Colorado Libertarian Candidate for Governor: “We all win by implementing approval voting”

From Third Party and Independent Daily:

Jaimes Brown is the Libertarian candidate for governor of Colorado. He is an outspoken advocate of electoral and political reform, and one of the few candidates for elected office who calls for the implementation of approval voting in the United States. I recently contacted Mr. Brown via email and asked him a few questions about alternative voting methods and why he thinks approval voting is superior to plurality voting and instant runoff voting. He kindly obliged. . . .

TPID: Among those who advocate alternative voting methods, many call for the implementation of instant runoff voting. But you do not. What are the drawbacks of IRV on your view?

Brown: Instant runoff voting (IRV) also causes 2-party domination. IRV is much more complicated and expensive to implement than Approval Voting. IRV leads to higher voter-error and ballot spoilage rates. IRV generally requires changes to voting equipment, and consulting companies to count the ballots. In contrast to that, Approval Voting is simple to count, and can be handled with any existing voting equipment. The complexity of IRV makes it difficult to assure honest elections. In particular, ballots cannot be counted in precincts, thus reducing election transparency and enabling fraud.

TPID: Why do you advocate approval voting instead? What is approval voting?

Brown: Approval voting is more indicative of voters’ actual preferences and is more easily implemented. Approval voting is “approving” all the candidates the voter approves of. With the Nader/Gore model, let’s say there were 4 candidates on the ballot: Bush (R), Gore (D), Nader (G) and Browne (L).
Those who favor Nader could have approved of Gore also so their vote wasn’t “wasted” on the candidate who best represented them. Those who favored fiscal responsibility could have voted for Browne and also approved of Bush in hopes that Bush was fiscally conservative (which only history could prove he wasn’t). These are just examples. The reality is that our individual opinions are diverse and dynamic and approval voting accounts for our diversity . . .
TPID: Do you have plans to continue this advocacy beyond the gubernatorial campaign? What is your advice to others who would like to see the implementation of approval voting?

Brown: Absolutely, it’s not about me, it’s about liberty. I find it offensive that the two parties have spoiled the whole system and they have the audacity to label anyone with a fresh approach as “spoilers”! My advice would be to continue to point out to all political parties, independents, and citizens that we all win by implementing approval voting. Democrats would have been better off with it in 2000, Republicans would be better off with it in the 2010 Colorado Governor election. The people are better off with it because we will get better representation. Isn’t that what a Republic is all about?

Read the whole thing.  Due, in part, to Brown’s advocacy, there seems to have been an uptick in coverage and discussion of approval voting in mainstream news outlets and the political blogosphere.  From Poli-Tea today:

• Late last month, Anthony Gottlieb profiled a number of alternative voting methods in an article for The New Yorker, comparing and contrasting them with plurality voting, and devoting a significant portion of the piece to a discussion of approval voting. The article sparked a number of interesting discussions in the blogosphere.

• Just a few days ago, in Vermont’s Rutland Herald, reader Ed Weissman argued that the people of the United States would be better served by the major parties if approval voting were used in the primary election process.

• And, finally, the Libertarian candidate for governor of Colorado, Jaimes Brown, recently garnered positive coverage in a number of mainstream press outlets for his advocacy of approval voting . . .

For more information on approval voting, head over to Citizens for Approval Voting and the Center for Range Voting, and be sure to check out Least of All Evils, a highly informative blog devoted to approval and range voting.

23 thoughts on “Colorado Libertarian Candidate for Governor: “We all win by implementing approval voting”

  1. Robert Milnes

    Until there is some sort of change or reform, we are stuck with plurality voting & electoral college.
    PLAS is the only method of third party coping with the duopoly with plurality voting. Either the GP & LP can win -progressive movement, or CP & LP-counterrevolution.

  2. JB

    Great idea — trash a voting system reform that’s winning and working promote one that has no history of winning! Ya know, you could do the latter without doing the former.

    But on approval voting, help me out. If I’m a Tancredo voter, what do you suggest I do with approval voting? Right now I’m dead even with Republicans in the polls. Together we are more than the Democrat, but divided we’re not. But I want Tancredo to win, not the Republican. Do I approve of the Republican too, even though that might cause Tancredo to lose? Walk me through that. Thanks.

  3. d.eris

    Dale,
    PLAS, is Milnes’ “Progresssive-Libertarian Alliance Strategy.” The idea is to get libertarians and progressives behind the same candidate in a given election to counter the D and R. I like to call it a PLEA for political sanity, the Progressive Libertarian Electoral Alliance.

  4. d.eris

    JB,
    Under approval voting, the phenomenon of “splitting the vote” would not happen. On your ballot, you could approve Tancredo, the Republican candidate and Libertarian candidate in the race. The candidate who was approved by the most voters wins.

  5. JB

    Thanks D. Eris. If I’m a Tancredo backer, I don’t get why vote for the Republican. I would want Tancredo to win and not cancel my vote out for him.

  6. pete healey

    I’m with JB, still a little fuzzy on the actual mechanics of “approval voting”. Following his example, If I want to vote for Tancredo, and I do, what’s the advantage of voting for the Republican too? And how do I express my “approval” of Tancredo more than I express my “approval” of the Republican?

  7. Dale Sheldon-Hess

    “And how do I express my “approval” of Tancredo more than I express my “approval” of the Republican?”

    You can’t. If you don’t want the Republican to win, don’t approve them. If you’d be okay with them winning, go ahead and do so. If you don’t really want the Republican to win, but you REALLY REALLY don’t want the Democrat to win, and you’re afraid that might be the case, well… maybe vote for the Republican anyway.

    That might not sound like the most awesome thing since sliced bread… but it is! You have to think about it in the context of other voting systems. In other systems (including instant runoff) you have to decide “will I betray my favorite in order to elect the lesser evil?” While under approval, you always can always approve your true favorite, and the choice is whether or not to approve of alternate choices (“lesser evils”) that might be able to beat your most-hated candidate, even if your favorite can’t. It’s really a much, much better position to be in than you’ll get from any other voting system.

    If that’s not enough, there is a voting system where you CAN express the kind of fine-detail you want to; it’s very similar to approval voting, and it’s called score voting (or range voting). But if you vote strategically (as opposed to honestly) under score voting, it works out exactly the same as approval voting. (Similar to how, if you vote strategically under instant runoff, it works out the same as plurality.) But approval gets most of the up-side, and is probably a bit easier to get enacted.

  8. pete healey

    Alright, so in Florida in November, 2000 a lot of people “approve” of Nader AND Gore, and Gore wins. Is that right so far? And maybe Nader gets “approved” of on 15% of all ballots. That gives him some kind of bragging rights, and political clout, right? Similar scenario with Bush and Buchanan in that election, right?

  9. Dale Sheldon-Hess

    @pete healey

    You’ve pretty much got the idea, for the short term.

    But the long-term is different: because Nader doesn’t brand himself (and the Green party) as spoilers, rather than 95% of the people who voted for them choosing to abandon them four years later, they are likely to continue to gain support. And perhaps, eventually surpass one or both of the major parties.

    Remember: Fear of becoming a spoiler is how 3rd parties fail to grow. Becoming a spoiler is how 3rd parties die.

    No spoilers? Who knows what happens next.

  10. Robert Milnes

    Dale @2, Progressive Libertarian Alliance Strategy.
    The present system minimizes The Libertarian Vote/Cato Institute 13%. Most eventually go to the republican as lesser of 2 evils. It also minimizes the progressive vote @27%, most going to the democrat. The progressive vote got Obama the dem nomination.
    Now, if you educate ALL voters to vote for EITHER the Libertarian OR the Green candidate on each ballot & say they copuld reach 40% & get a plurality victory, voters just might alter their voting pattern & think maybe they won’t throw away their vote by voting third party becaise both the LP & Green have a chance to win at 40%.
    A fusion ticket is one that has a progressive & a Libertarian on it. In 2008 I suggested Gravel/Ruwart as a fusion ticket. If Nader had selected a libertarian vp he would have had a fusion ticket. Both progressives and libertarians should be willing to vote for a fusion ticket.
    In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt did not have a fusion ticket & still got 27%. If he had chosen a democratic progressive for vp, he may very well have won.
    In 1924 LaFollette did have a fusion ticket but did not campaign on it & the Progressive Party lost. In 1948 The Progressive Party did not have a fusion ticket.

  11. Richard Winger

    Jaimes Brown is not “the” Libertarian Party candidate for Governor. He is one of two. A Libertarian Party primary tomorrow (August 10 Tuesday) will decide who is the Colorado Libertarian candidate for Governor. The other contender is Dan Kilo.

  12. JB

    Dale doesn’t see my problem. I want Tancredo to win. ANDI want Hickenlooper (the Democrat) to lose. So I’d settle on the Republican as my lesser of two evils.

    So, with approval voting, I’m stuck. I have to decide whether it’s more important to defeat Hickenlooper (so I approve of Republican) or elect my favorite (Tancredo). Approval only seems useful for third parties when the third party candidate has no chance to win. As soon as there’s __any__ chance to win, you stop approving of your lesser of two evils.

    That’s not to say that’s not better than plurality voting. It is. It’s just to say it’s limited. So then all you need to do is persuade your representatives to support a system where a candidate with 51% support can lose and which can seem “weird” by having some people use more than one vote and others only one vote.

  13. pete healey

    “James Brown” is running against “Dan Kilo” in a Libertarian Party primary in Colorado?!?!? I didn’t make this up, I swear.
    As for “approval” or “ranked choice”, I’m not all that happy with either one. Though it would be easier to calculate the “approval” votes. Have you ever sat in a room waiting for the last place candidate’s 2nd choice votes to be distribute? I have, and it s**ks.

  14. Melty

    “So, with approval voting, I’m stuck. I have to decide whether it’s more important to defeat Hickenlooper (so I approve of Republican) or elect my favorite (Tancredo).”
    Under approval voting, JB, there’s no such quandary.
    You say you want Tancredo to win. With approval voting, then, definitely vote for him. When approval voting, there’s no reason to not vote for the one you want to win (unlike under plurality voting in some circumstances).
    You say you want Hickenlooper to lose. With approval voting, then, you definitely should not vote for him (unlike under instant runoff voting in which certain circumstances may make it strategically advantageous to rank someone you want to lose).
    Now then, under approval voting, this just leaves you with decisions to make over your in-between candidates. Are they favorable enough to receive your approval too, or not? That’s it. Simply vote for all those that you think would do a fairly good job if they’d win. It’s great when there exists even one fairly good one to choose from. If there’s actually more than one fairly good candidate, then those are the good problems. Unfortunately, none-of-the-above is usually the only good choice.
    Myself, in this particular gubernatorial election, I’d vote for only the Libertarian.

  15. Aaron Hamlin

    Whom one decides to approve of also depends on how the candidate you don’t like is doing. Since there’d be approval voting, there’d also be approval polling. In these cases, assume you love the Libertarian (L), like the Republican (R), and hate the Democrat (D).

    If approval polls:
    D: 50%
    R: 50%
    L: 40%

    You want to vote for R and L here. You vote for R because you want R to beat D. L doesn’t have a shot, but you vote for him anyway to show your support and give his ideas more legitimacy.

    If approval polls:
    D: 50%
    R: 50%
    L: 50%

    You still vote for R and L. You don’t vote for just one if you have a strong preference for R against D. By bullet voting for R or L, you risk D winning against one of them.

    If approval polls:
    D: 40%
    R: 50%
    L: 50%

    You bullet vote for L here. When D is enough out of the race, you can narrow your sights against R and show your support for L.

    When exactly do you bullet vote for L? It depends on how far out of the competition D is. And it depends on how much you dislike D and how likable D is compared to R. If D and R are similarly unlikable, a voter may be more inclined to take more risk bullet voting for L by bullet voting when the race is closer.

  16. Aaron Hamlin

    And of course

    If approval polls:
    D: 50%
    R: 40%
    L: 50%

    Then you again bullet vote for L. It’s not R that’s giving competition to D anymore; it’s L competing against D. Whether you include R in the vote would depend on how much you actually supported R’s views. Like in the example where L had 40% was a token vote, support for R in this case is also a token vote because it likely won’t change the outcome.

    I hope these examples shed light on “tactics” within real-world approval voting.

  17. Melty

    Aaron gives good examples. If you want to get tactical with approval voting, this is as far as it goes. There’s never any use in betraying your preferences, like in plurality or instant runoff. It’s just a matter of adjusting your threshold of approval. You might put your threshold high, and vote for only your very favorite. You might put your threshold low and vote for everybody but the one you dislike most. You might do something inbetween those two extremes.

    If you want to get tactical under approval voting, a good rule of thumb might be, if your very favorite has strong odds to win, vote for only that very favorite, and if your very favorite has no chance of winning, vote for all those who are at least tolerable.

    Of course, there is a gray area between those two scenarios, and relative chances of winning are tricky to judge under approval voting. What with the number of votes per voter so flexible, nobody could get a majority, or even everybody could.

  18. Nicholas Sarwark

    Jaimes Brown is not “the” Libertarian Party candidate for Governor. He is one of two. A Libertarian Party primary tomorrow (August 10 Tuesday) will decide who is the Colorado Libertarian candidate for Governor. The other contender is Dan Kilo.

    As of last night Mr. Brown is the Lp candidate for Governor.

  19. Tom Blanton

    Here’s a question for those who advocate alternative voting systems.

    Why would Republicans and Democrats change the system to one where independents and third party candidates have a better chance of winning?

    Surely I’m not the only person that’s noticed that the major parties have gone out of their way to ensure that they have a monopoly on electoral politics.

  20. Robert Milnes

    That is another reason to try PLAS. It is playing by THEIR rules as they exist. They have no complaint is they get swept out of office by their own rules.

  21. Robert Capozzi

    tb, yes, great point. Even if a theoretical case can be made for different voting, and even though it’s been adopted in a few places, procedural change of this sort seems extremely far fetched. I suspect Public Choice economists would find this one not worth the effort.

    Of course, Public Choicers often advocate institutional change, like a balanced budget amendment to cure the diffused cost/specific benefit problem. That one hasn’t worked out so well, either, though it seemed more worth the effort, as the virtue of it seemed more obvious.

  22. Melty

    Approval Voting is so simple, in truth the simplest of all, that the effort it would require for the procedural change would be tiny. It’s just that it’s not traditonal to do things the simplest way.

    It would be advantageous for Democrats/Republicans to do their primaries under Approval or Range to settle on better candidates to run.

    I think the main reason alternative voting has gotten so little traction since Bucklin voting fizzled out about a century ago, is that there are usually only two to choose from to begin with, or if not there’s only one to choose from.
    Also, yankees are so self-impressed, they think they’re a beacon of democracy even though they do democracy so poorly.

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