The American political system is in dire need of reform and elections are the essential institution where reform can bring better government. But while many election reform proposals focus on a fix that returns the country to a system like that envisioned by the founders, others have argued for a push towards more radical reform. A new movement is challenging the validity of the plurality voting system that is used across the world in favor of Approval Voting.
Support for this radical yet simple change in elections is growing strong, with Fargo, North Dakota becoming the first city in the US to adopt an approval voting system. The latest approval voting new comes from the Duluth News Tribune, a local newspaper in Minnesota:
For the past few months, a study group has been considering whether Duluth should adopt a new system that would allow residents to cast votes for multiple candidates vying for the same seat. But would-be supporters aren’t rushing ahead with the idea.
Charter commission member and former Duluth Mayor Don Ness, who led the study group, remains a big fan of the system called “approval voting,” yet he said the group won’t propose any change in the city’s election protocol for 2019.
The full article found here. According to the Center for Election Science, “Approval Voting is a voting method that allows voters to vote for any number of candidates. The candidate with the most votes wins. Approval Voting is most often discussed in the context of single-winner elections, but variations can also be applied to multi-winner “at large” elections.” Support for Approval Voting has exploded since the system was described by Guy Ottewell in 1976 and by Robert J. Weber, who is believed to have first coined the term “approval voting.” More work was published in 1978 by the famous American game theorist and political scientist Steven Brams and mathematician Peter Fishburn.
Guy Ottewell’s famous work on the subject has been widely cited in the growing election method reform community ever since. Some of Ottewell’s earliest arguments for Approval Voting in England remain valid today:
It is “a fact of political life”; it is “the voter’s dilemma.” Heads are shaken over it at almost every election. It is used: there are many instances in which one side has encouraged extra candidates to run on the other side, even “planted” them there, in order to divide that side. Or, conversely, a side “undivides”: Labour and the Liberal Democrats make a pact not to run against each other in certain constituencies, so that they each will have more chance of beating the Conservatives; this is called “tactical voting.” Because it is known and exploited, do we have to accept it?
Also, Ottwell argued for Approval Voting internationally pointing out the status of Approval Voting even at the time he was writing:
Approval voting was actually used in Massachusetts in the eighteenth century. Members of the United Nations Security Council are allowed to vote for more than one candidate for Secretary General. In a typical election for 12 members of a board, there are, say, 19 nominees and the instructions are to “Vote for up to 12”; and it is not clear that anything would be lost by letting voters vote for any number.
Recently, with the support of citizen led initiatives and the internet, Approval Voting is gaining support in new circles raising hope for progress among the passionate community of Approval Voting activists. Particularly noteworthy in the United States is the Center for Election Science, friends of Democracy Chronicles and major players in the Fargo campaign last year. Take a look at that video at the top of this article if you haven’t already.
Democracy Chronicles has also been lucky enough to have been part of the growing discussion. For some time, American Democracy Chronicles writer and election method activist Michael Ossipoff has written about Approval Voting from all angles including in a unique article where he introduced a table of properties and criteria for comparing election methods in “DC Exclusive: Table of Election Method Properties and Criteria“. Also take a look at his most recent article, “How America Can Upgrade to a Better Democracy“.
Approval Voting in Motion
Perhaps most importantly for Approval Voting, new proposals in local and state governments in the United States have been gaining unprecedented support from unique circles. The time to voice your opinion and get involved is clearly at hand.