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How Would Balanced Voting Help?

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After forty articles or more on the topic and other efforts underway to promote it, balanced voting still remains a widely unfamiliar concept, so the innocent sounding question in the title suggests first answering the more fundamental question, What is Balanced Voting?

Image Deleted Because Wiki Page Empty or Removed ImageBalanced Voting describes not a single specific voting system; it is a property shared by many different voting systems, all of which encourage elections with several competing candidates. This happens not by way of any special treatment for minor party or independent candidates, however. The benefit of balanced voting systems is that they reduce or eliminate an unfair advantage that other voting systems provide for very large political parties.

A voting system is balanced if it makes it just as easy for a voter to show opposition as to show support for a candidate. In this article, we will describe two balanced voting systems in a way that illustrates how a traditional voting system can generally be transformed into a balanced one.

Plurality Voting (PV) is the familiar system we nearly always use in our elections. The PV voter is asked to cast a vote for exactly one candidate; the candidate who receives the most supporting votes is declared the winner. The balanced version of this system still limits a voter to expressing an opinion about only one candidate, but the voter is given the option to express either support or opposition to that chosen candidate. We call this the Balanced Plurality Voting (BPV) system, where the candidate with the largest net vote (with net vote defined as the number of votes opposing subtracted from the number of votes supporting the candidate) is declared the winner.

A switch from PV to BPV could open up the prospect of a win by a minor party or independent candidate. What would be needed is enough major-party voters choosing to vote opposition rather than in support. While there is no guarantee that this would happen in any given election, surely it would occur in some elections.

Our second example is based on Approval Voting (AV) rather than on PV. An AV voter is not restricted to choosing just one candidate but instead is invited to indicate any number of candidates the voter chooses to support. In much the same way as with PV, we can transform AV into a balanced system. The balanced version of this system, Balanced Approval Voting (BAV), allows a voter, for any number of candidates, the choice of specifying either support or opposition. A typical BAV voter may decide to indicate support for one or more candidates and perhaps opposition to some others but not express an opinion about several remaining candidates. Counting of BAV ballots is much the same as for BPV except that each voter may contribute multiple votes, some in support, some in opposition while contributing no opinion about the others.

These are only two of many possible balanced voting systems, but BAV is an especially interesting example that demonstrates so clearly how a two-party duopoly, such as between Republicans and Democrats would would quickly and surely deteriorate. So long as the two major parties are of roughly the same size (as a polarized electorate naturally tend to be), each of the major party candidates will be reduced to roughly a zero net vote. The Republican candidate, for example, with BAV, will receive roughly the same number of opposition votes (from Democrats) as support votes (from Republicans); for the same reason, the Democratic candidate will likewise receive only a quite small net vote count. With the improved flexibility that BAV voter, election of one of the two major-party candidates will no longer be certain. With the adoption of BAV, the very notion of the other party would likely become a confusing and obsolete concept.

By ignoring opposition and counting only support, PV, AV and so many other voting systems actually promote polarization. In contrast, the adoption of BAV so clearly makes such a polarized electorate unstable and ultimately unsustainable. Under BAV, the big-party candidates become vulnerable to viable competition from any candidate who manages to build significantly more support than opposition among voters. As a bonus, the divisive tactics of politicians (such as costly negative advertising) that generate enemies along with friends will tend to backfire.

BAV is not faultless, however. Ironically a potential difficulty with BAV accompanies its greatest virtue. Adoption of BAV will naturally lead to elections with several candidates in active competition and as a result there is a danger that the candidates might grow excessively. There are, however, a couple other balanced systems that are designed to manage even in such an eventuality.

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Attended college thanks to the generous state support of education in 1960's America. Earned a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Illinois followed by post doctoral research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. (more...)

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