[EM] Historic opportunity in Arizona for Approval Voting

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Mon Mar 18 09:52:11 PDT 2013

At 11:52 PM 3/17/2013, Andy Jennings wrote:
>Thanks for your support.
>Municipalities in Arizona have great flexibility in choosing their 
>own voting systems.
>I wouldn't say that municipalities have great flexibility in 
>choosing their own voting systems.  That's why we need this bill.

Okay. Home rule municipalities may have some flexibility. And how 
much, I don't know. What I know is "some." Tucson demonstrated that.

>In particular, Arizona statute says if there is one winner then the 
>ballot verbiage must say "Vote for no more than 1".  The way I see 
>it, they were just trying to standardize ballot language for the 
>state and (since all they knew was plurality) they inadvertently 
>restricted us to either single-shot plurality or plurality with a 
>plurality primary.  Since the constitution mandates a primary, that 
>leaves us with either segregated primaries or jungle primaries.

Combine this with partisan/no-partisan ballots, i.e, party 
designation, then the two sane choices are segregated primaries (by 
party), or unified nonpartisan primaries. In any case, then, using 
Approval in the primaries is a major step foward.

Approval in party primaries, though, could use Approval. Could a 
city, as well, hold, in addition to party primaries, hold an open 
primary for all candidates who choose not to affiliate with the party 

The problem I'm seeing is that HB2518 appears to mandate two 
candidates to go to the general election. That doesn't work with 
party primaries. A partisan primary should choose one candidate. The 
Bill calls the second election a "Runoff," as one alternate name. But 
it explicitly excludes any consideration of "majority."

Now, from an election methods perspective, with an Approval election, 
this is actually spectacular. The design of the system, with the 
primary being held early, i.e., not held with the general election, 
and with, then, the final election being held as a general election, 
with generally higher turnout, addresses some objections to Approval 
Voting, i.e,. multiple approval majorities and therefore failure of 
some definitions of the majority criterion.

>(The courts have ruled that cities, if they want, can implement a 
>rule that avoids the runoff if someone gets a majority in the jungle primary.)

What I'd recommend is that cities begin with the process in the Bill, 
and study results. It is possible to extrapolate margins in the 
runoff from those in the primary, and this is especially true with 
nonpartisan elections. However, the cost of adding and canvassing an 
additional runoff election in the general election is relatively 
small. It's really just another question on the ballot.

The big issue is turnout. However, turnout can cut both ways. It 
rewards motivation, which is probably a good thing.

Classically, advanced voting systems cause candidate numbers to 
increase. That appears to have happened in San Francisco. It's 
particularly true with nonpartisan elections, if people can run at low cost.

As to the problem of what the election law says -- I haven't read the 
entire code, just large chunks of it -- there is a *very* advanced 
system that vote-for-one works fine with, Asset. But we are focusing 
on Approval, one small step, Count All the Votes.

And the next refinement would be to allow ranking on the ballot, 
which allows, then, a series of advanced canvassing techniques.

By the way, if a city has an accumulated record, with the Approval 
two-ballot system, there is one majority condition which really could 
be with total safety used to determine the result from the primary: 
where the absolute approval number for the winner exceeds half of the 
high-normal turnout for the general election. That would kill the 
participation problem. My guess is that better than this could be done.

But there is great value in that second election, there is media 
focus on two candidates, instead of what could be many. That's a 
reason why Robert's Rules of Order objects to IRV (and all 
deterministic preferential voting systems).

>That's the only statute I know of in AZ law that prohibits approval 
>voting.  Though there may be others.  HB2518 expressly allows 
>approval voting, thus overriding any other inadvertent prohibitions.

And says so.

>5. The passage of this bill in the Arizona House is the best news 
>I've seen *ever* as to U.S. voting systems.
>Thanks.  Maybe I'm just downplaying the accomplishment here, but the 
>way I understand it there are already hundreds (thousands) of home 
>rule cities around the US that could enact approval voting with an 
>ordinance.  We're just trying to catch AZ up to where these "home 
>rule" cities already are.

Right. But it's much more than that, as you go on to state.

>But it is movement, hopefully it would be momentum to go to cities 
>and say, "The legislature just allowed this.  You can try it."

Right. Note that IRV is also prohibited by that language.

The language was overspecified in the first place. It was defined by 
the number of winners rather than by the necessities of avoiding 
ballot spoilage. "Where a vote for more than one candidate, under the 
canvassing rules, will cause the ballot to be spoiled for that race, 
the ballot shall contain the language, "vote for no more than one."

As an example, for an IRV ballot, the language would say, "for each 
rank, vote for no more than one."

But if the method allows voting for more than the number of winners 
(which is the real concern, because with two winners, is the ballot 
spoiled by voting for three?), then there is no spoilage and no need 
for the warning. And the reverse might be needed, so that voters 
don't assume they can only vote for one.

(FairVote has made a lot of noise about Bucklin being rejected 
because of several reasons, and one was the one-person, one-vote 
argument. The Minnesota Court did make an argument like that, but it 
was directed at the bare possibility of voters who voted for more 
than one candidate having some sort of advantage over voters who 
chose to bullet vote. It would have applied to IRV, as the argument 
was actually made. FairVote has pointed to an argument the court did 
not make, but, if you believe the argument, it's possible to read 
over the court argument and think they were making it.... that's what 
partisan thinking does, it curdles the capacity of the brain to make 
clear distinctions.....)

(What actually happened in Minnesota was almost certainly political, 
not legal. The court majority -- there was diessent -- was killing an 
advanced voting system *that worked*, and clearly frustrated the 
expressed preferences of the voters, and, instead of allowing the 
election result to stand but enjoining further use of the system, 
which would have been possible in the context, they reversed the 
election and rewarded it to the plurality winner in the first round. 
They did not void the election, another possibility. No, this was 
dirty politics.)

If the one-person, one-vote argument comes up, there is an argument 
that Approval Voting satisfies one-person, one-vote, not only on the 
basic equity argument (which is the real meaning of that phrase, 
because, obviously, more than one vote is indeed allowed *when it is 
equitable and treats all voters identically), and that relies on a 
principle: if there are multiple ways of canvassing the votes, of 
counting them, that produce the same result, always, and one of these 
ways clearly only counts one vote at a time from each voter, then the 
ballot method satisfies one-person, one-vote. An IRV ballot obviously 
allows more than one vote on the ballot, so it violates a naive 
application of the principle. However, IRV selectively ignores extra 
votes, so it only counts one vote *at a time* from each voter.

The simple way to handle the matter with Approval does count multiple 
votes at the beginning, but then recanvasses in a way that only 
counts one vote, or none, from each voter. That way is to pick the 
top two from counting *all the votes*, and then recount only that 
pair, eliminating ballots with no vote (now considered as No on the 
election of either), and those who voted for both, call that total 
BA, for Both Approved). The remaining votes are compared, and the 
candidate with the most votes is the winner. In this determination, 
only one vote from each voter is considered. Then, if it is necessary 
to determine if the candidate has a majority, the total number of 
set-aside ballots with a vote for the winner, BA, is added in.

In determining the winner, only one vote from each voter is 
considered, or none. Again, in determining if the winner has a 
majority, only one vote from each voter is considered, and it is 
either Yes or No. (Under Robert's Rules, a blank ballot is not 
counted in the basis for majority, but a ballot with *any mark* is 
considered valid, even if unintelligible. So under Robert's Rules, 
for example, you can write "None of the Above" on the ballot and that 
is counted as a vote against all candidates.)

There is a more complicated algorithm which doesn't even use the 
shortcut of first counting all the votes. The basic point here is 
that, with Approval, in the end, the only vote that counts as a Yes 
for the candidate is a mark for the winner, and all other votes could 
be *eliminated* without changing the result. All other votes are 
preliminary. It's like the first-preference votes. The IRV system 
*does* count more than one vote from each voter, it merely does it 
sequentially. A similar sequence can be used to count Approval. It's 
just a bit stupid, because it will produce the same result as simply 
Counting All the Votes and awaring the win to the candidate with the 
most votes.

Again, another argument is the multiple ballot question issue. 
Normally, ballot questions are presented one at a time, on an issue. 
But, occasionally, multiple conflicting questions are presented. The 
rules are generally quite explicit. A majority Yes is required to 
pass a ballot question. If no question passes, all the votes are 
effectively moot. If one gains a majority and the other does not, 
that a voter may have voted for more than one is moot. And if both 
pass, there are obviously voters who have voted for more than one.

The question with the most Yes votes prevails.

Approval Voting is the exact equivalent of multiple ballot questions, 
except for ballot form. It could be arranged to have the ballot form 
match, either way. I.e., the election could be presented as a single 
question with multiple possible answers or a series of ballot 
questions, Yes/No. However, there needs to be a way to distinguish a 
No from an abstention, so these would be linked as a single overall 
question, if you vote Yes to any of the options, you are considered 
to have voted No on all the others. (It's only important to know the 
Nos if a majority is needed. Plurality Approval doesn't need to know 
that, it only needs to look at Yes votes. So HB2518 is 2-winner 
plurality approval, unrestricted voting).

A multiple ballot question could be presented on the ballot as

Vote for one or more:
[ ] Option A
[ ] Option B
[ ] No to both A and B.

The No vote is necessary because a majority is required, or the 
initiative or referendum is killed. Back to the process to create a 
new one, though that often doesn't happen for a long time.

The vote is voided if marked both for an option -- or two, because 
the intention is not clear. Under Roberts' Rules, though, it would 
still be considered in the basis for a majority, so it would 
effectively be a No. Under public election rules I've seen, it would 
be as if not cast. This is because Robert's Rules *always* wants a 
true majority of those voting to clearly approve the winner, or it 
wants the election to be repeated.

FairVote has glossed over this, pretending that Robert's Rules is 
approving of their method of canvassing the votes, when it *never* 
recommends electing with a mere plurality of valid ballots, and the 
only invalid ballots are blank ones.

This is the problem with including IRV in the options for this bill. 
You have to specify what that means. There are many, many details, 
and the complexity can be great. However, a measure could generally 
specifiy, not IRV, but preferential voting, giving only general 
charactteristics and allowing towns the flexibility. That could then 
allow Bucklin, IRV, Condorcet, and even Range voting. (Range Voting 
can be presented as preferential voting, with a set of ranks, and 
equal ranking and skipped ranks allowed. Range is then a way of 
canvassing a preferential ballot. And there are very sophisticated 
hygrid ways.)

The state, then, could write a section of the election law that 
covers Preferential ballot, but that is a very complex thing. IRV, 
out of the box as presented by FairVote, is a poor method, that is 
practically useless in nonpartisan elections, that is fairly easy to 
show. It's an expensive plurality in that context. (It's different in 
partisan elections, the vote transfer patterns are different.)

What is a very simple bill, because Approval is really as simple as 
Count All the Votes, would need to become very complex.

However, promising political support to allow towns to choose other 
advanced voting systems, that can certainly be done. As well, 
allowing preferential voting without specifying the details would be fine.

And, of course, there is Bucklin. It is possible that there is a 
history of Bucklin in Arizona, I seem to recall Tucson, but I'm not 
looking now. Bucklin is instant runoff Approval. It was actually 
called American Preferential Voting, to contrast it with the original 
STV preferential voting schemes.

I highly recommend, do *not* make this simple Bill into a great 
complication. Allowing Approval is not disallowing preferential 
voting, this is not "anti-IRV." It is possible for IRV to be 
presented to satisfy that wording of the ballot provisions, and it is 
also possible for this measure to revise that ballot provision 
language, I mention how, above. That would then allow Tucson, in 
particular, to use IRV for the party primaries.

An *interesting* possibility would be IRV without the no-overvoting 
provision, used two-winner in the primary, as this measure describes. 
It is then merely a different algorithm for determining the winner. 
Votes can vote as FairVote proclaims they want to, i.e., to protect 
their favorite from a lower preference vote for someone else, *or* 
they can multiply approve at a rank. The *voters* can, if they learn 
how, protect IRV from major pathologies. However, two-winner IRV does 
not cover the needs of party primaries.

So ... here is what could be done. HB2518 could be amended to allow 
single-winner party primaries. Essentially, this provision should be 
negotiated with the Democratic Party, for obvious reasons. It could 
allow the method of the primary to be determined by the municipality; 
the municipality could punt and allow the party to determine its own 
method, as long as it was cheap, or if the Party comes up with the 
extra costs. (But that part would not need to be mentioned in the 
Bill. It's all covered by the municipality choice.) It could be 
Approval, single-winner. It could be IRV. Or it could be a better 
method (or worse, that's the problem with freedom, it includes the 
freedom to make mistakes.) 

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