Freedom in the US depends heavily on the judgment and integrity of those we elect. But if the ballots we cast are somehow defective, then we could be electing the wrong people. If so, then the freedom we strive for is in serious danger.
Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that the way we cast our ballots is defective. We use a voting method called plurality voting where we choose only one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins. This seemingly innocuous restriction to pick only one candidate causes us severe problems.
When we lack the freedom to choose all the candidates we might want, bad things happen. For instance, if there are multiple freedom-minded candidates, then our support gets divided and those candidates can lose to an opposing candidate. And if other parts of the electorate share our views but fear that a candidate of higher integrity can’t win, then that high-integrity candidate may get unfairly marginalized as they vote for the second-rate, but more electable, candidate—despite bringing good ideas to the table.
The way that this plurality voting system forces us to cast our ballots leaves us vulnerable to vote splitting and the spoiler effect. Independents and parties like the Libertarian Party are forced to drain their precious resources on onerous signature requirements just to get on the ballot.
Of course, here major parties give themselves either a complete pass or much easier signature requirements. Even more, major parties—instead of fixing the problem—have chosen to retaliate against outside competition.
We’d find this unlevel playing field unacceptable in the economic marketplace. So shouldn’t we also find this unacceptable in the political marketplace?
Fortunately, we can solve this violation of our rights by using a ballot that gives us the freedom to select—not rank—as many candidates as we want. The person who receives the most votes still wins, but more votes are cast. This is called “approval voting,” and it can fundamentally improve our elections.
Studied academically since the late 1970s, the evidence of approval voting’s advantages over our current plurality voting system is overwhelming. One big advantage is that approval voting always lets you vote for your favorite. No matter what. This means that when candidates bring good ideas to the table they get the support they deserve—regardless of their name recognition or perceived viability.
No longer could debate commissions bar competitive independents and third parties. Public scrutiny won’t allow this injustice for candidates who are able to get over 20 or 30% in approval voting polls. Imagine further that the US’s largest third party (the Libertarian Party) is able to win seats in national office and more than the occasional seat in local office. You can imagine the same for liberty or freedom-minded independents.
The merits of approval voting haven’t gone unnoticed in libertarian communities. The straw poll for the Republican Liberty Caucus in 2016 used approval voting. The Texas Libertarian Party not only uses approval voting itself but also explicitly includes approval voting on its official platform. And the national Libertarian Party has already been using approval voting to elect its national officers. Even the Western Conservative Summit uses approval voting for its straw polls. The word is catching on to oust plurality voting and replace it with approval voting.
The Center for Election Science values a level playing field for all candidates, regardless of party or ideology. We want a system where good ideas are able to rise to the top. This means that in addition to studying voting methods and research, we’re also using this evidence as our cue to take action. Taking action is the only way we can ensure that we really have the freedom we claim. Notably, these actions include changing the way we elect people to government office. We’re helping local activists run ballot initiatives to get approval voting in their cities.
We’re excited to share our work with attendees at FreedomFest, and we’re excited to meet you. We’d love for you to learn more about our work and how you can support this very freedom-minded election reform. Don’t forget to visit our website to sign up for our newsletter. We’re also a nonprofit, so if you believe in having the private sector solve these types of problems, we would gladly welcome and thank you for your tax-deductible donations. We look forward to meeting you!
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