When Do Noisy Votes Reveal the Truth?

<p>A well-studied approach to the design of voting rules views them as maximum likelihood estimators; given votes that are seen as noisy estimates of a true ranking of the alternatives, the rule must reconstruct the most likely true ranking. We argue that this is too stringent a requirement, and instead ask: <em>How many</em> votes does a voting rule need to reconstruct the true ranking? We define the family of<em>pairwise-majority consistent rules</em>, and show that for all rules in this family the number of samples required from the Mallows noise model is logarithmic in the number of alternatives, and that no rule can do asymptotically better (while some rules like plurality do much worse). Taking a more normative point of view, we consider voting rules that surely return the true ranking as the number of samples tends to infinity (we call this property <em>accuracy in the limit</em>); this allows us to move to a higher level of abstraction. We study families of noise models that are parametrized by distance functions, and find voting rules that are accurate in the limit for all noise models in such general families. We characterize the distance functions that induce noise models for which pairwise-majority consistent rules are accurate in the limit, and provide a similar result for another novel family of <em>position-dominance consistent</em> rules. These characterizations capture three well-known distance functions.</p>