Approval Voting Home Page

Approval voting is a voting procedure in which voters can vote for, or approve of, as many candidates as they wish. Each candidate approved of receives one vote, and the candidate with the most votes wins. It was independently proposed by several people in the 1970s.

Approval voting has several compelling advantages over other voting procedures:

Unlike more complicated ranking systems, which suffer from a variety of theoretical as well as practical defects, approval voting is simple for voters to understand and use. It doesn't require redesigning of ballots and is trivial to implement in vote-counting systems. Approval voting is used today by various governments and organizations around the world, including its use by the United Nations to elect the secretary-general.

Citizens for Approval Voting is an educational and outreach organization formed in 2003 whose attractive web site provides good information about and arguments for Approval voting.

There is also a sister political organization Americans for Approval Voting which is dedicated to getting Approval Voting adopted for single officeholder elections in America. I think it is clear that this would put our democracy on much better footings and I heartily endorse Americans for Approval Voting.

Read on for more background on voting and evidence for all these claims.


A good introduction is Approval Voting: A Better Way to Select a Winner by Steven J. Brams.

See also Approval Voting, J. Econ Perspectives 9(1), Winter 1995, by Robert J. Weber, who came up with the name "Approval Voting" in 1971 and was one of its discoverers.

Other good references:

Comparison of voting systems

Information on many systems can be found at the Wikipedia Voting System page and in the Voting Systems section of the Open Directory Project.

Single-Winner

When there is just one winner in an election, a wide array of alternative voting reforms have been put forth. Lest you get lost in the details, keep in mind that nearly everyone agrees that the traditional single-vote-plurality system does the worst job of picking the candidate that the voters prefer.

The first solidly researched comparison that I saw, which includes computer simulations based on models of voting behavior, was Making Multicandidate Elections More Democratic, by Samuel Merrill, Princeton University Press, 1988. It concludes that the most reliable systems for meeting the "Condorcet" and "maximum social utility" criteria are approval voting and the Instant Runoff Vote (also known as IRV or Preferential Voting) and traditional runoff methods. Among these three, approval voting ranks slightly higher and is much easier to implement. IRV suffers from significant problems in real life. This was demonstrated in the 2009 Burlington mayoral contest, where a candidate that clearly beat each other candidate head-to-head ended up being eliminated early on!

A more recent approach, Range Voting shares many of the advantages of Approval Voting and allows more nuanced votes, but makes ballot design and public education somewhat more difficult.

Other methods, such as the Borda Count and those based on the Condorcet tally itself, tend in practice to be vulnerable to "strategic voting". I.e., voters have incentive to vote insincerely (e.g. punish their favorite's chief rival with a last-place vote), and the resulting outcome matches the Condorcet criteria less than methods which don't reward voters for insincere votes.

And the Borda Count is supported in a book that compares it with Approval Voting: Chaotic Elections! A Mathematician Looks at Voting by Donald G. Saari

It seems clear to me that approval voting is the most practical and best system for single-winner elections. Here are some more references to other perspectives:

Multiple-Winner

When there is more than one winner the situation is very different. Most countries have a different perspective on what it actually means to select a legislative body that represents the people, focusing more on representing viewpoints than geographical areas. See the Center for Voting and Democracy to learn about Proportional Representation.

No matter what voting system is used, it is important for you to learn about the candidates and issues (yahoo | NPR) and vote!


Boulder Colorado has a long history of interest in alternative voting systems. It was the second city in the US to implement the Hare (or Single Transferable Vote) method in 1917 (though it was repealed in 1947). For a look at what Boulder is doing to further democratic principles now, spend some time visiting our host system, the Boulder Community Network.
This site went live in September of 1995.
Last modified: Tue Mar 17 15:58:15 MST 2009
Please send updates and suggestions to: Neal McBurnett