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Optimized Distortion and Proportional Fairness in Voting

Soroush Ebadian, Anson Kahng, Dominik Peters and Nisarg Shah

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Abstract: A voting rule decides on a probability distribution over a set of m alternatives, based on rankings of those alternatives provided by agents. We assume that agents have cardinal utility functions over the alternatives, but voting rules have access to only the rankings induced by these utilities. We evaluate how well voting rules do on measures of social welfare and of proportional fairness, computed based on the hidden utility functions. In particular, we study the distortion of voting rules, which is a worst-case measure. It is an approximation ratio comparing the utilitarian social welfare of the optimum outcome to the social welfare produced by the outcome selected by the voting rule, in the worst case over possible input profiles and utility functions that are consistent with the input. The previous literature has studied distortion with unit-sum utility functions (which are normalized to sum to 1), and left a small asymptotic gap in the best possible distortion. Using tools from the theory of fair multi-winner elections, we propose the first voting rule which achieves the optimal distortion $\Theta(\sqrt{m})$ for unit-sum utilities. Our voting rule also achieves optimum $\Theta(\sqrt{m})$ distortion for a larger class of utilities, including unit-range and approval (0/1) utilities. We then take a worst-case approach to a quantitative measure of the fairness of a voting rule, called proportional fairness. Informally, it measures whether the influence of cohesive groups of agents on the voting outcome is proportional to the group size. We show that there is a voting rule which, without knowledge of the utilities, can achieve a $\Theta(\log m)$-approximation to proportional fairness, and thus also to Nash welfare and to the core, making it interesting for applications in participatory budgeting. For all three approximations, we show that $\Theta(\log m)$ is the best possible.

Date: 2022-05, Revised 2024-01
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cdm, nep-dem, nep-des, nep-pol and nep-upt
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