Our current voting system, of course, is the “vote-for-1” method. Also called “Plurality”, or the “single mark method”. In our Plurality elections, we often hear people saying that they’re going to vote for someone they don’t really like, because he/she is the “lesser-of-two-evils”. They are essentially voting for someone they don’t like, and not voting for the people they really do like, because the people they like are perceived as unwinnable.
What do we get when we vote for people we don’t really like? We get something that we don’t like. Everyone complains about how all the viable politicians are corrupt and bought. Does it really make sense to believe corrupt and un-liked candidates to be more “viable”? How viable would they be if everyone could feel free to support candidates whom they actually like?
We’d be voting from hope, instead of just from fear and dismal, pessimistic resignation. And the results would reflect that. Voting, and its results, would become something positive. So how does this strange situation come about? What causes it? When you compromise in Plurality, for a “lesser-evil”, you’re saying, with your vote-support, that s/he is better than your favorite.
Plurality can be regarded as a point-rating system, but a funny one in which you’re only allowed to give a point to one candidate. You’re required to give 0 points to everyone else. Top rating to one, and bottom to everyone else. Those bottom-ratings that you must give to all but one are materially real, in the sense that you’re giving to those candidates zero points instead of 1, the lower of the two ratings levels–and thereby voting for them to lose. Note that it is not that Plurality only lets you rate one candidate. You’re rating them all but you’re required to rate all but one of them ‘at bottom’. That’s why I referred to Plurality as a ‘funny’ point-rating system.
Someone at the Electorama election-method forum recently said that Plurality doesn’t count enough information. But that isn’t true. Plurality counts plenty of information, but it’s mostly false information–all those compulsory zero ratings. When you say something because you have to, even if you don’t feel it, that’s falsity. It’s no exaggeration to say that Plurality forces falsification. It should hardly be surprising that this results in a lot of dissatisfaction with the results of that falsification.
Some defend Plurality by saying that, with it, we vote for our favorite. But millions of voters, when they need to “hold their nose” when insincerely helping someone they don’t like, over someone they do like, might not agree. If Plurality is supposed to have us voting for our favorites, then it is failing miserably. If Plurality assumes that we’re voting for our favorites, then Plurality is assuming wrong.
How to avoid this problem? Why not repeal the rule that makes Plurality so funny? Let people rate every candidate with a 1 or a 0. Rate every candidate as “Approved” or “Unapproved”. The candidate with the most “Approved” ratings wins. The result? Well, we’d be electing the most approved candidate, wouldn’t we. Who can criticize that? When everyone can support the candidate(s) they really like, instead of just a “lesser-evil”, that can only mean that we elect someone more liked.
Occasionally we hear a claim that Approval violates “1-person-1-vote”. But Approval is a points rating system. Every voter has the equal power to rate each candidate as approved or unapproved. 1 point or 0 points. If you approve more candidates, does that give you more power? Hardly. Say you approve all of the candidates. You thereby have zero influence on the election. And obviously, any ballot will be cancelled out by an oppositely-voted ballot.
Suppose you approve all of the candidates but one. I approve the candidate you didn’t approve, and not ones that you approved . My oppositely-voted ballot cancels yours out. You voted for nearly all of the candidates. I voted for only one. But I cancelled you out.
Some Advantages of Approval Voting
Approval is one of the few voting systems in which you never have any reason to not top-rate your favorite(s). For the first time, everyone would be able to fully support their favorites. That makes an Approval election into something positive and hopeful.
In a presidential straw-poll, using the Condorcet voting method, I’ve personally observed someone ranking compromises over their favorite. In Plurality and Condorcet, that can be the only way to maximally help the compromises against someone worse. But never in Approval. That suggests to me that many would feel a need to bury their favorites in Condorcet, as they do in Plurality. Never underestimate a voter’s need to help a compromise all that they can, even when that’s at the expense of their favorite.
I should add that, in Approval, not only does the voter never have any reason to not top-rate their favorite(s), but it is transparently obvious that that is so. If you have given 1 point to Compromise, and 0 points to Worse, then it’s obvious that also giving a point to Favorite won’t change the fact that you’ve fully helped Compromise against Worse.
Another thing, which really counts as a separate advantage: In Plurality, whether people compromise (as they seem so prone to do), or whether, instead, they all vote for someone they like, either way, their votes will be split between their various compromises or favorites. Suppose the progressives add up to at least a majority. That won’t do them any good in Plurality unless they can somehow guess or organize exactly which candidate they’ll combine their votes on. That is especially a reason why voters now let the media lead them by the nose.
That wouldn’t be a problem in Approval, where each person is approving a set of candidates. It would no longer be necessary to guess where everyone else will combine their votes.
Approval , as I said, is the minimal change that gets rid of Plurality’s ridiculous problem. There won’t be any question about whether that’s an improvement. When Plurality’s falsification problem is discussed, Plurality’s inexplicable problem-causing rule, then anyone trying to claim that that problem should be kept will be arguing an indefensible position, and will be seen by all for what he is. I’m not saying that desperate arguments for keeping Plurality’s problem won’t be made. I’m saying that they won’t work.
In contrast, when anything more complicated than Approval is proposed, opponents, media pundits and commentators, magazine writers, politicians, and some hired academic authorities will point out that it could have unforeseen and undesired consequences. They’ll take advantage of the fact that the public can’t predict all of the method’s consequences.
They’ll point out that the method could cause disaster, because we don’t know what it would do. Sure, we voting system reform advocates all agree that Condorcet is better than Plurality. But the public won’t know that. Authorities and pundits will say “It needs a lot more study”, and it will most likely never happen.
That objection won’t work against Approval, because Approval is so elegantly simple and transparent. Approval has a unique optimization. All of the Approval strategies (which I’ll get to in a minute) amount to approving all of the candidates who are better than what you expect from the election. That means that the winner will be the candidate who is better-than-expectation for the most voters. That’s the candidate whose win will pleasantly surprise the most voters.
Anyway, it’s obvious that electing the candidate to whom the most people have given approval is, itself, a valuable optimization.
Problems With Our Current Voting System: Strategy in Approval Voting
Experience with the several interesting and instructive presidential mock-elections that we’ve conducted at the election-methods mailing list suggests to me that, in an Approval election, people will typically just know whom they want to approve. People will have an unmistakable intuitive feel for whom they want to approve. For instance, you likely will approve all the candidates whom you like, or who deserve your support. You’ll know who they are.
The suggestions below are just for when you don’t have a feel for whom to approve:
First, you can just approve the candidate you’d vote if it were a Plurality election, and also for everyone whom you like better than him/her (including your favorite). That would be good enough. But Approval has strategy instructions that aren’t available for Plurality, because, for Plurality, they’d be too complicated to fully describe, and much more difficult to implement. So don’t let these suggestions make you think that Approval is more complicated. Approval’s strategy is incomparably simpler than that of Plurality.
If there are unacceptable candidates who could win, then approve all of the acceptables, and none of the unacceptables. If there are no unacceptable candidates who could win, and if you have no predictive information or feel about winnability, then Approve all of the above-mean (above average) candidates.
If neither of the above two paragraphs applies, then Approve all of the candidates who are better than what you expect from the election. Oneway to judge that directly would be to ask yourself: “Would I rather appoint him/her to office than hold the election?” If so, then approve him/her. But, because we don’t have the power to appoint officeholders, we might not have a good feel for that judgment. A better question would be:
Is s/he better than what I expect? Do I expect less? If so, then approve him/her.
In other words, vote optimistically. In fact, even if that person is right at the merit-level that you expect from the election, then approve that person if you like them. Why does that maximize your expectation? Because, when (by approving him/her) you improve the win-probability of someone who is better than your expectation, that will raise your statistical expectation. All of the Approval strategy suggestions are special cases of the rule just given. For example, maybe you have a feel for who the top-two vote-getters will be. Then, of course, approve the better of those two, and everyone who is better still.
But I hasten to emphasize that the candidates who you might expect to be frontrunners in Plurality are very unlikely to be the frontrunners in Approval. Never let anyone tell you who the frontrunners will be.