[EM] Approval with 2 ballotings

Bart Ingles bartman at netgate.net
Mon Jan 6 15:55:45 PST 2003

Alex Small wrote:
> I've been thinking about how one would introduce Approval Voting for local
> non-partisan races.  Many locales use 2-step runoff for some of their
> elections.  Many of us here believe that 2-step runoff is worse than IRV
> or Approval, but a 2 step election fills the void left by the absence of
> party primaries.  If too many people are running for a single office then
> some sort of filtering mechanism is clearly desirable.  Since most places
> in the US have primary and general elections, a 2-step local race doesn't
> really introduce any extra expense to the taxpayers.

I don't see much need to narrow even a large candidate field, given a
decent election method.  If you look at Approval's Condorcet and social
utility efficiencies compared to two-stage runoff, the gains from
switching to Approval could easily make up for the runoff's filtering

Think of the likely voter strategy in such a huge election-- voters
would simply refuse to approve unknown candidates (who would have been
eliminated in the first round of a traditional election), and instead
base their strategy around known candidates (e.g. approve of
better-than-average of the *known* candidates).  

Although with a Condorcet method it might be helpful to narrow the field
first to some manageable number, so that voters can intelligently rank
the remaining candidates.  :)

> Given the desire for a filter, to narrow down the field of candidates and
> allow higher-quality debate (remember the GOP Presidential debates in New
> Hampshire in 2000?), many people will say "Why not just narrow it down to
> 2?  The winner is then guaranteed to have a majority."  We can all point
> to the Le Pen situation in France, but the guarantee of a majority is a
> strong selling point.

I would rather take the high road, and point out the fallacies involved
in trying to guarantee a so-called "majority winner".  I consider the
term meaningless in elections with three or more candidates.  

> [...]
> Another point is that Approval is a very BAD idea for the primary.  Say
> that we're narrowing it down to 4 candidates.  The largest faction could
> all approve their favorite and the 3 Stooges.  The second stage would
> likely include those 4 candidates (although that's not guaranteed, since
> the other factions may have partially overlapping preferences), and the
> serious candidate would easily defeat Larry, Curly, and Moe.

I agree, although this would also be true of non-partisan first round

> My conclusion:  The case for Approval is actually more difficult on the
> local level than on the state or national level, even though local
> campaigns are usually easier to win.  The reason is that 2-step runoff may
> have greater inertia than plurality for non-partisan races.

I disagree with this conclusion, at least with qualifications.  I see
two basic "flavors" of non-partisan local election:  the high-visibility
races for supervisor, mayor, etc., and the low-visibility races for such
offices as county tax assessor or public defender.  The latter rarely
have more than two or three candidates running, and when a runoff when
required tends to be viewed as a waste of everybody's time (candidates
included) since the turnout is often very low.

I think one of these minor races was actually a trigger for San
Francisco adopting IRV-- that and the fact that SF's runoffs were held
as special elections a few weeks after the first round (they didn't
schedule the two rounds to coincide with the primary and general
elections, the way most counties do), so that SF runoffs were Expensive.

My point is that for these minor elections, there is often considerable
desire to get rid of the runoffs.  These minor elections are also the
logical choice for any pilot programs to implement Approval.  Keeping
the runoff in place would negate one of the biggest reasons for making
the change.


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