You are here



In recent years in intra-election periods many voters in opinion polls indicate
sentiments for a third party effort. Yet when it comes to the real elections that
largely disappears in actual voting patterns. The following text, in response to
the questions and statement I had from an interesting interlocutor, is an attempt
to explain why, which needs to be taken into account in thinking about improving
our voting system.

Totally agree with you! How can we break the duopoly? It seems like a self
fulfilling prophecy in that people don't BELIEVE that third parties can win, so
therefore most people don't vote for them. How do we change people's BELIEFS?
My focus is on education because I think everything is downstream from there

In order to break the duopoly we need to educate, persist and find allies to support
such a reform effort. Since 1996 that is what I have tried to do. My efforts have
involved writing op-eds, letters to the editors, and working with third parties to
convince them to support an effort to petition Congress to introduce approval voting
into federal elections by a statutory act. More recently, here in the Ann Arbor area I
have found allies in terms of Lawrence Kestenbaum our County Clerk who runs
our elections and Jan BenDor, who was one of the leaders in the effort to get
rid of gerrymandering in Michigan. And my latest effort right now is an attempt
once again to try to get to Thomas Friedmsn who once again has called for a
third party effort (I plan to forward to you a copy of my latest and earlier effort
on this in addition to this).

The key problem is not one of beliefs but one of incentives as illustrated by
1) Duverger's Law and 2) The Gibbard Satterthwaite Theorem.

On plurality voting and Duverger's Law. The core problem with plurality voting is
vote splitting which tends to discriminate against centrist candidates and too
frequently leads to the election of fringe candidates who are unacceptable to the
majority of voters. To get around that the majority has an incentive to form a party
with a procedure, e.g., a primary, to put forward one candidate. To compete the
minority has an incentive to do the same. Once that is in place, voters face the
"wasted vote" problem in voting for a third party candidate. That is by voting
for a third party candidate they face the prospect of helping their least favorite
candidate winning, for example helping a Bush by voting for a Ralph Nader
in Florida in 2000.

On the Gibbard Satterthwaite Theorem. One consequence of the theorem is
that it is impossible in a single winner multi-candidate election to devise a voting
system in which voters have an incentive to vote sincerely as opposed to voting
strategically or tactically. Its implication is that tactical or strategic voting, voting
for a Gore when one really prefers a Nader, is deeply embedded in every voting
system. But less so I might add in Approval Voting

The advocates of Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV), aka Instant Runoff Voting (IRV),
advocate adopting that voting system as a solution to better and fairer elections
for third parties. The problem with that, as illustrated by two additional texts I
am forwarding, is that as Kathy Dopp puts it "RCV is a fundamentally unfair voting
system that does not do anything its proponents claim it does and violates more
fairness criteria than even plurality voting does."

Approval Voting does not suffer the pathologies that infest RCV, or IRV. Under
approval voting in multi-candidate, single winner elections voters are allowed
to give one vote each to the candidate or candidates they support with the
candidate with the most votes winning. The important advantage of Approval
Voting for third parties is that it allows voters to vote both sincerely and tactically
at the same time thus avoiding the wasted vote problem. That will level the
voting field for third parties because under Approval Voting it always pays for
voters to give a vote to their favorite candidates even if they are third party
candidates. Thus in a Florida 2000 type situation, Nader supporter have an
incentive to give him a vote and if they conclude that his chances are poor to
cast additional votes to participate in the more likely choices if they have a
preference concerning the other candidates.

In sum Approval Voting is in essence a costless voting reform that gets rid of the
wasted vote, the spoiler role, the necessity of vote splitting and levels the voting
field for third parties. In addition it has a strong tendency to elect the most
representative candidate, the candidate approved by the most voters, given
voters' preferences

In trying to work with third parties, e.g., the Reform Party, the Green Party and the
now defunct Modern Whig Party, I have argued that what is needed is an effort
under the First Amendment to petition Congress to institute Approval Voting in
federal elections by a statutory act. Unfortunately, I have repeatedly been told that
members of Congress will never support such an effort because of their desire
to preserve their two party duopoly. I regard that as a self fulfilling prophecy.
We really don't know without trying and even if we try and fail, it will educate
the American public and give leverage to push the issue.