IVN News

Q&A: “Approval Voting is the Path out of the Wilderness”

Frank Atwood is a Libertarian activist based out of Denver, CO. Atwood has been involved in causes on many levels; such as the repealing Littleton Grocery Tax and fighting against Wal-Mart. One of the causes that is passionate for Atwood is Approval Voting.
The following is my interview with Frank Atwood.
AJ: Please provide your political and activism background, for the readers.

Frank: First, thanks AJ for this interview opportunity. My political orientation is socially tolerant and fiscally responsible, which currently matches with the Libertarian Party. The subtle clues that I was Libertarian, was when a friend of mine was surprised that I was both a member of the ACLU and NRA; I find no contradiction in those memberships. In my late 40’s I registered as a Libertarian and early 50’s began being active with repealing a local grocery tax as part of a tri-partisan effort. I’ve watched the wasted vote argument dominate elections and Libertarians, who I consider the best of both major parties, be squeezed out of the center. For forty years Libertarians have been, the noise of the noise. I’m now in my early 60’s and an advocate for Approval Voting.

AJ: What is your current view on third parties gaining ground in the 2012 election cycle?

Frank: Libertarian presidential candidate, Gov. Gary Johnson, successfully met the primary criteria of $2,500 in 20 states. Green presumptive nominee, Jill Stein, appears to be still struggling, as of May 24th, to meet that criteria before the Green convention in mid-July. Both have the goal of 5% of the election votes to earn matching funds for the 2016 election. That 5% equals 6.5 million votes. Even if one or both get in the debates, currently a 15% threshold, I am concerned the 5% will still be elusive and beyond reach – the wasted vote argument is powerful; this is why I advocate enabling legislation for Approval Voting as a back up strategy after the November election. On the local level we may see some progress. I’ll continue to vigorously support Gov. Gary Johnson and his running mate, Judge James Gray. However, Approval Voting is the path out of the wilderness.
AJ: You advocate Approval Voting. Could you explain what Approval Voting is and how it differs from other voting methods, such as Instant Run-off Voting?

Frank: What is Approval Voting? Approval Voting is let the voter vote for more than one candidate. This solution will resolve the inadequacy of our current election method.
What is the problem? Why are third parties the noise of the noise of election results? And why are voters so pressured to vote for the lesser of two evils?

 Ninety-six percent of the voting population chooses typically not to waste their “one precious vote“. That 96% sees who the top two candidates are. Yes, they look for the electable candidates – the 96% are not stupid, they are voting strategically. Then, they choose the one they prefer, often the lesser of the two evils. Most of the time, they are voting for someone other than a third party looser. The 96% are deciding the election when they cast that “one precious vote“.
What is the traditional inadequate third party rationalization solution?

 For third parties to bask in the philosophical superiority high ground of “Voting for lesser of two evils; is still voting for evil.” is politically ridiculous. The purpose of elections and voting is to elect candidates.
How does Approval Voting work? 

Only by changing the voting methods will third parties have visibility and viability and only by improving the voting system for major parties will the 96% consent to any change. The “one precious vote” creates this election dynamics. The in retrospect obvious solution is: remove the “one precious vote” restriction; let the voter vote for more than one candidate. For some individuals this is a headache producing mind shift.
Let me repeat the solution: Remove the “vote for only one” restriction; let the voter vote for more than one candidate.
Why does Approval Voting work?

 Approval Voting as an alternative voting method improves the voting process. Approval Voting is win – win for all of us, not just third parties. For major parties there will be fewer spoilers and less sabotage; for minor parties Approval Voting will produce more visibility and viability – I don‘t promise victory, I only promise visibility and viability. For the voter there is the satisfaction of pragmatic honesty and the opportunity to express himself better. For political bosses, gaming the system and manipulating voters into narrow choices, Approval Voting is threatening.
Benefits of Approval Voting:
For Major Parties: fewer spoilers and less sabotage.
For Minor Parties: more visibility and viability
For Voters: more pragmatic honesty and better able to express himself.
The losers are entrenched politicians gaming the vote for personal gain and control of the rest of us.

How does the voter decide what his approval voting threshold level is?

 I trust the voter. He has the option to continue to “bullet vote” vote for only one, or he can go with his top two or three preferences, or if he’s in an “anybody, but mood” he can vote for all but one. Some third party partisans might vote for only third parties.
Approval Voting lets the voter express himself better. He gets to “thumb up” or “thumb down” each of the candidates.

Why is Approval Voting more attainable than other alternative voting methods?

 The same ballots and software can be used, there is minimal additional cost. The difference is: the instructions change from “Vote for only one.” to “Vote for all you approve of.” And the election machines counting instructions delete over votes disqualifying a ballot.
How does Approval Voting differ from Instant Run-off Voting? 

Approval Voting is a rating method; granted a narrow range of zero (0) and one (1) versus IRV which is a ranking method (first, second, third, …). Some mathematicians have found IRV to be deficient because of inherent esoteric contradictions. Also, in the Australian Lower House which does use IRV two party dominance has been perpetuated. From an attainability perspective, IRV requires more computer code to do the counting than Approval Voting which simply removes the over-vote restriction.
AJ: Are there current example in place that Approval Voting has been successful?


The Pirate Party (Piratenpartei) of Germany has been using Approval Voting for years to elect leaders, as well as to nominate their party lists (albeit this latter case is an atypical use for multi-winner elections). While it may have a funny name, the party has already achieved significant political success. For instance, they won 10% (15 of 152) of the seats in the Berlin parliament elections in September of 2011. Thus these are “real” and, in many cases, highly contentious elections. You can see some sample results here, indicating that Approval Voting seems to have worked quite well.
In 1990, Oregon used Approval Voting in a statewide advisory referendum on school financing, which presented voters with five different options and allowed them to vote for as many as they wished. (Incidentally, in 1987, a bill to enact Approval Voting in certain statewide elections passed the Senate but not the House in North Dakota.)

Approval Voting has been used in internal elections by the political parties in some US states, such as Pennsylvania, where a presidential straw poll using Approval Voting was conducted by the Democratic State Committee in 1983.
 Approval Voting is used to elect the Secretary General of the United Nations.
In the early 2000s the Boston Tea Party became apparently the first US political party in modern times to employ Approval Voting. Approval Voting is also used by the state Libertarian Party in Colorado and Texas.
AJ: If this method was in place during the 2000 presidential election year, what would the outcome have been, given the candidates that were running for office?

Frank: Bottom line, my speculation, all other things being equal: Gore would have won in Florida. Ralph Nader would still not have been elected, but his supporters would not have the stigma of being the spoilers that elected Bush. With Approval Voting, it is reasonable to believe some Nader voters would have voted for both Gore and Nader, and that would have been decisive. In percentages, George Bush’s margin of victory was 0.009% (537 votes). Ralph Nader vote percentage was 1.635% (97,488 votes).

Again, Approval Voting, letting the voter vote for more than one candidate, produces: fewer spoilers (Nader in 2000) and less sabotage (Republican Nader support in 2004) for major parties; more viability and visibility for minor parties. Also, the voters have the opportunity to express themselves more pragmatically honest.
AJ: To what lengths does one, or an organization, have to go to in order for this kind of voting method to be approved?

Frank: Each state has its own election code. The enabling legislation would be passed by the state. Colorado has home rule cities which can choose to use an alternative voting method such as Approval Voting without state sanction. Lobby your state legislators. Legislation is in the works for both Colorado and New Hampshire.