[EM] A simpler approval based way of replacing the CA jungle primary

Rob Lanphier robla at robla.net
Wed Jul 18 15:26:21 PDT 2018

Hi folks,

During the California jungle primary, it's become clear to many of my
fellow activists that our top-two jungle primary doesn't make sense.
A while back, I posted "Party-based top two with approval", which
resulted in a great on-list conversation with Kevin Venzke.  As I've
been talking to folks, I've been afraid of bringing up my complicated
rules or pushing my system via my blog/wherever.

After mulling it over, I think this simple version could get traction.
The rules, in a nutshell:

a. All candidates who receive over 50% approval advance to the general election
b. If less than two candidates get 50% approval, then advance the two
candidates approved by the most number of voters

There's some intentional ambiguity in that second bullet point.  The
goal would be to find two candidates for whom the largest portion of
the electorate approves at least one of.  So, let's say we have three
candidates: A-left, B-center, and C-right.  A-left and C-right are
popular with their respective base voters, and B-center is a weak
centrist.  Let's the voters vote like this:

25% - approve only A-left
20% - approve A-left and B-center
10% - approve only B-center
20% - approve B-center and C-right
25% - approve C-right

This would result in the following approval scores for the individual

A-left: 45%
B-center: 50%
C-right: 45%

However, in this version of the rules, we look for the pair of
candidates where at least one candidate meets with approval.

AB (A-left and B-center): 75%
BC (B-center and C-right): 75%
AC (A-left and C-right): 90%

Using the rules in this proposal, A-left and C-right would advance to
the general election.  It would be possible to layer some more
slightly more complicated rules on top of this system to avoid this
flavor of center squeeze.  However, these rules dissuade candidates
from relying on a "mushy middle" lesser-of-either-evil campaign, but
instead, push candidates to earn the approval of either left or right
base voters.  Moreover, in this scenario, both A-left and C-right
would be worried about the possibility of their ideological opposite
getting 50% approval thus making it so that two candidates have the
required 50%.  Trying to divide the electorate rather than achieving
50% approval would an extremely risky strategy.

The slightly complicated additional rule could be a guarantee that the
candidate that gets the highest approval rating automatically advances
to the general election.  However, as would happen in this example,
that means that instead of 90% of voters having a candidate that they
approve of in the general election, only 75% of primary voters like
one of the choices that move on to the general election.

The other suboptimal outcome with these rules would be if there were
many, many clone candidates (say, A1-left, A2-left, .... , A500-left)
that all managed to squeak through with 50% approval, creating a
ballot with 501 candidates (including B-center), and still leaving 25%
of voters without a choice they approve of.  Or let's say that C-right
still manages to also get 50% approval, which would mean that there
are 502 candidates on the ballot.

There are many ways of dealing with this:

1.  Only allow 2 candidates to advance, keeping with the spirit of
"top two", and use simple plurality in the general election.
2.  Have higher limit (e.g. 5 candidates) and only allow the top 5
approval getters to advance.  Tally the general election using
approval voting.
3.  Choose the 5 candidates for whom at least one is approved.
Calculating this seems complicated, but the goal would be the 5
finalists would be A1-left, A2-left, A3-left, B-center and C-right.
Once again, tally the general election using approval voting.

It seems to me it would be shocking to have 502 candidates (or even 5
candidates) who are approved by at least 50% of the voters, and that
having 3 or more seems like a good problem to have.  My suspicion is
that the more frequent problem would be that only one or zero
candidates who achieve 50% approval when approval primaries are first
implemented, and only when the electorate becomes less polarized would
we see a lot of candidates getting the required name recognition for
an approval vote.

Has anyone else written up this variant somewhere already, or is this
arguably the only writeup of the idea so far?  Is this a reasonable
set of rules?


More information about the Election-Methods mailing list