It's not just ranked-choice. Approval voting is also in the offing.
While ranked-choice voting may be the more fashionable choice among those favoring an upheaval in the system of American elections, that is not the only alternative to the traditional first-to-the-post system that still dominates contests for public office.
Say hello to the newest option, "approval voting."
This method has been approved for use in just one jurisdiction: Fargo, the biggest city in North Dakota (population 125,000). Now, proponents are going after a much bigger prize – hoping to get a referendum on the ballot to change the municipal elections to approval voting in at least one major league city, St. Louis (population 303,000).
Under approval voting, citizens may vote for – or approve – as many names on the ballot as they want. The winner is the person who has the broadest approval, by being endorsed on the most ballots.
Aaron Hamlin, executive director of the nonpartisan and nonprofit Center for Election Science, described approval voting as "this kind of shovel-ready voting method that actually performs very well at the same time."
Among its advantages, Hamlin said, are that it:
- Provides a voting system similar to what we use now, which makes it easier for citizens to accept and cheaper to implement.
- Gives third parties a more accurate measure of their support.
- Favors candidates with the broadest appeal.
- Allows candidates who feared that they may become spoilers to feel comfortable running.
Political leaders in Fargo contacted CES, which is the most prominent advocate of the method, about switching to approval voting after a 2015 election in which the winner of a six-way contest for a spot on the city commission captured just 22 percent of the vote.
The switch was approved by 64 percent of the city's voters in a referendum last fall and will be used in the next municipal election in 2020.
Eight hundred miles to the southeast, a group called St. Louis Approves is working with the center to gather the 10,000 signatures necessary to put the idea of approval voting before the voters in a referendum.
The effort in Missouri's second-biggest city was launched by five grassroots activists for reasons similar to what prompted the change in Fargo. The activists were concerned that candidates were winning multi-candidate races with too small a share of the vote. They hope the new system will encourage more involvement and higher turnout.
Hamlin said approval voting is preferable to ranked-choice voting because it has the same advantages but promises much more straightforward simplicity. The ranked-choice system (also called instant runoffs) has been embraced by a score of municipalities and at least five states for their 2020 Democratic presidential contests, and may come to New York City after a referendum this fall. But its critics, mainly Republicans, say RCV is too complicated and vulnerable to malfeasance.
Hamlin said the Center for Election Science remains on track in its efforts to expand use of approval voting. If successful in St. Louis, advocates hope to move on to other large cities and then to state and federal elections.
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An advocacy project at Princeton University has released a new guide for those who want to combat excessive partisanship in the drawing of legislative districts, hoping it will be a roadmap to help citizens push for fairer maps in all 50 states.
The guide was created by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and released on the heels of last month's Supreme Court ruling that federal courts will not be in the business of assessing partisan gerrymandering claims.
The Princeton project's state information page offers a color-coded map that divides states by "key redistricting features." Eighteen are shaded dark or light green, for example, signaling a third-party commission or demographer already guides the drawing of voting districts.
Golden is the author of "Unlock Congress" and a senior fellow at the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy, which seeks to improve democracy on a global scale. He is also a member of The Fulcrum's advisory board.
It may seem like recent Supreme Court decisions have the conclusive power to halt reform efforts to unrig congressional districts and suck the billions of dollars out of our politics. But this is really not the case. A path remains for Democratic leaders to restore fairness and common sense to American elections. But in order to do it, they'll need to rip a page out of Mitch McConnell's book and restore majority rule to the Senate.
The fact is that millions of Americans of different political stripes crave electoral reforms that would make the House more accurately reflect voter preferences and would slash the corruptive influence of big money on Capitol Hill.