Voting with Limited Information and Many Alternatives

37 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2011

See all articles by Flavio Chierichetti

Flavio Chierichetti

Cornell University

Jon Kleinberg

Cornell University - Department of Computer Science

Date Written: October 8, 2011


The traditional axiomatic approach to voting is motivated by the problem of reconciling differences in subjective preferences. In contrast, a dominant line of work in the theory of voting over the past 15 years has considered a different kind of scenario, also fundamental to voting, in which there is a genuinely "best'' outcome that voters would agree on if they only had enough information. This type of scenario has its roots in the classical Condorcet Jury Theorem; it includes cases such as jurors in a criminal trial who all want to reach the correct verdict but disagree in their inferences from the available evidence, or a corporate board of directors who all want to improve the company's revenue, but who have different information that favors different options.

This style of voting leads to a natural set of questions: each voter has a private signal that provides probabilistic information about which option is best, and a central question is whether a simple plurality voting system, which tabulates votes for different options, can cause the group decision to arrive at the correct option. We show that plurality voting is powerful enough to achieve this: there is a way for voters to map their signals into votes for options in such a way that - with sufficiently many voters - the correct option receives the greatest number of votes with high probability. We show further, however, that any process for achieving this is inherently expensive in the number of voters it requires: succeeding in identifying the correct option with probability at least $1 - \eta$ requires $\Omega(n^3 \eps^{-2} \log \eta^{-1})$ voters, where $n$ is the number of options and $\eps$ is a distributional measure of the minimum difference between the options.

Suggested Citation

Chierichetti, Flavio and Kleinberg, Jon, Voting with Limited Information and Many Alternatives (October 8, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Flavio Chierichetti (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Jon Kleinberg

Cornell University - Department of Computer Science ( email )

4130 Upson Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-7501
United States

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