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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/27/19

Approval Voting, the Easiest Reform of All

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Once upon a time, the Green Party had a celebrity candidate at the top of its ticket. That same year, the Democrats ran Al Gore, Mr. Global Warming. The People had two small-g green candidates to choose from. As a result, the Republican oil man won.

Oops!

Such is the problem of First Past the Post voting systems.

Interestingly, we could have avoided the problem without changing the ballots at all! All that was needed was a change in how the ballots were counted.

Think of the Florida recount nightmare. Many voters voted for both Al Gore and Ralph Nader. Their ballots were thrown out.

What if we had counted those ballots for both Al Gore and Ralph Nader? The result would be Approval Voting, the simplest voting reform of all.

Switching the counting process to Approval Voting after the election was held in 2000 would have indeed been unfair. But we could use Approval Voting for future elections with very little change in the infrastructure. For my online poll it was simply a matter of replacing radio buttons with checkboxes:

Online Approval Vote Ballot
Online Approval Vote Ballot
(Image by Carl Milsted)
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For a paper ballot you could simply allow people to fill in more than one dot. This would require zero change to the ballots! The only change would be the procedure used for counting the ballots.

That said, I would change the ballot for security purposes. One problem with the above is that someone wanting to tamper with ballots could fill in more dots with no way to catch the tampering. A simple fix would be to require that voters check either Approve or Disapprove for all candidates:

Tamper evident paper Approval Vote ballot
Tamper evident paper Approval Vote ballot
(Image by Carl Milsted)
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Another possibility would be to keep the simple ballot but have the counting machine print a count of the number of dots filled and allow the voter to verify.

Paper Approval Vote ballot with checksum
Paper Approval Vote ballot with checksum
(Image by Carl Milsted)
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This would require more significant infrastructure change, but the technology is still very simple!

Fixing the Clone Problem

With Plurality Voting, "clone" candidates can hurt their own cause by splitting the vote. (This is one reason why our system needs political parties.) Approval Voting fixes this problem perfectly. If you like two candidates equally, vote for both.

What Approval Voting doesn't do is handle near clones. What if you like Gore a bit more than Nader, or vice versa? There is no way to voice this choice.

Those who have a significant issue with some difference between Gore and Nader could vote for one or the other. However, to do so would require that significance be as great as the difference between either of these candidates and George W. Bush. In effect, we get the inverse of the Lesser of Two Evils Dilemma.

There are other, more complicated, voting systems which allow people to make more fine grained distinctions between candidates. I'll get to those in future posts. But let us look at a scenario where the simplicity of Approval Voting truly rocks.

Building Consensus in a Parliamentary Situation

Complicated voting systems require paper ballots or electronic counts unless the number of voters is very small such as in a small committee. Approval Voting can work in any body where head counting is possible, including a sizeable convention setting.

Approval Voting is even simpler than the procedures in Robert's Rules of Order.

Under Robert's Rules of Order the body can consider only one version of a motion at a time. A main motion comes to the floor. Someone proposes an amendment and gets a second. Now all discussion of the main motion stops and all discussion has to be on the amendment. Worse yet, people who intend to vote against the main motion even if amended get to vote on the amendment. This can create perverse voting patterns where gamers of the system can try to make the main motion worse in order to kill it.

Instead of voting on an amendment and then on the main motion, let the body do an Approval Vote on both versions of the motion at the same time. The version which gets the most approval wins. (Or they all fail if none get a majority or required supermajority.)

You still need to get the number of variations down to a reasonable number of course. This could be done by increasing the number of required seconds. Using Open Space Technology to generate the variants is another interesting possibility.

A Plan of Action

Changing the voting system at the government level is hard. You need to build familiarity and consensus first. I see two manageable routes for building familiarity:

1. Use Approval Voting for political polls. (That's what I am currently doing. By the way, I reset the count because I had to add some candidates to the Republican and Libertarian sides as well as remove some dropped out candidates for the Democratic side. Please retake! And tell your friends about it.)

2. Use Approval Voting for committees, unions, and social clubs. You can work for world peace at the hyper local level by giving people the experience of better voting systems. You can also make your respective organizations work more harmoniously.

 

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Carl Milsted Jr. Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Carl Milsted is a physicist by day and dabbles in economics and political activism in his spare time. For a quarter century he was a member of the Libertarian Party, but has since realized that narrowing the wealth gap and preserving the (more...)
 

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Carl Milsted Jr.

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Please note that my choice of candidates to put on the short sample ballots above was meant partially in jest.

Submitted on Sunday, Oct 27, 2019 at 5:26:09 PM

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Meryl Ann Butler

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Reply to Carl Milsted Jr.:   New Content

well, yeah, because isn't Vermin Supreme and Donald Trump the same candidate?

Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 1:09:11 AM

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Maxwell

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Reply to Carl Milsted Jr.:   New Content

Maybe, but except for Vermin Supreme it looks pretty plausible. You didn't account for that Russian tool Tulsi Gabbard running a third party candidacy though. Instead you assume either Warren or Biden (depending on who loses the primary) does. I don't think either of them would (for that matter, seriously, Gabbard wouldn't either). Weld very likely would (and maybe will) because he doesn't want to see Trump reelected any more than I do. But his third party run last time, with Garry Johnson, didn't move the needle. But if Trump loses by a whisker maybe he will be the Republican boogeyman.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 1:28:14 PM

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June Genis

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Yes, Approval Voting is easy to implement but it is also easy to game. Anyone you approve of besides the person you really want to win increases the chance that the other person will win rather than your first choice.

This is not true with Ranked Choice voting as your secondary choices only come into play if your first choice i eliminated. RCV, at least on the scale of a government election, does require the use of a computer to obtain timely results but it is still possible to hand count. RCV eliminates the spoiler effect while also ensuring that the winner is elected by a true majority. Most new voting equipment being purchased today can handle at least 3 rankings, some can do quite a few more.

Submitted on Sunday, Oct 27, 2019 at 7:22:52 PM

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Carl Milsted Jr.

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Reply to June Genis:   New Content

Indeed, Approval Voting is imperfect! But unlike Plurality Voting, it ALWAYS pays to approve of your favorite. An Approval Vote where everyone games it as such becomes an honest Plurality Vote.


Back in 2000, some Naderites may well have approved only Nader. And many more Gore fans would have voted Gore only.

However, a great many Naderites who in practice voted for Gore would have voted for both under Approval Voting.

(Approval Voting is not my favorite system. But neither is Ranked Choice. We will get to my favorite, next article in this series...)

Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 12:35:44 AM

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Jill Herendeen

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Picky point: W. "won" in 2000 due NOT to the Green Party splitting the Democrats (however much Those In Charge wish for us to believe that) but due to electronic vote-flipping. Watch the 1 hour 21 minute documentary "Hacking Democracy" on youtube.

Submitted on Sunday, Oct 27, 2019 at 10:00:00 PM

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Reply to Jill Herendeen:   New Content

You may be right -- or not. I don't know.


But I DO know that I want paper ballots just in case you are!



Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 12:37:49 AM

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Reply to Jill Herendeen:   New Content

When the margin is razor thin, it's easy to blame any one thing. Many people who blame Nader are still sticking to their guns.

The fact is Bush v. Gore was awarded by the SCOTUS. It's now established if they hadn't stopped the Florida recount to avert a "constitutional crisis" Gore would have won. It was a clear sign the SCOTUS isn't as politically independent as they would have us believe.

Due to the "bottom up" nature of voting, where each voting system is largely up to the county and the state (my state was still using the ancient mechanical levers behind a curtain, as opaque as electronic voting but totally immune to electronic flipping) it's very unlikely electronic flipping could account for more than a small difference. And without a proper chain of custody and audits, a paper ballot box is as hackable as anything else.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 1:16:59 PM

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Reply to Jill Herendeen:   New Content

When the margin is razor thin, it's easy to blame any one thing. Many people who blame Nader are still sticking to their guns.

The fact is Bush v. Gore was awarded by the SCOTUS. It's now established if they hadn't stopped the Florida recount to avert a "constitutional crisis" Gore would have won. It was a clear sign the SCOTUS isn't as politically independent as they would have us believe.

Due to the "bottom up" nature of voting, where each voting system is largely up to the county and the state (my state was still using the ancient mechanical levers behind a curtain, as opaque as electronic voting but totally immune to electronic flipping) it's very unlikely electronic flipping could account for more than a small difference. And without a proper chain of custody and audits, a paper ballot box is as hackable as anything else.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 1:19:49 PM

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I wish Independent Mark Charles had been on the list ;-)

Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 1:11:24 AM

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Reply to Meryl Ann Butler:   New Content

Would it be good to start a parallel vote (or a morphing of the present vote) including all viable candidates for the presidency irrespective of party registration as in the primaries? This would give voters the option of voting for independents, write ins, or other third party candidates who are not involved in the primary process, like the Green Party candidates who were featured in the beginning of this article, as well as enfranchising voters in states that do not have primaries for their party.

I realize this would not be a random population sample, but would give a more complete idea of what OpEdNews readers are thinking and feeling, as well as being a demonstration of alternative voting systems.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 6:12:49 PM

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Somebody (Kenneth Arrow) proved mathematically that it's impossible to construct a system of three or more choices that infallibly selects the most preferred one, called "Arrow's Impossibility Theorem". Due to my great faith in mathematics and logic, I accept the "lesser evil dilemma" as a fact of life.

You're never going to find a candidate that ticks all the boxes for you and has no evil attributes. Even if you did, chances are at least one of your boxes would be evil for me. All of us have to vote as we see fit, either pragmatically or as our ideals dictate, or some combination.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 1:37:14 PM

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Reply to Maxwell:   New Content

Arrow's Theorm refers to methods of counting Ranked Choice ballots. Approval is not Ranked Choice.


Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 2:26:46 PM

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How about ISSUE Voting?

Ask some Yes/No questions then match the answers with positions of the candidates. This way voting will not be based on popular images but on basic principles.

For example:

Do you approve of private corporate influence in public regulatory agencies?

Do you approve of health insurers investing Billions in Health Damaging industries?

Do you approve of providing health care for all at a lower over-all cost than the current system which does not cover all?

Etc....

Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 10:41:38 PM

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Reply to John Jonik:   New Content

iSideWith does this.


Not an adequate system for voting for candidates. There be questions of character, charisma, experience, commitment, etc.


Just because a candidate says s/he is for a particular position does not mean s/he will follow through. After all, Reagan said he was for deficit reduction...

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 29, 2019 at 2:38:41 AM

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Reply to Carl Milsted Jr.:   New Content

True enough....but it might be a good thing to see what The People want...and create a way that those wants are pursued. But....surely a candidate's record in supporting the good things can be part of this.

Did Reagan support deficit reduction earlier on? How many voted for him based on his claims?

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 29, 2019 at 3:38:51 AM

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Carl Milsted Jr.

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Reagan criticized Carter heavily for the deficits under his watch. Reagan also promised major cuts in domestic spending which did not happen. What he proposed to Congress was far less than what he was talking about on the campaign trail.


There were two campaigns calling for major cuts in government in 1980. Which campaign should have been awarded the support of those who wanted less domestic programs?

(The other campaign, by the way, was Ed Crane/David Koch. Of course, that campaign was also calling for legal gay marriage, pulling out of NATO, and legalizing recreational drugs. This was not a clone ticket.)


Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 29, 2019 at 3:00:36 PM

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