INTERVIEW: Democracy Chronicles Author Discusses Approval Voting

Author Discusses Approval Voting

Michael Ossipoff is a Writer With Democracy Chronicles

June 11, 2012
In continuation of Democracy Chronicles’ series of interviews with prominent members involved with “The Declaration of Election-Method Reform Advocates“, we now turn to one of our favorites, Michael Ossipoff, perhaps because he is also a writer on Democracy Chronicles.  Please see his recent article about Approval Voting here.  Originally from California and currently a native of Miami, Florida, Mr. Ossipoff is a fervent supporter of Approval Voting as a solution to problems with our current election system.

Mr. Ossipoff is a regular participant at the Election Methods mailing list, at Electowiki. He answers postings at the election-methods mailing list where the mailing list makes its participants’ e-mail addresses available.

Interview with Michael Ossipoff:

Democracy Chronicles:  What is your advice for those who are working for election reform?

File:Approval ballot Discusses Approval Voting

Example of Approval Voting

Example of Approval Voting
It’s easy to be disappointed or discouraged by the societal world, but I suggest that people are capable of better. Our current Plurality voting system makes people afraid to express what they want, because they’re afraid that they’ll “waste their vote”, due to Plurality’s rule that they have to rate all but one candidate at bottom (making Plurality a most unusual and peculiar points-rating system). The far-reaching, societally ruinous,  consequences of that rule can’t be overemphasized.

We’ve all heard what people think of “the politicians”…the ones who are the “two choices” between whom we must choose, for which we must “hold our nose”. Only a school-ground drug dealer is viewed with as much disgust and contempt as the politicians who are running our country.

When millions of people think they can’t express what they want, that means that no one knows what others want. With the media continually hammering home its version of the “mainstream”, and it’s manufactured “consensus”, everyone thinks that s/he is the only one who wants or would like something different from what the tv says we all want–what the Republicans and Democrats offer and do. So the individual feels isolated, and becomes resigned and demoralized. Believing that the Republican and Democrat really are “the two choices”, s/he resignedly votes for whichever media-anointed candidate is the “lesser-evil”.

But what if people actually could express what they really want, and could therefore find out what others really want? The whole above-described scam would fall apart. We’d start having government that reflects what the public actually want. That would be so different from now, the societal consequences would be so far reaching as to be unimaginable.

What would that take? It wouldn’t take much:

And that would be the result of making one small change to our voting system: Currently our ballots give, to each candidate, either 0 points or 1 point. But we’re required to give 0 to all but one of the candidates. But shouldn’t you be the one who decided how you rate the candidates?  …to decide, for each candidate, whether you give to him/her the top or bottom rating? One point or zero points? Shouldn’t you, and only you, decide that? That’s when we’d find out what people really like, as reflected in the points totals, because that’s when no one has any reason to not fully support what they like and want. …when _you_ decide whom you will or won’t support by rating with a 1 instead of a 0.

Many well-meaning reform advocates want more complicated voting systems. But the above-described minimal fix to what we already have is all that it would take to change everything for the better, in a big way.

Democracy Chronicles: You have not signed the Declaration, why?

The only reason why I haven’t yet signed the declaration is because I’d assumed that it was only for celebrities, dignitaries, academic authorities or other officially recognized authorities.  Because I found out that anyone can sign the declaration, I signed it as soon as possible.

I thoroughly agree with the declaration’s main statement: The statement that the currently-used Plurality voting system is either the worst, or nearly the worst possible voting system. It’s effectively a points system that (inexplicably) only allows people to give a point to one candidate forcing millions of voters to give it all away to an un-liked “lesser-evil”, giving each other the false impression that they like that lesser-evil better than their actual favorite(s). That will never happen with Approval.

I also thoroughly support the declaration’s favorable mention of the five methods that it lists. Though I don’t consider IRV to be a good idea, due to voters’ serious tendency to over-compromise, it would be an alright method were it not for that problem.  Of the other four recommended methods, three effectively amount to Approval, my favorite method. The remaining method is an enhancement of Approval.

Democracy Chronicles:  What characteristics do you think are most important for a voting method to have?

The worst problem of Plurality is that it causes voters to abandon their favorite(s) and vote someone less-liked over their favorite(s).

I claim that a method should never give anyone incentive or reason to vote someone else over their favorite. That requirement is called the “Favorite-Betrayal-Criterion”(FBC). One could also regard FBC as standing for “Favorite-Burial-Criterion”.

Approval meets FBC. In fact, of the 5 methods mentioned in the recommendation, they all meet FBC, with the sole exception of IRV.

FBC is the essential necessary criterion for a voting system.

Democracy Chronicles:  What do you think is the most important election reform needed where you live?  Why is this reform important?

Approval Voting. We need it nationally.

Approval doesn’t violate 1-person-1-vote, because every voter can give to each candidate an “Approved” or a “Not-Approved” rating. Marking a candidate’s name on the ballot gives to him/her an “Approved” rating.

The candidate approved by the most people wins. People who now vote for a lesser-evil would be able to approve him/her, but could and would also approve everyone whom they like better, including their favorite. The result: The winner would be someone more genuinely liked than the unliked lesser-evils who win now.

People who now vote their favorite would be free to approve only him/her in Approval.

Democracy Chronicles:  What is your opinion on other aspects of election reform such as reforming money’s role in politics or redistricting?

Approval does much to counteract the effect of contribution-bought advertising, when the election-results show how liked the candidates really are. The media and the advertising buyers would no longer be able to deceive voters about that.

But I suggest that, ideally, all candidates and parties should receive media exposure, including airtime, etc., in proportion to their popularity, as measured by signatures or vote-totals. The media-share of the now-under-advertised candidates would of course start out small, but it would begin increasing, even with a small share of media time. It would soon reach its rightful equilibrium value, as people started hearing other opinions and proposals, for the first time.


  1. simplulo says

    Mike has a broad and deep understanding of voting systems–glad to see him interviewed here! One thing I didn’t see mentioned is that the current Plurality Voting system creates a double game: one among voters, and another among candidates. Approval Voting would do much to reduce negative campaigning, because a vote for candidate A is not necessarily a vote against candidate B. No more zero-sum thinking, especially among similar candidates, who might become allies instead of enemies!

  2. Anonymous says

    • says

      Hi Anthony–

      Good to hear from you, especially good to hear from someone I know.

      Thanks for the good words.

      I still think Approval is the best voting-system proposal for current conditions. I talked about conditions in “Four Kinds of Voting Conditions”, and in “Voting-Systems for the Green Scenario”, here at Democracy Chronicles..

      For current conditions, I like Approval for its elegant minimal-ness, and because it lets everyone fully support every candidate/party they like, including their favorite.

      In current conditions, the main problem is the “Lesser of Two Evils Problem”. But I said a lot about that in the artilcle that you’re commenting on. But I’ll just say again now that, under current conditions (Dishonest and disinformational media, and a public who believe them regarding who’s winnable), it’s essential to use a voting system that never gives anyone incentive or need to vote someone over their favorite.

      That’s called the Favorite-Burial-Criterion (or Favorite-Betrayal-Criterion), abbreviated “FBC”. It’s defined at electowiki, at (or maybe it’s At that homepage, the upper right, is a space to write the name of something that you want to search for the definition of. Search there for” Favorite-Betrayal-Criterion” or “FBC”. But FBC is defined in most of my Democracy Chronicles articles too.

      But, more recently, I’ve felt that electoral reform under current conditions is probably impossible. Those who run things have no incentive to allow a better voting-system (or even honest verifiable vote-counting, for that matter).

      So, if there could ever be societal improvement, it would be a lot more likely to start by electing a better political party to office, using our already-in-use Plurality system (as bad a voting-system as it is). After all, getting a voting-system initiative on a state ballot is prohibitively difficult and expensive, but we already have, ready-made, public elections for candidates such as congressmembers and president. All we have to do is go to the polls and mark a ballot. If all progressives do so, and we all vote for the same progressive party’s candidates, then likely the next president would be a progressive–because the public’s wants and demands coincide closely with the offerings of the progressive parties’ platforms.

      What I suggest is that everyone who prefers the progressive humans-first policies should vote for the candidates of their favorite progressive political party in the November 2014 elections (and of course vote in that party’s primary, if it hasn’t already passed).

      The voting strategy that I suggest, then, is for progressives to keep voting for their favorite progressive party, until the day when the progressive parties, combined, get the votes from a majority of the voters. That’s when progressives have a sure win. Then, in the next election after that, we should all vote for the candidates of whichever progreessive party got the most votes in the previous election (the one which progressives got their first combined majority).

      That’s how progressives can win, even in Plurality (which is a good thing, because we’re unlikely to be allowed a better voting-system under current conditions, under Republocrat rule).

      But there’s one problem with that. It has been pointed out that the real voting-power belongs to him who counts the votes.

      As long as we don’t have verifiable vote-counting, with paper ballots, suitably guarded and counted in a public event at each precinct, with public imaging of each ballot, by digital cameras beloning to and operated by political parties all accross the political spectrum–until then, of course it won’t make the slightest difference how or if we vote. Whoever owns those who own and operate the voting-machines can (and probably do) “elect” whoever will do as he’s hired to do. We have the best government that money can buy.

      So really, the first need is for everyone to demand verifiable vote-counting. Without it, the elections are illegitimate. That means we don’t have any democracy. Someone might say that it isn’t proven that the vote-counts are fraudulent. How could it be proven, if the count isn’t verifiable? The mere fact that the count result isn’t verifiable is enough to make the count, and therefore the elections, illegitimate.

      So I suggest that the first need is for people to hold pro-democeracy demonstrations, in front of Elections Departments, etc. Demonstrations demanding verifiable vote-counting, with paper ballots, publicly imaged simultaneously by parties across the poliitical spectrum, and securely transported and stored.

      Then we might start getting some results, by voting for what we actally want (as in the voting-strategy described above)

      I know I’ve said all this in my articles, but someone famous pointed out that it’s better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you don’t want and get it. There’s no valid place for lesser-of-2-evils voting,for Democrats. The Democrats and the Republicans _aren’t_ “The Two Choices”.

      The purpose of the elections is to find out what we want, and so we should vote for what we want. As has so often been pointed out, if you vote for a lesser-evil, then you get an evil. It’s also sometimes pointed out that it doesn’t make sense to expect to get something different or new, by continuting to do the same thing. People want change, and that’s why the Republocrat politicians always use “change” as a buzzword. Well, genuine change requires voting for something different. Democrat politicians aren’t different from Republocan politician.

      If I can repeat myself again, someone pointed out that we don’t have a two-party system–We have one party with two right wings. (I no doubt said most of this in the article that you’re commeting on).

      So anyway, if we get verifiable vote-counting, and, by voting for what we actually want, get something genuinely different and better–such as government by the Greens or the Justice-Party, or the SPUSA, or any of the many other progressive political parties, then, at that time, we’ll have a government that ensures an honest, open, participatory, and agenda-free media system. And, in order to get there at all, in the first place, via Plurality of course we’d also have non-gullible electorate too. That combination of conditions, the opposite of “current conditions”, I call “The Green scenario”, even though the party could be any other progressive party, not just the Green Party.

      (By the way, there are two U.S. Green parties: Green Party U.S. (GPUS) is the big one we hear most about. But there’s also Greens/Green Party USA (G/GPUSA), which was the original U.S. Green Party. Most of its membership left it for GPUS, because they must have felt that GPUS’s nonsocialist positioning made it more media-acceptable. G/GPUSA didn’t run a presidential candidate in 2012, but they still operate a website and online newsletter, etc.They have an excellent platform, one of the best.)

      I suggest that all voters read a variety of political party platforms. Many parties are briefly described at Democracy Chronicles’ Third Party Central, with links to the parties’ platforms. We should read platforms, and choose the one that describes what we’d most like, and then vote for them in each election–until such time as the progressive votes, combined, add up to a majority, after which we should all vote for the progressive part that got the most votes.

      I emphasize that that’s the immediate goal, electing a better (progressive) party to office. The rest will be easy and obvious.

      But I might as well comment a little on voting-systems for the Green scenario, even though there’s an article here about it.

      Anyway, in that Green scenario I spoke of, we’ll no longer have the conditions that make FBC necessary. So then we’d be free to benefit from other advantages, other criterion-compliances, offered by other voting-systems.

      For example, we can get the Mutual-Majority Criterion (MMC) and the Chicken-Dilemma Criterion (CD). A number of good rank-balloting methods meet both of those criteria. IRV does, and so do Benham’s method and Woodall’s method. I talk about all that in “Voting System for the Green Scenario”.

      Surely, in the Green scenario, the new progessive government will hold a referendum or initiaive election to choose a voting-system. All progressive parties that offer a new voting system offer IRV. So IRV would be the Green scenario’s initial default voting-system. In that referendum or initiative, I’d vote for Benham and Woodall (IRV, like any good rank method, lets you rank a many alternatives as you want to).

      Maybe I’d vote a ranking that would start like:

      1. Woodall
      2. Benham
      3. IRV

      But I feel that, for now, progressives, including voting-system reform advocates, should be concentrating on demanding verifiable vote-counting, and on voting for what we actually want. In that way, we could get improvement, even with our Plurality voting system.

      By the way, though I mention it in various articles, there’s an excellent voting/polling website. It’s called Condocet Internet Voting Service. You can find it via google, or use this URL:

      You can start a poll there–public or private. If public, you can select for your poll to be published at their website. You can vote in any one or more of the public polls there. I’ve started a number of polls about political parties and categories of political parties.

      They offer four rank-count rules. They include Benham (which they call Condorcet-IRV). I like it for public election in the Green scenario, and for voting in contentious organizations.

      But evidence suggests that people vote sincerely in these polls. No strategy. No chicken-dilemma. Under those different conditions, which I call “Ideal Majoritarian” voting conditions, I like another method that CIVS offers: It’s called MAM. You can probably find its definition at electowiki, but it’s defined in my article “Ideal Majoritarian Votng-Systems” (or “Voting Systems for Ideal Majoritarian Conditions).

      You can have any poll’s results displayed, by clicking “results” at that poll’s page. At the results page, at the upper right corner, there’s a menu of four voting systems, including Condorcet-IRV and MAM. You can select whichever of those you want, to count the poll and show you that method’s result. For example, I’d suggest selecting MAM, to have displayed the poll’s results as counted by MAM,.

      If you start your own poll, the system doesn’t have you choose a voting system. That’s chosen by anyone looking at results, as described above. But of course it would be good to _designate_, to your voters, a voting system (one of CIVS’s 4 voting-systems). I’d suggest designating MAM for public polls, and Condorcet-IRV for voting in contentious organizations. Un-contentious, co-operative organizations could use MAM, if they’re already free of chicken-dilemma inclination.

      Anyway, as I said, good to hear from you. I’ll e-mail this to you in case you don’t find it here. (But of course if you’re reading this, then you _have_ found it here).

      Florida definitely has its climate advantages, but that’s another topic for a different e-mail.


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