Analyzing Ranked Choice Vs. Approval Voting

February 16, 2022

Electoral reform is a hot topic in the United States these days. Even though ranked-choice voting is receiving the most attention, approval voting advocates are still doing all they can to gain some traction. So, what is the difference between these two forms of voting systems?

The following information is intended to address this question and help you understand which system is better suited for you as a voter. It will also help you familiarize yourself with a suitable approval voting method example.      

A Closer Look At Ranked-Choice Voting Vs. Approval Voting

Ranked-Choice Voting

In the case of ranked-choice voting or RCV, voters rank all candidates for a particular office based on their preference, which is the first choice, second choice, etc. The votes are first counted and determined by looking at the first choice of voter’s ballots.

It is also important to highlight that whenever ranked-choice voting is applied to elect a candidate, the setting and result are very similar to run-off elections, but with just a single trip to the polls. If no single candidate garners a first-round majority, then the candidate with the lowest numbers is eliminated, and another round of tallying commences. If a voter’s first choice happens to be eliminated, that vote goes to their second choice of candidate and so on.

Eventually, one candidate will receive a majority, more than 50% of the total votes cast. Once a candidate surpasses this mark, they will be considered to have won the election. Such a situation can also be referred to as an instant-runoff.

Approval Voting

There is no denying that there are various approval voting pros and cons. It is a system that permits voters to cast votes for as many candidates as they wish in a given race instead of having to choose just one. Once the votes are cast and counted, the winner is decided by who has the highest number of ballots. This is somewhat similar to plurality voting.

Approval voting ballots also result in vote percentages of more than 100%. Supporters of the system argue that:

  • The system better represents the degree of support for third parties.
  • Enables the voting process to become more resistant to tactical voting and prevents the taking away votes from major party candidates by third parties.
  • It has the potential to steer the election towards more moderate candidates.

On the other hand, opponents of the system contend that approval voting may be susceptible to strategic voting. This is why it is hardly ever used in competitive elections.

Ranked-Choice vs. Approval Voting

Both ranked-choice and approval voting were designed to better the American electoral system, the first-past-the-post plurality method. However, some will argue that ranked-choice is better for reasons such as; making the election process seem more realistic, especially when it comes to various assumptions about candidates and how they behave. It also presumes voters harbor meaningful preferences when making campaigns more strategic.

On the other hand, even though approval voting may seem simplistic at first, in reality, it requires voters to make far more complex strategic calculations that are primarily dependent on slight variations in polling. Or, in the case of absent polling, voters have to struggle to guess some of the strategic consequences of their votes amid campaigns’ and candidates’ propaganda.

By contrast, it is correct to say that RCV is slightly more complex from the onset. However, it allows for open voting, where people do not have to worry if their vote will end up helping their less-preferred candidate and if or not there will be a need to be overly strategic.

Democracies from all over the world have been using ranked-choice voting very effectively and successfully for more than 100 years. It is also suitable to say that hundreds of significant associations and political parties have elected their preferred leaders using the system.

When it comes to approval voting, it has seen limited use. In situations where it has been adopted, it usually looks just as suspicious as plurality voting, which it hoped to replace.

Advocates of the two kinds of voting systems can agree on one major item: the status quo in the U.S. when it comes to elections needs a second look. According to both camps, the first-past-the-post methodology renders third parties and independents as spoilers. It also allows some candidates to attain victory without getting majority support.

Proponents of ranked-choice voting and approval voting hoped to solve the issues associated with first-past-the-post elections. They aim to provide voters with a more expressive alternative that encourages diversity regarding candidates.

Others say that approval voting ends up looking like plurality voting but with a bit more cognitive strain and negative campaigns. Under the ranked-choice voting system, voters must use their rankings well to express their preferences sincerely. However, there is still no denying that one can find an unexpected result now and then when candidates are competing in a crowded field.

Overall, proponents of RCV find the system to be less cognitively taxing since there is no complex, strategic voting, and outcomes are not dependent on slight variations in polling.

Final Thoughts

We can all agree that elections are at the core of any democracy, and voting rules and regulations are crucial in explaining political outcomes and representation variations. The growing interest in such systems is simply a signal that America and its citizens are looking for better ways to conduct their elections.

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