Alternative Voting Systems

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Many people living in the United States consider our government and its elections to be a model of inclusion and fairness. It is easy to take pride in our accessible and open election process, yet all too often people find themselves voting for the “lesser of two evils” in an election. Despite our devotion to the two-party system that effectively dominates American politics, our voting policy encourages apathy, prevents dissenting opinions from being expressed with efficacy, and grants disproportionate power to national parties. When third party candidates do arise, they are viewed as “spoiler candidates” that prevent the most popular candidate from winning. In the 2000 presidential election of Bush V. Gore, many voters credited the third party candidate Ralph Nader, whose ideology was more aligned with Gore, for swinging the election towards Bush. If instead of the current voting system, the United States switched to approval voting, the changed role of third party candidates would strengthen democracy in America. Is There Really a Problem With the Current System?

In 1950 the American economist Kenneth Arrow published a paper titled “A Difficulty in the Concept of Social Welfare” that clearly explained the problems of democratic choice; the ideas were innovative enough to win the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1972. Before this point, people certainly did not ascribe to the notion that the current system of elections was perfect but the extent of its flaws was not fully appreciated. Arrow’s mathematical proof showed the impossibility of preferential voting always being fair with three or more candidates always meeting the following criteria: 1) Non-Dictatorship – No single person may select the outcome of an election, regardless of other voters. This mild condition is more a constraint of elections in general. 2)Pareto Efficiency – If every voter prefers candidate A to candidate B, then the outcome should rank candidate A above candidate B. Also, if no voter prefers B over A, then the outcome should rank A over B. 3) Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives (IIA) – If voters prefer A to B, A must be ranked above B regardless of how they rank other candidates. Despite his heralded assertion that American elections are inherently flawed, Arrow’s paper did little to change elections in America. Americans have historically favored a two-party system because it distills competing interests, facilitates compromise, and supposedly results in an average point of view (1). However, the recent dissatisfaction with American politics indicates that a serious review of our election policies is needed. Approval voting is a system that should be strongly considered in any debate regarding election policies. Approval Voting

Approval voting is a system of elections in which each voter may vote (approve) of as many candidates as they want. The winner is the candidate who receives the most votes or approvals. It is different from our current system in only one way: ballots with votes for more than one candidate are not discarded. As an illustration of the approval voting, an election with three candidates X, Y, and Z occurs. X is a Republican candidate, Y is a Democratic candidate, and Z is a third party candidate who is focusing his attention on the need for universal health care. For the purpose of simplicity, let us assume that forty percent of the population support X, thirty-five percent favor Y, and the remaining twenty-five percent support candidate Z, but favor candidate Y over X. Under the current election system a vote for candidate Z would almost certainly be a waste because his appeal is so narrow. A vote for candidate Z in a sense becomes a vote for the Republican candidate. The result is victory for candidate X, despite the fact that over sixty percent of the population does not support him. This is the paradox of the traditional American system. However, under the approval system...
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