Brief

Pivot is a web application currently under development that aims to provide legislators with the most fair and democratic way to vote on and prioritize budget items. Once completed, we hope the first legislature to use Pivot will be the Common Council of Madison, Wisconsin.

Impetus

At present, the Madison council debates and votes on budget items serially (in the order presented by the chair) until the budget is depleted - at which point any projects not yet voted on are precluded from the budget without a vote. Madison’s budgeting process is similar to that of many other governing bodies, and is problematic because the order in which items are voted on plays a significant role in the final budgets, potentially causing less popular projects presented earlier in the proceedings to be adopted over more popular ones listed nearer the end.

Solution

Mathematicians and philosophers have found solutions for many of the problems posed by common voting systems. In particular Nicolaus Tideman's ranked pairs voting system offers distinct advantages over standard voting practices on ballots where voters have multiple candidates to choose from, and where there may be more than one winner.

Pivot uses Tideman's Ranked Pairs voting system to determine an ideal sequence for which to vote on budget items, based on the popular priorities of voters. Members of a legislative body cast ballots - like that shown below - listing budget items in their preferred order of priority.

Select your 1st choice
  1. Paterson Street Operations Center Remodel project
    (-$350,000)
  2. Amendment for repairs at the Village on Park
    (-$72,928)
  3. Pump Station Improvement
    (-$150,000)
  4. Approve RFP and 1-year seed-funding for Participatory Budgeting experiment
    (-$267,000)
  5. Amendment to Buckeye Road project.
    (-$65,000)
  6. Water Utility’s Facility Improvements capital program
    (-$83,000)
  7. East Johnson Street: Baldwin to 1st Street project
    (-$140,000)
  8. Amending for the renovation of the Park Edge Park Ridge Neighborhood Center.
    (-$200,000)
  9. Housing Cost Reduction Initiative (HCRI)
    (-$550,000)

Pivot then tallies all submitted ballots in order to produce a democratically selected list of items ordered by the popular priorities of the voters. Budget items can subsequently be voted on in the order presented by this list, which ensures that items are voted on in order of popular priority, rather than by the agenda established by the chair or other procedural entity.

By allowing legislatures to set their budget agendas by ranking budget items, they can collectively create budgets that fully exemplify their values.