A Natural Adaptive Process for Collective Decision-Making

With F. Brandt
Working paper (April 2022)

Consider an urn filled with balls, each labeled with one of several possible collective decisions. Now, draw two balls from the urn, let a random voter pick her more preferred as the collective decision, relabel the losing ball with the collective decision, put both balls back into the urn, and repeat. In order to prevent the permanent disappearance of some types of balls, once in a while, a randomly drawn ball is relabeled with a random collective decision. We prove that the empirical distribution of collective decisions converges towards a maximal lottery, a celebrated probabilistic voting rule proposed by Peter C. Fishburn (Rev. Econ. Stud., 51(4), 1984). In fact, the probability that the collective decision in round n is made according to a maximal lottery increases exponentially in n. The proposed procedure is more flexible than traditional voting rules and bears strong similarities to natural processes studied in biology, physics, and chemistry as well as algorithms proposed in machine learning.