IMPROVING THE VOTING METHOD
There are many cases where our current Choose-One voting method is not doing a good job. The Choose-One method, which is sometimes called the Plurality method, works fine when just two candidates are running, but fails terribly when three or more people are running for office. The person elected is determined by the random mix of candidates instead of the will of the people. This happens multiple ways:
Through a process called spoiling, a candidate without a chance of winning can switch the outcome of an election. This effect occurs often, but the recent, visible case of spoiling was the election of George Bush in 2000 when Ralph Nader took 2% of the vote.
Through a process called vote splitting, weak candidates can be elected. This occurs often, but a visible example was the election of Richard Nixon in 1968. The fear of vote splitting is always with us and it stops viable candidates from entering races.
The processes of vote splitting and spoiling are so well known that they affect every aspect of our democracy.
The major parties can’t support new candidates in their own party if the candidates might serve as spoilers or splitters and throw the election to the other main party. This is why incumbents are re-elected 85% of the time and why the average age of the congress is over 60 years.
Third parties are marginalized because people are afraid they will serve as spoilers or splitters. Without third parties, new ideas and new leaders have difficulty getting heard
With the Choose-One voting method, the only way to get a vote is to take it away from someone else. This means candidates emphasize their differences instead of their similarities. The resultant polarization in our country springs from this effect.
The vote-splitting problem allows a vocal minority to control an election. This is how George Wallace voters handed the election to Richard Nixon. A strong argument can be made that Donald Trump won the Republican primaries through vote splitting.
The simple and effective solution to these problems is to convert to Approval Voting. Approval Voting lets voters indicate all the candidates they approve of, instead of just one. For instance, they can approve of both Al Gore and Ralph Nader. The winner is the one with the most approvals. Vote splitting and spoiling problems are eliminated with no additional complexity. The ballot looks the same as our current ballot, but the words “Vote for one” are replaced with “Vote for all you approve of”. With Approval Voting, political polarization is reduced and new ideas get a chance to be heard. Even candidates that “lose” get an indication of how much support they have. Candidates can emphasize the things they have in common because voters don’t have to pick just one.
Approval Voting doesn’t require primary elections, but voters can still decide to have them. Primaries take extra effort, but allow the voters time to learn about the candidates. Vote splitting in the primary election can be avoided by allowing more than two candidates to advance to the general election.
Approval Voting has been well studied by political scientists. With all its advantages, it is free to implement. It can even reduce election costs if voters decide they don’t want primary elections. Primaries are optional with Approval Voting and probably not needed for many local elections.
For all of these reasons, I endorse Approval Voting.
Below are other examples of elections that could be improved with Approval Voting.
About half of the voters in St. Louis identify as African-American. In 2017, a vote split determined the new mayor. In 2020, St. Louis switched to Approval Voting. In the 2021 mayoral election, under Approval Voting, Tishaura Jones won with 57% voter approval.
In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt got angry with his own Republican party and its candidate, incumbent Howard Taft. He formed his own party and ran for president against Taft. He beat Taft, but the progressive vote split and allowed the Southern Democrat Wilson to be elected.
Vote splits determine local elections, as well as presidential elections. In Santa Clara county in 2020, 10 of the 12 races with three or more candidates were decided by vote splits. Here are the results of the Sunnyvale mayors race.