INTERVIEW: Democracy Chronicles Author Discusses Approval Voting

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!

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