1a. You mentioned that other groups are trying to implement IRV and may not even understand that approval voting is superior. Can you explain why you think other people think this and even advocate for apparently inferior methods? Your article seemed convincing at first glance and I don’t think this is a particularly partisan issue.
I think the relative support issue is a matter of those IRV advocates deweighting the likelihood of failures in IRV and overweighting the value of IRV’s existing use compared to approval voting. There’s also a lack of knowledge on many of the nuances, which is just a product of voting theory being so complicated.
1b. “We also haven’t faced organized opposition.” What kind of opposition do you anticipate facing? IRV supporters? Elected officials?
With ballot initiatives, the most likely opposition will come from those who currently benefit from a choose-one voting method. If an official or party would have likely won under a choose-one method versus approval voting, then they’ll likely oppose approval voting.
We don’t anticipate IRV supporters to oppose specific approval voting ballot initiatives, though we have seen articles from those groups publicly attacking approval voting. In public venues, we’re often bumped to keep room for IRV speakers even if there’s redundancy. This exclusion can affect our perceived legitimacy with donors, media, and other people in the reform network. We’ll likely have to continue with large ballot initiative wins before excluding us becomes unacceptable.
As an opposition example, there was a piece of state legislation that had enabling language permitting cities to use approval voting and IRV. A left-leaning organization opposed the inclusion of approval voting because they thought (rightfully) that approval voting would elect a more moderate government. In my conversation with the left-leaning organization, they told me that with IRV, they’d at least have some wins—even if there was some back and forth losses in the complete opposite direction. I told the person that if they wanted more partisan ideologies to be represented then they should support including proportional methods in the enacting language, but they seemed uninterested in listening to me at that point.
2. Since legislative reform is a nonstarter according to you and ballot initiatives for changing voting methods are present in less than half of US states, what is the medium-long term plan? Get as many cities on approval voting as possible and hope that this builds pressure for approval voting nationally?
I think yes. It’s hard to understate how frantic our pace is compared to how long it took IRV to move with reforms. That said, if we don’t have sufficient funding to run large initiatives, then approval voting could get shut out early. There’s a lot riding on us having that immediate momentum.
Also, while legislative reform is most likely not on the table now, it may be in the future. But that’s likely only if approval voting has more of a track record and the choose-one method is more regularly publicly scorned.
3. What factors led to the convincing margin of victory in Fargo despite it being seen as a long shot by the media?
This is a technical subject, and I think it just takes too much energy for media to gather the information necessary to make a more accurate prediction. For instance, I would classify “long shot” as an event less than 10% likely to occur. Yet, using base rates from similar initiatives and eventually polling, there was never an indication that the odds were ever anywhere near that low. In my calculation, I don’t think my assessment ever dipped to 50%.
Most initiatives focusing on single-winner voting methods pass. Not all of them, as we’ve learned since, but the vast majority do. We also had a convenient narrative in Fargo. Their commission created a task force that recommended approval voting—which the commission then ignored. We also had strong support on the ground. I also had the benefit of talking with lots of other people who successfully ran initiatives at a conference in earlier 2018.
So long as there’s sufficient funding, we’ll only get better at this.
4. What would make you change your mind about approval voting being the best option to advocate for?
Part of the strategic rationale for going with approval voting versus a higher-utility method that’s more complicated is that a more complicated method is less likely to get enacted. Another higher-utility method would be range/score voting where voters score each candidate on a scale. It also has a number of desirable qualities in terms of practicality (though it may take some effort to have it work on the worst of US voting machines).
There appears to be a small but measurable gain in utility going from approval to score where there is little added complexity. If we were to advance score voting in the future, for instance, we’d have to repeat the same process we did with approval voting (i.e.: proof of concept, replication, then scale).
Beyond score voting, there is little to be gained in utility between where score voting lands and where an unattainable magic best voting method would be. There are lots of other variations that scatter around this space, but those methods often add extra complexity and present practical implementation burdens that may also reduce their impact. Keep in mind, a voting method’s simplicity also helps its ability to do other jobs like convey support for other candidates who didn’t win.
I’m at a loss to imagine what might be present for the current choose-one method to be preferred over approval voting. If it somehow showed evidence of consistently electing worse candidates, that would be evidence. The same would be true compared to other voting methods. These are the types of empirical questions we can ask by being able to fund a director of research position. It’s clear that without our work that those polls comparing different voting methods just wouldn’t be done.
Thank you! I appreciate these response and the thought behind your initiative. Best of luck! :)