If Republicans are wondering about how to choose among less-than-inspiring choices available in the upcoming primaries — and how to sort losers from potential winners in a national election — they would be wise to sign up for study with Steven J. Brams.
What happens in primaries of both parties, he says, is that the “field is crowded, the centrist is squeezed, the strong left candidate or strong right candidate wins. And it’s a disaster, in my opinion, for the country.”
Brams says approval voting, in which voters can vote for more than one candidate — in some scenarios as many as they can stomach — is a better way to conduct multiple candidate elections. The candidate with the most votes still wins.
Approval voting has been used by various professional societies. It’s similar to the range voting (or score voting) systems seen at the Olympics, except a candidate can only be given a thumbs up or a thumbs down, and not a more precisely calibrated 6.1 or 9.2.
With approval voting, “you can have your cake and eat it, too,” Brams says. “You can vote sincerely for the candidate who can't win … and you can cast a second approval vote, or strategic vote, for the candidate who can.”
He cites the 2000 U.S. presidential election as a time when approval voting would have shown its worth.
Under the current system of plurality voting, where voters name only one candidate as their choice, Ralph Nader siphoned enough left-leaning votes from Al Gore in the 2000 election to put right-leaning George W. Bush in the White House, which presumably was not the outcome sought by the greater number of Nader and Gore voters combined.
Had voters been able to cast two approval votes, one for Nader and one for Gore, Gore likely would have triumphed — an acceptable outcome to a greater number of voters.
Here’s how approval might work in the current Republican primary.
Conservative Republican voters, Brams says, probably have a favorite among the more conservative candidates, such as Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul, but they may worry that one of them would be unable to win the general election and that a vote for either one of them in the primaries now might well assure President Barack Obama’s re-election in the fall.
“So a second choice would be Romney, and although he doesn’t excite the passions of so many, he’s acceptable and probably has the best chance.”
Some argue that approval voting will produce mainly compromise candidates, but Brams responds that the present system tends to favor candidates at the far ends of the political spectrum who exacerbate political differences and produce deadlock. In contrast, approval voting will tend to elect candidates with support from all classes of voters, and may help more minorities — ethnic or ideological — to be elected if their views “are more-or-less centrist and acceptable to large numbers.”