How an Approval Voting Method Actually Works

November 2, 2017

The results are in…and they state that the majority of ElectionBuddy users don’t know how to properly run an Approval vote.

After noticing some users who were using the Approval voting method incorrectly, we wanted to look at the total number of Approval elections being run on our site. So, we complied our internal data for 324 elections using the voting method. We then analyzed those elections. Unfortunately, the results are not good. We found that almost 65% of our users who were using an Approval voting method were using it incorrectly.  That’s alarmingly high.

Why is this? 

Well, the most common misuse of the Approval vote we saw was the use of it in a “Yes/No” scenario. The concept of “approving” a single item, such as one candidate or one bylaw amendment, can be very misleading. When approving a single item, you cannot use an Approval voting method. 

“So, what is an Approval voting method? When do we use it?”

Approval voting ballot
Approval Ballot

The Approval voting method is a single-winner electoral system. When voting, the voter chooses any options that they approve of. The option most collectively approved of wins.

To illustrate what that means, take a look at the sample ballot on the left.

If you had received this ballot to vote on, you would select any of the candidates that you approve of for the position of vice-president. The candidate most approved-of wins. To reiterate, a voter can select and vote for all of the listed candidates. 

When the Approval Voting Method Goes Wrong

Approval voting ballot used for referendum
Referendum setup using an approval method

As mentioned earlier, the most common misuse of the voting method was in “Yes/No” situations. Based on the above information, it is clear that the voting method does not work on a “Yes/No”. 

Here is another sample ballot on the right. This exemplifies why an approval voting method is not the same thing as, for example, approving a bylaw amendment.

Voter verifying approval voting choices
Verifying the selected options when approving a bylaw

If this was set up with the correct voting method (what we call a Referendum), you would not be able to select both “Yes” and “No” and submit your ballot. Our error-checker stops you when you attempt to verify. But, with the approval voting method, a voter can choose both.

You can bet your bottom dollar that this voter will be able to submit this ballot successfully, too. This ballot submission makes no sense. If you were to have voters submit ballots like this, your results would be nonsensical as well. 

Don’t compromise your results — use the Approval voting method properly.

This voting method is a great voting method when used correctly: it’s simple, quick, and is an excellent alternative to a Plurality vote (because a voter can choose all the candidates they would be okay with seeing elected into the position, as opposed to just one). But, like any improper tool for the job, it’s useless in the wrong situations.

When deciding on a voting method, it is important to ask yourself if the behaviour makes sense for what you’re trying to accomplish. Always make sure you have your critical-thinking hat on. But, if you are ever unsure or want a second opinion, just shoot us an email at support@electionbuddy.com  — we are always here to help!

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