieval Papacy and Religious Orders", by Iain McLean and Haidee Lorrey)

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