American elections, since their inception, have used plurality (or “first-past-the-post”) voting as their standard, but we should reconsider this default.
Plurality voting naturally encourages all political parties to consolidate into two major ones of roughly equal strength, which means that it renders a bipartisan duopoly nearly inevitable. America’s founders rightly worried about the rise of two major political parties that would alternately dominate our political system, and they warned us about this eventuality, although they apparently didn’t realize then that plurality voting would render this development almost inevitable.
Plurality voting also facilitates an array of other election problems like strategic voting (including voting against unworthy candidates rather than for worthy candidates), along with the “spoiler effect,” the possibility of minority rule, and increased susceptibility to gerrymandering. The “spoiler effect” is especially egregious, as it can incentivize citizens to vote against their true preferences, while punishing conscientious voters who ignore such pressure with worse results. This should ideally never happen.
The only way to alleviate these many problems is through reforming elections to use better voting methods.
Ranked-choice voting (which is also called instant-runoff voting) is a popular alternative to plurality voting in which voters rank their respective choices from first to last, after which the least-favored candidates are eliminated through multiple rounds of vote-tallying until one candidate prevails with majority support. This voting system is already a longstanding standard in political conventions. Ranked-choice voting replaces the “spoiler effect” with a milder “center-squeeze effect” that hurts centrist candidates, but it still promotes a bipartisan duopoly and it still allows gerrymandering.
Score voting alleviates these electoral problems even better (except for a negligible “chicken dilemma”) than ranked-choice voting. Score voting involves voters ranking each candidate on a scale (like 0-9 or 1-100), rather like schools grade students, such that the candidate who earns the highest average score wins. Score voting allows third parties (like the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, and the Independent American Party) to thrive, which is perhaps its greatest benefit. One study indicates that score voting minimizes Bayesian regret, meaning that its results are (statistically) more satisfying than either plurality voting or ranked-choice voting.
Approval voting is the simplest form of score voting, as voter rank each candidate as either acceptable or not, such that the most-widely-accepted candidate wins. Approval voting can use existing plurality ballots, which is an advantage. Approval voting may also operate in tandem with proportional representation, which allows multiple winners in proportion to their degree of approval, which divides political power among a greater diversity of factions. And mitigating the effects of factions is a worthy goal, as America’s founders noted.
Provo’s city council is considering transitioning its municipal elections from plurality voting to ranked-choice voting. Provo’s Open City Hall is currently surveying Provoans about this matter, and Provo’s city council will vote on it in May. I’m surprised that this proposed reform is enjoying support from some corrupt Establishment politicians, so I’m feeling a bit suspicious about it—so, if you have any theories about why they may favor it, then please share them. In the absence of clear reasons otherwise, though, please consider supporting such election reform, perhaps as an initial step toward something even better like score voting.
Even more importantly than improving voting systems, though, is ensuring that our elections remain both honest and accurate. Please consider lobbying your state and federal legislators regularly for election reforms (like these) that will restore election integrity—and please do so until they finally relent!
- Wikipedia: “Comparison of electoral systems”
- C G P Grey: “Politics in the Animal Kingdom”
- The Center for Election Science: “Approval Voting”
- As It Ought to Be: “Duopoly Must Go: An Appeal for Score Voting” (2010 Jul 18)
- The Center for Election Science: “What Is Approval Voting?” (2013 Apr 30)
- TED-Ed: “Which voting system is the best?” (2020 Jun 11)
- Primer: “Simulating alternate voting systems” (2020 Nov 01)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Provo survey to gauge interest in ranked-choice voting” (2021 Apr 15)
- Facebook: Free Provo