Approval voting refers to a single-winner system. Each voter may choose; or approve any number of candidates running for office, and the one with the highest number of votes becomes the winner.
The ballot on which voters can mark several candidates is an approval ballot. The use of this kind of ballot is what makes approval voting stand out from the other common forms of single-winner voting systems. Understanding how it works can also help distinguish between ranked choice vs approval voting.
In the case of the single-winner plurality voting system, the winner is determined by who secures the highest number of votes, which is also the same as with approval voting. However, with the former, a voter may choose only one candidate.
With score voting, a voter has the opportunity to give each candidate running a numeric score. The candidate with the highest total scores is declared the winner. Things are a bit different for approval voting since the score must be zero to one.
Approval voting ballots contain a list showcasing the candidates running for particular seats in various offices. Next to each of their names is a checkbox. There can also be another way for voters to mark Yes or No for the candidate in some cases.
Each aspirant may be highlighted under a different question. For instance, it could be something like, “Do you approve of this individual for the job?” The approval voting system allows each voter to state their support for one, some, or all candidates by putting up such questions. Each vote also counts equally, and everyone gets the same number of votes, which is one for each candidate, stating either for or against. Once voting is done, the final tallies will show how many voters support each candidate running for the various office seats available. The winner is determined by who gets the most support from voters.
One should also be informed that with approval voting, ballots marked the same way for every candidate, whether yes or no, tend not to affect the overall outcome of the election. Each vote separates the candidates into two groups: those supported and those not. Therefore, each candidate supported is viewed as being the preferred choice instead of the other ones running. In addition, the voter’s preferences among approved candidates are usually unspecified, which is the same as with voter’s preferences among unapproved candidates.
To simplify the approval voting system even further, one can break it down into three main stages for the voter:
1. Every voter begins by writing down the names of all the candidates that are acceptable to them.
2. Every time a candidate's name shows up on anybody’s ballot, that particular candidate receives a point.
3. The candidate with the most points wins.
To better understand approval voting, we should look at some practical examples of real candidates in previous elections. However, we will do this with a few adjustments.
Let us take a look at the 2016 U.S. elections. We all know that the two primary candidates running were Donald Trump of the Republican Party and Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, some other popular candidates like Bernie Sanders didn’t manage the final cut.
With that in mind, let us suppose that the election was between Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. Instead of the Electoral College deciding the winner, we are going to make use of the approval voting system. For clarity, let us also assume that the total number of voters is 100.
Therefore, the numbers are as follows:
From the information provided above, Donald Trump would become the winner of the election with 60 points. The reason for this is that:
This, however, is just a more realistic example that voters can easily relate to. It shows how approval voting is designed to work, even if it was to be used during a primary election.
In 2018, Fargo, in North Dakota, passed a local ballot agenda that adopted the approval voting system in the city’s local elections. In 2020, citizens used approval voting to elect various officials, making it the first U.S. city and jurisdiction to adopt approval voting.
Also, in November 2020, the city of St. Louis, Missouri, pushed forward Proposition D, which authorized a variant form of the approval voting system.
Every couple of years, American voters go to the polls to cast their ballots for their choice of president, governor, mayor, senator, etc. Those responsible for the elections count the votes and eventually declare a winner. However, what is usually on most people’s minds is how election officials determine the legitimate winner. If there are only two candidates, this is relatively easy since the one with more than 50% of the votes wins. But what happens when there are more than two candidates, and none of them gets a majority? Resolving such a situation will largely depend on where you live in the U.S. Nonetheless, this is one of the main reasons why the idea of approval voting came forth back in the 1970s.
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