Tilting the Vocal Scales: One Loud Voice > 40

voice-vote-illus-2-640There exist a few situations in which taking a voice vote of “yay” or “nay” makes a lot of sense. If there’s only a handful of voting members, the common parliamentary procedure can expedite the voting process. The same goes for motions that have a clear and overwhelming majority.

It would seem obvious to me, however, that taking a vocal vote with some thousands of people present on an issue that is just on the cusp of being passed or defeated is an absolutely horrendous idea. Not so, apparently, to the Democratic National Convention.

In the video above, taken from the 2012, the large crowd is asked whether the party should reinsert the phrases “God-given talents” and “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of the State of Israel” into the party’s platform document. The voice vote is so divided, that the question is repeated three times before Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa names a winner—some say erroneously.

Clearly this is a terrible way to do things when a two-thirds majority is required and it’s not anywhere remotely close to unanimous. One researcher from the University of Iowa, however, wondered just how awful of an idea it was.

Ingo Titze, professor of communications sciences and disorders at Iowa, and Anil Palaparthi, a research engineer with the National Center for Voice and Speech in Utah, put together a voting body of 54 students in a large classroom with five judges blindfolded in the front. They then had the students slowly shift the number of “yays” to “nays” or had certain students start being more acoustically aggressive in their voting.

The surprising result was that a single emotional voter with a nice set of pipes could make a lot more of a difference than sheer number of voters alone. While it took at least two people shifting their vote for the judges to notice a difference, a single person raising the volume swayed the result.

The researchers calculate it would take at least 40 normal loudness voices to overcome the bias of a single loud vote, in order to establish roughly a two-thirds majority.

So, yeah, I’m thinking it might be worth the time to take actual tallies on things like a party’s platform on emotionally charged topics in the future.

The paper, “The accuracy of a voice vote,” was published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America by Titze and Palaparthi.

About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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