Approval Voting


Approval Voting:

Approval voting is the simplest voting method out there. Voters vote for any and all candidates they support in the race, and the candidate who receives the most votes wins. When an Approval voting primary is followed by a Top-2 runoff, the system yields top-tier highly representative results. 


Approval Advantages:

  • Simplicity. An Approval ballot can look the same as a traditional ballot if desired, and Approval is tallied the exact same way, by adding up the votes. 
  • It's always safe to vote for your honest favorite. 
  • Prevents vote-splitting by allowing voters to support all the candidates on their side, while ensuring that each vote is equally weighted.
  • Significantly more fair and accurate than the traditional Choose-One-Only Plurality method used in most of the world. With expected voting behavior, Approval outperforms the Instant Runoff (Ranked Choice) method in terms of electing the most representative winner, especially in larger fields of candidates or competitive elections. 
  • There is essentially no way to mess up, void, or spoil your ballot. 
  • Promotes consensus politics and positive campaigning and combats polarization.
  • Approval Voting can be used for single-winner or multi-winner elections and can be adapted for proportional representation.
  • Approval Voting, unlike some other methods like Instant Runoff (Ranked Choice) Voting, is highly compatible with most existing state and municipal election codes.

Approval Disadvantages:

  • Voters may be unsure which candidates they should approve, how many they should approve, and if they need to be strategic with their vote to get the best outcome. The best strategy is to approve your favorite and any other candidates who you think are acceptable, while making sure to including at least one front-runner on your side. 
  • There is no way to show you prefer your true favorite over a lesser-evil candidate, especially if you aren't sure your favorite can win. 
  • Voters whose favorite is one of the front-runners may have little incentive to approve others on their side. If this behavior was widespread, it could give candidates who are seen as more electable an advantage.
  • An unsupervised poll worker could potentially fill in extra bubbles before scanning a ballot and it would be undetectable, even on a large number of ballots. Of course, poll workers should never be left alone with ballots, but it's worth noting that extra precautions would be warranted. A potential solution to this would be to have both a Yes and a No column on the ballot as shown above. 

The case for Approval:

Approval voting fills a unique and important role in the voting reform space. For people who are currently using the traditional Choose-One Plurality voting system, or a Choose-One primary election paired with a Top-2 runoff, there's no reason not to just switch over to Approval voting right now. The logistical changes needed are extremely minimal and Approval yields clear and significant benefits. For these reasons alone, there's a good argument to be made that Approval voting should be the default voting method, particularly in cases where there isn't much energy to tackle a more substantial reform.

Once Approval voting has been adopted, there's a good case to be made to upgrade further, and because it doesn't require switching to either a ranked or a star voting ballot, there's no reason a jurisdiction couldn't take their time researching both ballot types and then make a well-researched decision down the line once the voters are more informed.

Furthermore, Approval voting makes a good stepping stone. Because it is very transparent, voters will understand exactly what it does and does not offer. Once voters are aware that vote-splitting isn't a necessary evil, and once voters are aware that there are other options on the table, we trust that people will want to upgrade to a top-shelf voting method in time. A good stepping stone is easy to get to, is stable and safe in its own right, and is on the way to the next step. 

Don't get us wrong, we believe that the amount of work to get people educated about a reform, adopt it, and then implement it well is not to be underestimated, even for Approval voting. In many cases it may be quicker and easier to just switch directly from the traditional Choose-One voting method to something top of the line like STAR voting, but we understand that there may be some cases where that's unrealistic. 

The bottom line is that we need to stop using Choose-One voting as fast as possible and take major steps in the right direction now. Approval voting is an important arrow in the quiver.