This weekend, hundreds of Libertarians will be traveling to Sparks-Reno, NV to participate in the 2020 Libertarian National Convention. During this time the delegates representing all 50 states will be voting on proposed changes to the national platform and bylaws, and will be electing a new national committee to oversee the Party for the next 2 years.
Elections are something that Libertarians discuss a lot. Most often we talk about the multiple ways Republicans and Democrats work to keep Libertarian candidates off the ballot with double standards, filing fees, and messy bureaucracy that they can just pay their way out of. However, we also spend time educating voters on the failures of our current voting system. The voting system in place in most of the United States is known as “first-past-the-post” and is arguably the worst method for allowing a full expression of a voter’s preference. There are multiple other, better options for voting systems that all for more voter expression and foster an environment where more than two parties can thrive. Below are two articles that were originally published in past issues of the LPNews: one focusing on Ranked Choice Voting and one focusing on Approval Voting.
Why and How Libertarians Should Support Ranked-Choice Voting
Bradley Bobbs, PhD
Originally published in LPNews, 2021 Q4 Edition
Lex Hannan (LP News v.51 #1 p.12) made a good point about how libertarian votes in a spoiler” election (where no candidate gets a majority of votes) could put pressure on the two big parties (I’ll call them “D&R”) to adopt libertarian principles. However, I feel strongly that the LP would benefit far more if spoiler elections could instead be completely eliminated by implementing ranked-choice voting (RCV) into all elections. That’s because RCV would eliminate the greatest barrier that stands in the way of the LP becoming a major player in US politics: the “wasted vote” syndrome.
Several polls have shown (e.g., see www.theAdvocates.org) that libertarian views are more popular in the U.S. than liberal and conservative views combined! Why then does the LP win so few elections, almost always losing to either liberals or conservatives? The answer lies in the fact that almost all voters believe that the LP candidate has no chance of winning. This belief makes them feel that a vote for the LP would be “wasted”; and so they instead vote for the lesser of two evils, the D&R candidate that they dislike less, to defeat the greater of two evils, the D&R candidate that they dislike more. Their wasted-vote belief thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, ensuring that their favored LP candidate will not win.
But suppose that they could cast a 1st-choice vote for the LP candidate that they really like, and a 2nd choice vote for the lesser evil? Then they could vote their conscience, take a stand for the LP, and still vote to defeat the greater evil. They would see that their vote would not be wasted, and so would no longer have any reason not to vote this way. And then, the LP candidate could actually win, or at least get enough votes to be taken more seriously in future elections. In this scenario, the LP could see a rapid rise to become one of the largest parties.
RCV has already been implemented in many elections throughout the US and the rest of the world, but not nearly enough. Yet there are hardly any valid reasons against implementing it. It’s fairly simple to implement. In the “instant runoff voting” type of RCV (see Fairvote.org), it’s clearly completely fair, since it’s equivalent to holding runoff elections until one candidate gets a majority of the votes, but without all the hassle and expense of multiple elections. Each voter goes to the polls only once, and in that single visit indicates how they will vote in case runoff elections are needed.
So what can a libertarian do to get RCV more widely used, and make this dream of major LP success come true? One thing is allying with all other small parties. For the present, I don’t think it really matters that their political views are different from ours. Those differences can be dealt with someday after we have defeated the domination of D&R over all other parties. Until then, we should all band together against our common enemy, and work towards our common goal of more widespread RCV.
We should also try to get D&R to help towards this goal, but of course not by telling them how it will help small parties! We must instead tell them how, without RCV, spoiler elections with plurality rule are in violation of the principles of democracy and majority rule. How very un-American that is!
We can also get support from either D or R by pointing out close elections where plurality rule caused their candidate to lose, and would clearly have won under RCV. Examples are the presidential elections that caused Bill Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Donald Trump to win by giving them electors from states where they did not get a majority of the votes.
One caution: Make it clear that we are not proposing any changes to the Electoral College. Such changes raise many controversies (changing the US Constitution, respecting the choices of the Founding Fathers, ensuring that small states play a significant role, etc) that we should stay away from. Limit our arguments to the noncontroversial goal of majority rule.
Ranked-choice voting could provide the LP’s greatest hope of becoming a major player in US politics, if only we can get it more widely implemented. Please go to fairvote.org and see how you can help.
How to Free the Ballot: Approval Voting
Arthur M. Thomas IV
Originally published in LPNews, 2022 Spring Edition
Anyone working to earn Libertarians votes has encountered the “wasted vote”, “spoiler”, and “this election is too important” arguments against voting for a Libertarian candidate. These arguments are often more common than complaints about our platform or any particular candidate. Not many, except those outside two party politics, really consider how these arguments are a sign of voting manipulation. Excuses like these are also especially ironic when poll after poll shows people want more political choices. We have an opportunity here to point out how the old parties are manipulating voter choices, and to present a simple and effective solution to free their ballots: Approval Voting.
Approval Voting is very simple: You can approve of one or more candidates.
There are many different voting systems which all have different advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately in the US we use a system called “First Past the Post.” This is an antiquated system for group decisions in general, and it is a poor mechanism for large groups of people in a representative government. The government uses the worst system and continues to do so because it serves those who derive power from it. While almost any other system would be better, there are many arguments for why Approval Voting is the best system to support.
- Frees voters to express themselves
- Removes mental barriers keeping people away from alternatives
- Does not harm other choices when voting for a favorite candidate
- Keeps ballots simple and harder to spoil
- Allows more than one selection – an easy and low cost change in most voting systems
- Provides easy to understand results – a simple list of the candidates along with how many votes they received
- Tends to elect candidates who would beat all rivals head-to-head
- Trends away from negative voting and binary extremes we see in elections
- Gives an accurate measure of support for all candidates
We should not advocate for any voting system because it is “better for us” — this would make us little different from the existing duopoly. As with all our principles, we should advocate for a voting system because it is better at its purpose. It is better for the voters. Approval Voting gives the best direct number of support for any candidate. It removes the concerns old parties have of third-party or Independent choices being “spoilers” which keeps us in so many ballot access struggles. The ability to more directly measure candidate support helps parties become more competitive over time as voters support their choices more expressively. Approval Voting isn’t best because it supports alternative parties, but because it supports voter choice over manipulation mechanisms.
Ending the “wasted” vote issue is really what Approval Voting does best. In voting systems, this issue is known as the Favorite Betrayal Criterion which means there is never an incentive to vote for a choice that is not your favorite. As mentioned, there are many better, more advanced methods than our current system, but they can still fail on this important point. Approval Voting is a straightforward system that addresses this issue. Voters will be able to easily see the direct impact of their votes because vote results will be reported plainly and will be easily understood. They will be free to fully express their opinions on a ballot. Voters and politicians will also learn that “gaming the system” doesn’t work. If someone doesn’t vote for a candidate they like, they hurt themselves. If someone votes for someone they didn’t actually want they also hurt themselves. This means people also don’t have to worry about how others will vote (See: Duverger’s Law for more info).
A side effect of Approval Voting is also that candidates will work to earn the most votes which is in contrast to our current system that encourages scaring people away from alternative options and appearing as “the lesser of two evils.” This could mean more positive campaigns in general and less skewing to the “left vs right” extremes we see in politics that leaves most of the independently minded voters behind and feeling like their votes do not matter. A new political environment where voters are put more in charge of outcomes would allow politics to be about ideas again. Approval Voting also effectively puts each candidate in a virtual “head to head” style competition since their direct support can be seen by all. This means that even if an alternative party is not the winner, all can still see the real support and influence that the party has with the voters. We want Libertarians to win. We are the most serious alternative option, and we have meaningful positions and principles that should impact elections regardless of a direct win. Approval Voting will make our positions harder to ignore since our real support could be seen over time.
Voters absolutely deserve a better system. Implementing any new system will be difficult not just due to difficulties in changing the law, but also because of politicians keeping a firm grip on what brings them the most power. The movement for voting system reform has gained some traction in recent years, which is good. It is good to keep an eye on what works for the voters versus what the politicians already in power are willing to change. Many of the political ruling class oppose Approval Voting over other alternatives for some of the reasons mentioned above. We all know the old parties do not want actual competition. The way they gerrymander and write ballot blocking laws makes it clear they do not care for voter choice. If we get this opportunity to actually reform our voting system, we should not let corrupt politicians employ sleight of hand. It is time for a better system – a principled system that works for voters. It is time for Approval Voting.
I have tried to avoid a lot of the complex examples and arguments here, but I do encourage those with interest in voting systems to look up further information at www.ElectionScience.org. This is the website for the Center for Election Science which is the largest advocate for Approval Voting in the United States. They have articles discussing many of the concerns and questions people have about voting systems in detail and comparisons between Approval Voting and other popular alternatives. The Center for Election Science was behind the 2018 initiative in Fargo, ND and the 2020 initiative in St. Louis, MO to implement Approval Voting.
Arthur Thomas IV has been a member of the Libertarian Party since 2005, a Lifetime Member since 2018, and has served as a Historian for the Libertarian Party of Texas since 2014.