[EM] Article with some wording improvements, and ommissions fixed.
email9648742 at gmail.com
Thu Apr 26 20:21:17 PDT 2012
This is (what I consider) an improvement on my article. I've replaced some
awkward wordings, and added things that I'd left out, and left out a few
But you should feel free to edit in any way necessary, &/or use an earlier
For instance, if I've now made it too long, then I have no objection if you
take out whatever necessary, to shorten it--or use a previous shorter
If it's of use to tell this, I wrote it in Word, then copied it, and pasted
it in this e-mail.
Also, of course, use any title you prefer.
Some problems and undesirable social results of our current voting system,
Suggesting a minimal but powerful improvement called “Approval Voting”.
Our current voting system, of course, is the “vote-for-1” method. Also
called "Plurality", or the "single mark method".
In our Plurality elections, we often hear people saying that they're going
to vote for someone they don't really like, because he/she is the
"lesser-of-2-evils". Note that they're voting for someone they don't like,
and not voting for the people they really do like, because the people they
like are perceived as unwinnable.
What do we get when we vote for people we don't really like? We get
something that we don't like. Everyone complains about how all the viable
politicians are corrupt and bought. Does it really make sense to believe
corrupt and un-liked candidates to be more "viable"? How viable would they
be if everyone could feel free to support candidates whom they actually
We'd be voting from hope, instead of just from fear and dismal, pessimistic
resignation. And the results would reflect that. Voting, and its results,
would become something positive.
So how does this strange situation come about? What causes it? When you
compromise in Plurality, for a "lesser-evil", you're saying, with your
vote-support, that s/he is better than your favorite.
Plurality can be regarded as a point-rating system, but a funny one in
which you're only allowed to give a point to one candidate. You're required
to give 0 points to everyone else. Top rating to one, and bottom to
everyone else. Those bottom-ratings that you must give to all but one are
materially real, in the sense that you're giving to those candidates zero
points instead of 1, the lower of the two ratings levels--and thereby
voting for them to lose.
Note that it is _not_ that Plurality only lets you rate one candidate.
You're rating them all. But you're required to rate all but one of them _at
bottom_, voted to lose. That's why I referred to Plurality as a _funny_
Someone at the forum said that Plurality doesn't count enough information.
But that isn't true. Plurality counts plenty of information, but it's
mostly false information--all those compulsory zero ratings. When you say
something because you have to, even if you don't feel it, that's falsity.
It's no exaggeration to say that Plurality forces falsification.
It should hardly be surprising that this results in a lot of
dissatisfaction with the results of that falsification.
Some defend Plurality by saying that, with it, we vote for our favorite.
But millions of voters—when they need to "hold their nose" when insincerely
helping someone they don't like, over someone they do like--might not agree.
If Plurality is supposed to have us voting for our favorites, then it is
failing miserably. If Plurality assumes that we're voting for our
favorites, then Plurality is assuming wrong.
How to avoid this problem? Why not repeal the rule that makes Plurality so
funny? Let people rate _every_ candidate with a 1 or a 0. Rate every
candidate as "Approved" or "Unapproved". The candidate with the most
"Approved" ratings wins. The result? Well, we'd be electing the most
approved candidate, wouldn't we. Who can criticize that?
When everyone can support the candidate(s) they really like, instead of
just a "lesser-evil", that can only mean that we elect someone more liked.
That voting system, the minimal improvement on Plurality to fix its
ridiculous problem, is called "Approval voting", or just "Approval".
Occasionally we hear a claim that Approval violates “1-person-1-vote”.
But Approval is a points rating system. Every voter has the equal power to
rate each candidate as approved or unapproved. 1 point or 0 points.
If you approve more candidates, does that give you more power? Hardly. Say
you approve all of the candidates. You thereby have zero influence on the
And obviously, any ballot will be cancelled out by an oppositely-voted
Suppose you approve all of the candidates but one. I approve the candidate
you didn’t approve, and not ones that you approved . My oppositely-voted
ballot cancels yours out. You voted for nearly all of the candidates. I
voted for only one. But I cancelled you out.
Some Approval advantages:
Approval is one of the few voting systems in which you never have any
reason to not top-rate your favorite(s). For the first time, everyone
would be able to fully support their favorites.
As said above, when people can fully support the candidates whom they
really like, we elect someone better-liked--someone to whom the most people
have given approval. That makes an Approval election into something
positive and hopeful.
In a presidential straw-poll, using Condorcet, I’ve personally observed
someone ranking compromises over their favorite. In Plurality and
Condorcet, that can be the only way to maximally help the compromises
against someone worse. But never in Approval.
That observed favorite-burial in Condorcet suggests to me that many would
feel a need to bury their favorites in Condorcet, as they do in Plurality.
Never underestimate voters' need to help a compromise all that they can,
even when that's at the expense of their favorite.
I should add that, in Approval, not only does the voter never have any
reason to not top-rate their favorite(s), but it is transparently obvious
that that is so. If you have given 1 point to Compromise, and 0 points to
Worse, then it’s obvious that also giving a point to Favorite won’t change
the fact that you’ve fully helped Compromise against Worse.
Another thing, which really counts as a separate advantage: In Plurality,
whether people compromise (as they seem so prone to do), or whether,
instead, they all vote for someone they like--either way, their votes will
be split between their various compromises or favorites. Suppose the
progressives add up to at least a majority. That won’t do them any good in
Plurality unless they can somehow guess or organize exactly which candidate
they’ll combine their votes on That’s especially a reason why voters
now let the media lead them by the nose.
That wouldn’t be a problem in Approval, where each person is approving a
_set_ of candidates, maybe various favorites and various compromises. It
would no longer be necessary to guess where everyone else will combine
their votes. In Plurality, that need, especially, makes voters let the
media lead them by the nose.
Approval , as I said, is the minimal change that gets rid of Plurality’s
ridiculous problem. There won’t be any question about whether that’s an
improvement. When Plurality’s falsification problem is discussed, Plurality’s
inexplicable problem-causing rule, then anyone trying to claim that that
problem should be kept will be arguing an indefensible position, and will
be seen by all for what he is. I’m not saying that desperate arguments for
keeping Plurality’s problem won’t be made. I’m saying that they won’t work.
In contrast, when anything more complicated than Approval is proposed ,
opponents, media pundits and commentators, magazine writers, politicians,
and some hired academic authorities will point out that it could have
unforeseen and undesired consequences. They’ll take advantage of the fact
that the public can’t predict all of the method’s consequences.
They’ll point out that the method could cause disaster, because we don’t
know what it would do. Sure, we voting system reform advocates all agree
that Condorcet is better than Plurality. But the public won’t know that.
Authorities and pundits will say “It needs a lot more study”, and...
...it will never happen.
That objection won’t work against Approval, because Approval is so
elegantly simple and transparent,
Approval has a unique optimization. All of the Approval strategies (which
I’ll get to in a minute) amount to approving all of the candidates who are
better than what you expect from the election. That means that the winner
will be the candidate who is better-than-expectation for the most voters.
That’s the candidate whose win will pleasantly surprise the most voters.
Anyway, it’s obvious that electing the candidate to whom the most people
have given approval is, itself, a valuable optimization.
Experience with the several interesting and instructive presidential
mock-elections that we've conducted at the election-methods mailing list
suggests to me that, in an Approval election, people will typically just
know whom they want to approve. People will have an unmistakable intuitive
feel for whom they want to approve.
For instance, you likely will approve all the candidates whom you like, or
who deserve your support. You'll know who they are.
The suggestions below are just for when you don't have a feel for whom to
First, you can just approve the candidate you’d vote if it were a Plurality
election, and also for everyone whom you like better than him/her
(including your favorite).
That would be good enough.
But Approval has strategy instructions that aren’t available for Plurality,
because, for Plurality, they’d be too complicated to fully describe, and
much more difficult to implement. So don’t let these suggestions make you
think that Approval is more complicated. Approval’s strategy is
incomparably simpler than that of Plurality.
If there are unacceptable candidates who could win, then approve all of the
acceptables, and none of the unacceptables.
If there are no unacceptable candidates who could win, and if you have no
predictive information or feel about winnability, then Approve all of the
above-mean (above average) candidates.
If neither of the above 2 paragraphs applies, then Approve all of the
candidates who are better than what you expect from the election.
One way to judge that directly would be to ask yourself: “Would I rather
appoint him/her to office than hold the election?” If so, then approve
But, because we don’t have the power to appoint officeholders, we might not
have a good feel for that judgment. A better question would be:
Is s/he better than what I expect? Do I expect less? If so, then approve
In other words, vote optimistically.
In fact, even if s/he is right _at_ the merit-level that you expect from
the election, then approve him/her if you like him/her.
Why does that maximize your expectation? Because, when (by approving
him/her) you improve the win-probability of someone who is better than your
expectation, that will raise your statistical expectation.
_All_ of the Approval strategy suggestions are special cases of the rule
For example, maybe you have a feel for who the top-two vote-getters will
be. Then, of course, approve the better of those two, and everyone who is
better still. But I hasten to emphasize that the candidates who you might
expect to be frontrunners in Plurality are very unlikely to be the
frontrunners in Approval. Never let anyone tell you who the frontrunners
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