[EM] Moral basis for "Approval"

Abd ulRahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Sun Sep 18 21:08:20 PDT 2005

At 02:07 AM 9/18/2005, Rob Lanphier wrote:
>For voters, "approving" a candidate is cheap, and in the context of an
>election, has little to do with any sort of absolute
>approval/disapproval of the candidate, and much more to do with
>increasing/decreasing the relative strength of that candidate to the
>rest of the field.  In other words, Approval asks voters to assign an
>absolute property when the question is all relative.

Approval is not an absolute property, but a relative one. I don't 
have a clue where Mr. Lanphier got the idea that approving a 
candidate is assigning an absolute property.

If there are two candidates in an election, and I vote for one of 
them, I have assigned no absolute value to either candidate. The 
winner might be lousy, the loser might be a genius and a saint. But 
not both at the same time....

Voting is expressing relative preference, in plurality and Condorcet, 
and relative acceptability, in Approval.

If there are three candidates in an election, and I vote for two, 
again, I have assigned no absolute value to any candidate, but have 
only acted to effect my preference: I prefer the election of either 
of the two I voted for over the election of the third.

I think that some critics of Approval are grasping at straws. But I 
commend the effort. Even defective arguments are valuable, for we 
will meet all of them again.

>I would have many fewer problems with Approval if there were an absolute
>question being asked.

What is the absolute question being asked in a plurality question?

The question being asked in an Approval election is "What set of 
candidates are you willing to help be elected by casting your vote 
for each of them?"

Voters are not being asked, in an Approval election, to rank the 
candidates, but only to divide them into two groups: preferred and 
not preferred. "Preferred" means that every member of the preferred 
set is preferred over every member of the not preferred set. That's 
all.... trying to assign more meaning to that is just going to 
confuse everyone.

And, by the way, that is related to the suggested strategy for voting 
Approval: vote for your favorite from among the frontrunners, and for 
anyone else whom you more highly approve. If there are three 
frontrunners, and two of them are acceptable, and there is a third 
whom you fear might win, vote for the two you prefer, you will 
minimize your regret.

And send a couple of dollars to your favorite, it will be more than 
the favorite would get from public campaign funding anyway.

>   For example, rather than always awarding the
>winner of an approval election a full-length, full-power term, we could
>make the length and nature of their term depend on their approval score.

How about making terms dependent upon continued approval? That is 
exactly what parliamentary systems do.... Much of the mess in the 
U.S. is due to *terms*. The argument for them was excellent at the 
time of the writing of the Constitution, because terms were being 
compared to election for life.

>For U.S. president, we currently give four year terms to the winner.
>Under this proposal, a candidate with an approval score under 50% only
>gets an "interim" 12 month term, and cannot fire the current cabinet
>without approval from Congress, though would be able to fill any
>vacancies.  A candidate with over 50% approval would get a standard four
>year term (still eligible for re-election to a second four year term),
>and would have the standard privileges of appointing a new cabinet.  A
>candidate with over 65% approval would get a six year term, and be
>eligible for another four year term after that.

The idea has some merit, but there are simpler ways to reach similar 
goals. And, of course, these ideas require Constitutional amendment, 
serious amendment. There is a way to bypass that need.

>It's only under conditions such as these that approval makes sense as a
>standalone question.  "Do you trust this candidate enough to give
>him/her as many as six years in office, should he/she win the election?"
>That has tangible meaning to voters, and would force them to make hard
>decisions as to who they give or don't give approval to.  If there are
>two or three years of interim presidents, the voters would hopefully get
>tired of having elections, and would be more liberal with approvals.

We go to the polls every year or two anyway. What's the problem with 
that? It's campaigning that is the problem. The President should not 
have to be distracted by campaigning for office.... And, again, there 
is a solution to this problem as well.

The really big difficulty is that, by far, most people only look at 
the symptoms and try to put band-aids on them. The central problem is 
rarely addressed. Believe me, I know. I look actively for such 
consideration by people anywhere I can find it.

The central problem is how human beings can organize themselves (or, 
I suppose, be organized) in such a way as to maximize benefit to the 
society as a whole. We know pretty well how to do it in small groups, 
though even there a lot of room for improvement remains. But direct 
democracy, which functions quite well in some small groups, typically 
breaks down under two conditions: large groups, or small groups that 
continue for a long time and which develop ... attachments or special 
interests would be two ways of describing it.

Is it possible to bring the benefits of direct democracy to large 
groups while avoiding the problems of direct democracy?

Is anyone trying?

I can tell you, those who are working to reform democracy generally 
do not believe in democracy. They follow Churchill in his famous 
saying. Democracy, for them, is a necessary evil, the idea that it 
could actually function efficiently and effectively seems impossible, 
so they do not choose democratic forms when they organize for the 
purpose of lobbying or acting for change.

>One or two bad presidents who get six year terms would cause voters to
>get more conservative.  In the end, it would equalize pretty quickly.

Problem is, the one bad president could end life as we know it on the 
earth. We've been lucky so far. Will be continue to be lucky? New 
Orleans thought so....

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