Lang Waters: Approval voting — Think bigger than two
June 25, 2018
No one disputes the coarsening and polarization of our culture. People are busy "resisting" or "making America great" or they're convinced nothing can save us and ignore it all.
There was a time when we spoke with each other and remembered that even if we disagreed, we believed that our opponent was well intentioned, not out to destroy us.
The reasons for polarization are many, but one can argue that the polarization we're seeing is an inevitable result of the two-party system. Most other developed democracies in the world have some form of proportional representation. The fact that our franchise must be shoehorned into one of two choices has led to all sorts of dysfunction, but the most obvious is that the candidates that we end up with, particularly at the national level, are caricatures — they don't truly represent anything but moneyed interests and exaggerated generalities. What can be done?
There's nothing in the Constitution about a two-party system, it's a system that has developed organically and that we take as a given. The two-party system has become so rigid that it's destroying us.
Most of us have experienced an election where we preferred one candidate, but we knew that if we voted for that person we would split the vote on our side and end up contributing to the election of our opponent. It goes something like this: I approve of Mr. Rose, but I approve of Mrs. Red even more. I'd really like to see Mrs. Red win the election over the major opponent, Mr. Blue. Unfortunately, Mrs. Red does not have the full support of the party (or Mrs. Red belongs to a third party), but is on the same side of the fence as Mr. Rose.
Come election day I have to make a very difficult choice. If I vote for Mrs. Red, I take away votes from Mr. Rose, but either one of them would be better than Mr. Blue. I cast a vote that I justify as voting my conscience. I vote for Mrs. Red. The votes are tallied and 20 percent of the votes are for Mrs. Red, 35 percent of the votes are for Mr. Rose, 40 percent of the votes are for Mr. Blue and 5 percent of the votes are for Other.
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The unconscionable Mr. Blue has won, in spite of the fact that he has less than 50 percent of the votes, and that it is most likely that people that voted for Mrs. Red would prefer to have Mr. Rose than Mr. Blue. There's roughly 55 percent of the electorate that would approve of Mr. Rose over Mr. Blue, yet Mr. Blue has won the election with 40 percent.
What can be done to better represent The People's many different view points? Many kinds of election reform are called for, but the single reform that we can take to have the strongest impact is to adopt Approval Voting.
Right now we vote for the one candidate that we want to win. The votes are tallied and the person with the most votes wins. Approval Voting is also extremely simple; people vote for as many different candidates as they like, but they can't vote for any single candidate more than once. You can vote for Mrs. Red and Mr. Rose. Count up the votes and the person with the most votes wins. It's a simple voting method that greatly changes outcomes. No longer do you need to make a tactical vote, no longer does voting for the person you like the most hurt you because Approval Voting eliminates spoilers. You can vote for all of the candidates that you approve of and the candidate with the highest level of approval throughout the electorate wins. The benefits of approval voting include:
Easy to understand.
Simpler than "Instant Runoff Voting," another popular election reform idea.
Does not require that ballots change significantly, low cost to implement.
Strengthens third parties, makes them viable.
Results in the election of the strongest candidate with the highest approval.
Better measure of real support.
A similar, but more complicated voting reform called Instant Runoff Voting was adopted by Maine this year. It also eliminates spoilers and increases voter expression, but requires a bigger change to existing election systems and incurs more cost.
The single best outcome of Approval Voting is the increase in voter expression and satisfaction. Approval Voting isn't a panacea, but it's a simple reform with a potentially huge impact. The two major parties will resist this reform with all of their might.
Support election reform and Approval Voting. We should be able to vote for everyone we approve. Think bigger than two.
Lang Waters lives in Nevada City.