Some Additional Voting Methods (Voting Reform Part Four)

Today, I am going to briefly cover a few additional voting methods, some of which are purely theoretical and some of which are in use.  I offer them only for informational purposes and not to advocate for them as a replacement for our current system.  Next time I will offer a critique of all these methods and talk a little bit about why the results of an election are a very poor way of deciding what is in the public interest.

Last time I discussed a method of what I called “ranked voting” but, which in a slightly altered form is often called the “instant runoff” method.  It seemed to solve some problems with our current system and to offer a greater number of viable choices to voters.  Another method which better reflects the wide variety of perspectives held by the electorate is what is called proportional representation.  A variation on this is often used in Presidential primaries where there may be a dozen or more candidates.  Under this system, each candidate receives a number of delegates roughly equal to the percentage of the vote they receive.  So, if there were 100 delegates at stake and each of four candidates won 25% of the vote, each would receive 25 delegates.  Some countries use this method to allocate seats in their legislature.  In this case, voters typically vote for parties or party lists and it is the percentage of the total vote each receives that determines its representation.  So, if the Socialist party received 15% of the votes, they would receive 15% of the seats in the legislature.  This system practically assures a large number of viable political parties and a very diverse group of representatives.

Another alternative is the use of multi-member districts within which voters typically may choose to vote for as many candidates as they like, as long as they do not exceed the number to be elected.  This is sometimes used in city council or school board races.  There might be, for example, five seats up for election on the city council and a dozen candidates file for them.  All candidates are listed and the voter may vote for up to five of them.  The top five are elected to seats, not just the top choice.  A candidate might be elected who only received the votes of 30 or 40% of the voters, so it would seem to make it more likely that a variety of perspectives would be represented within a particular area.

I’ll discuss one additional alternative today and that is one that, to my knowledge, is not actually used in any significant elections.  It is called approval voting and, under this system, the voter may vote for as many candidates as they choose or, you might say, any candidate of which they approve.  The winner is the person who is approved of by the largest number of voters.  In this case, you could have multiple candidates who receive over 50% of the vote and still lose.  Still, this system would also seem to favor a greater number of candidates as it also overcomes the “wasted vote” argument.  It would, however, likely mean that the most moderate and non-controversial person would win most any contest,  as they would be approved of by the largest number of voters.

Or would it?  That makes an assumption that voters will not think “strategically” about their votes.  And that, it turns out, is a problem with almost all voting systems:  they are subject to manipulation.  Well, all systems except a simple majority vote between two alternatives.  Then again, how are those two alternatives selected?  Aren’t we simply manipulating the selection process to give us an artificial binary choice?

That’s a sneak peak at what I’ll discuss in my next posting which will be the final entry in my Voting Reform series.  As always, thanks for reading and have a great day!

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