It seems that across the Progressive spectrum, support has been gathering to implement Rank Choice Voting (RCV); commonly believed to be the best way to weaken the political monopoly trust that the Democrats and Republicans use to share power between them. I seriously doubt the validity of that point of view, especially in statewide elections. Before I introduce all the reasons that RCV, or any of the other names it goes by, is a poor choice as a frontline fix, I would like to build the case for Approval Voting as a better alternative.
Approval Voting usually allows people to vote for any candidate on the ballot. Instead of voting the single person whom you want, you can vote for any candidate that you would feel comfortable in the job. My recommendation is that the number of votes cast be limited to a majority of the candidates, with any write-ins applying to that majority number. So, if there are 2 candidates, you can vote for up to two people. You could use all your votes on 2 write-ins, or 1 write in and 1 ballot candidate. You may even want to vote for both. If there are 7 candidates then you have up to 4 votes. Voting for more than 1 person up to the maximum is optional. No votes for an office including no write-ins is by default None of the Above.
What advantages does this method have? First and foremost, it is easy to count. Second, it is more likely to result in a majority victory in an election, unless the field is very large. By counting blank slates as NOTA, it encourages persons dissatisfied or not interested in a particular office to express that dissatisfaction. Write-ins are more likely to be counted, which expands democratic choice. NOTA votes being counted pushes some non-voters to the polls, since they can express their dissatisfaction and their non-vote counts. It makes voting into more than just a beauty pageant where many people place their vote for the most likely winner. There should be a process where NOTA wins. I suggest a do-over election where all ballot candidates are not allowed onto the do-over ballot. Write-ins have a choice to be on the do-over ballot, and other candidates could step up to run. Another NOTA win defaults to the governor or the legislature filling the seat. Any seat where NOTA wins three elections in a row, takes the position off the ballot until the legislature restores it. The primary objective here is to eliminate voting for dogcatcher or even lower on the totem pole, registrar of deeds. Last of all, each candidate runs independently but knows that they can earn a vote from an opponent’s base who has similar policy ideas strengthens the message from the electorate about popular agenda items.
The biggest plus for Approval Voting is its simplicity. It is only marginally more complicated than currently used Plurality voting and it lends itself to local hand counted tabulations. That is a huge advantage over RCV, which is not simple. Do you rank the person you most prefer #1, second most #2 and the least of all evil #3? Would it be better to vote the lesser evil #1, because #2 has no chance to win and #3 might have a better chance at #2 leaving your top choice at #3? Then there is the counting, it absolutely must occur at the highest step. In a city, for example, each precinct’s vote has to be handed up to the ward, subtotaled for each candidate’s ranks, then passed up to the city for final tabulation; so that the ranking “instant runoffs” can take place. Moreover, who would want to be one of the persons charged with walking through a hand count? I would say, human nature being what it is, that replicating any count results will be next to impossible. That means that all ballots must be totaled by machine, especially at state level elections. Let us not even contemplate a national Presidential election instead of the state-by-state elections we now have. Many of the proponents of RCV point out that it will empower 3rd parties to be able to win more elections. There is no forensic evidence to prove this point or the other that it forces candidates to run kinder, gentler campaigns. Two points that I pointed out about Approval voting, at the minimum balance of these two advantages claimed by RCV. Approval voting levels the playing field so that candidates are vying for votes, which all count equally, across similar voter demographics. It is not so much that you want your opponents’ voters to prefer you to her; you just want them to know that either way you both want similar things. The candidate competition is lessened, by the lack of preference. As regards 3rd Parties having a better chance at winning, possibly true, but it does little to advance the more democratic ideal of advancing ideas. A large number of votes but not a winning count, for a political outsider, shows that there is support for that person’s agenda. In the long term, more ideas punch their way into the mainstream.
There are a few changes to political rules to enhance the value of Approval voting. As in CA, all Primary candidates should appear on a single ballot. This is a major alteration in our election, and adding the ability to vote for a number of candidates improves the quality of the resulting candidates. How likely is that in the early Republican 2016 primaries that Trump would have appeared on enough ballots to win many of those states? RCV, in many instances, replaces primary voting altogether. Now, if Democrats and Republicans had been on a single ballot, it is conceivable that both Clinton and Trump would not have been the nominees. Another major change is to relegate machine counting to optical scans of hand-marked ballots. The machine’s vote count is a check against faulty manual counting, but critically, it can validate each ballot for stray marks and other irregularities that disqualify ballots. Voters presented with their on-site disqualified ballot can revote. Last of all, I prefer using a limit on how many votes can be cast by one person, because in a very large field, it would empower parties to supply people with a list of people and by restricting the count, that risk is somewhat reduced. In a field of more than 5, very few people really know anything about more than 3 of the candidates. Perhaps a majority is too high.
Our elections are broken and they have been for many years. We need a plan to correct problems with vote counting and to weaken the stranglehold the two-monopoly trust has on American voting.
Information on approval voting is available at: https://electology.org/approval-voting