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I approve

I’m not a Democrat; nor am I a Republican. I fall somewhere more or less on the left side of the spectrum, if you insist on a single axis. I prefer a minimalistic government, but I believe that enlightened self-interest calls for more voluntary intervention than your average libertarian advocates. I’m a capitalist. I think the optimal size of self-governed political units is fairly small.

So how do you get my vote in 2004? Easy. Come out in favor of approval voting.

The current majority vote system tends to reinforce the two major parties. In some ways, voting for a third party reduces the chances that a candidate you can stand will get elected. (That doesn’t make it the wrong thing to do; it just describes the practical effects of voting for a third party.) This disenfranchises those who could tolerate, say, a Democrat in office but who would prefer a Green President.

It’s pretty easy to see the problem here. Flip the situation around; say that we’d always had the Green Party and the Republican Party as our main political parties. You’re a liberal who vehemently disagrees with eliminating nuclear power plants or withdrawing from the WTO — but if you don’t vote Green, you’re helping the Republicans win. You aren’t well-represented, even though the Green platform is closer to your beliefs than the Republicans.

If there were no other way to run an election, maybe it’d be OK to grin and bear it. But there are other ways. I don’t particularly expect either the Democrats or Republicans to adopt them, because the net effect is to create an opening for other parties; however, that’s what it would take.

Approval voting is pretty simple. You vote for each candidate who you wouldn’t mind seeing elected. The candidate with the most votes wins. If you’d be OK with Perot or McCain, you vote yes for both of ‘em. There’s no need to let strategic voting obscure your preferences, and you can send a clearer message.

There are some quirky results possible with this system. If 60% of the voters prefer candidate A to any other candidate, but 70% of the voters find candidate B acceptable and only 65% of the voters find candidate A acceptable, then candidate B will win. It would be reasonable to feel that candidate A was getting a raw deal. However, candidate B is still clearly acceptable — so the maximum number of voters are happy.

Condorcet voting fixes that problem, but it’s a fair bit more difficult to describe, and being a realist I’m willing to take things one step at a time. Some improvement is better than no improvement.

Somehow, I expect that neither of the major party candidates will show any real interest in making it possible for third parties to accurately register the degree of their support. Funny, that.


  1. With my MBA finals coming up, not much time for blogging. However, I do have a couple of good sites I recommend – most in the blogosphere.

  2. still@av still@av

    I’m not sure any of the alternative voting methods
    would work (at least for most US elections). Most
    people don’t even know anything about parties
    other than Democratic or Republican because they
    don’t have enough money to advertise or promote
    themselves. Even "independent" campaign
    literature tends to bias towards major parties.

  3. Yeah, a third party isn’t viable because it doesn’t get enough money, and it doesn’t get enough money because it’s not viable. A different voting method would be a free way to at least let people register their discontent. Currently, the only way to register that discontent is to stay away from the polls, which unfortunately gets counted as “voter apathy.”

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