Approval voting

Approval voting

Approval voting is a single-winner voting system used for elections. Each voter may vote for (approve of) as many of the candidates as they wish. The winner is the candidate receiving the most votes. Each voter may vote for any combination of candidates and may give each candidate at most one vote. [Brams, Steven and Fishburn, Peter (1983). "Approval Voting", Boston: Birkhäuser, p. 3]

Approval voting is a form of range voting with the range restricted to two values, 0 and 1. Approval voting can be compared to plurality voting without the rule that discards ballots which vote for more than one candidate.

The system was described in 1976 by [ Guy Ottewell] and also by Robert J. Weber, who coined the term "approval voting." It was more fully published in 1978 by political scientist Steven Brams and mathematician Peter Fishburn. [Brams, Steven and Fishburn, Peter (1978). "Approval Voting". "American Political Science Review" 72(3): 831-847] Approval voting is used by some professional societies. Voting systems which incorporated aspects of approval voting have been used historically.


Approval voting has been adopted by the Mathematical Association of America (1986) [, [ MAA Bylaws] ] The Institute of Management Sciences (1987) (now the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences), [ [ INFORMS bylaws p. 7] ] the American Statistical Association (1987), [ [ ASA Bylaws] ] and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (1987). According to Steven J. Brams and Peter C. Fishburn, only the IEEE has rescinded the decision. They report the IEEE Executive Director, Daniel J. Senese, as stating that approval voting was abandoned in 2002 because "few of our members were using it and it was felt that it was no longer needed." Unlike the situation with MAA and ASA, Approval Voting was implemented by the IEEE board and rescinded by the board. [ [ Going from Theory to Practice: The Mixed Success of Approval Voting] ]

Historically, several voting methods which incorporate aspects of approval voting have been used:
* In the 13th through 18th centuries, the Republic of Venice elected the Doge of Venice using a multi-stage process that featured random selection and voting which allowed approval of multiple candidates and required a supermajority [Lines, Marji (1986) "Approval Voting and Strategy Analysis: A Venetian Example" "Theory and Decision" 59: 155-172] [ [ Analysis of voting method for election of Doges in Venice] ] .
* According to Steven J. Brams, approval voting was used in 19th century England. [ [ The Normative Turn in Public Choice, p. 4] ]
* The selection of the Secretary-General of the United Nations has involved rounds of approval polling to help discover and build a consensus before a formal vote is held in the Security Council. []
* Bucklin Voting was used in the United States for some years. Bucklin is a ranked method, but if the first rank, which allowed only one vote, fails to find a majority winner, votes from the next rank are added in, so the election becomes more like an election with approval voting.


Supposing that voters voted for their two favorite candidates and that Tennessee has 100 residents, the results would be as follows (a more sophisticated approach to voting is discussed below):
* Memphis: 42 total votes
* Nashville: 68 total votes (wins)
* Chattanooga: 58 total votes
* Knoxville: 32 total votes

Effect on elections

The effect of this system as an electoral reform measure is not without critics. Instant-runoff voting advocates like the Center for Voting and Democracy argue that approval voting would lead to the election of "lowest common denominator" candidates disliked by few, and liked by few,Fact|date=March 2008 but this could also be seen as an inherent strength against demagoguery.Fact|date=March 2008 In an editorial, approval voting advocates Steven Brams and Dudley R. Herschbach predict that approval voting should increase voter participation, prevent minor-party candidates from being spoilers, and reduce negative campaigning. [Brams and Herschbach cite journal|title=The Science of Elections|doi=10.1126/science.292.5521.1449|journal=Science|volume=292|issue=5521|pages=1449|year=2001|author=Brams, S. J.|pmid=11379606]

One study [ [ Results of experimental vote in France, 2002] (PDF, French)] showed that approval voting would not have chosen the same two winnersas plurality voting (Chirac and Le Pen) in France's presidential election of 2002 (first round) - it instead would have chosen Chirac and Jospin. This seems a more reasonable resultFact|date=March 2008 since Le Pen was a radical who lost to Chirac by an enormous margin in the second round.

A generalized version of the Burr dilemma applies to approval voting when two candidates are appealing to the same subset of voters. Although approval voting differs from the voting system used in the Burr dilemma, approval voting can still leave candidates and voters with the generalized dilemma of whether to compete or cooperate. [Nagel, J. H. (2007) "The Burr Dilemma in Approval Voting" "The Journal of Politics" 69(1): 43-58 [] ] [Nagel, J.H. (2006) [ "A Strategic Problem in Approval Voting,"] "Mathematics and Democracy" pp. 133-150. Studies in Choice and Welfare series (Springer)]

According to Brams, Approval voting usually elects Condorcet winners in practice. [Steven J. Brams, "Mathematics and Democracy," Princeton University Press, 2008, p. 16, See also [ S. Brams and P. Fishburn, "Going from Theory to Practice: The Mixed Success of Approval Voting"] (PDF)]

Strategic voting

Sincere voting

Approval voting experts describe sincere votes as those "... that directly reflect the true preferences of a voter, i.e. , that do not report preferences 'falsely.' " Brams, Steven and Fishburn, Peter (1983). "Approval Voting", Boston: Birkhäuser, p. 29] They also give a specific definition of a sincere approval vote in terms of the voter's ordinal preferences as being any vote that, if it votes for one candidate, it also votes for any more preferred candidate. This definition allows a sincere vote to treat strictly preferred candidates the same, ensuring that every voter has at least one sincere vote. The definition also allows a sincere vote to treat equally preferred candidates differently. When there are two or more candidates, every voter has at least three sincere approval votes to choose from. Two of those sincere approval votes do not distinguish between any of the candidates: vote for none of the candidates and vote for all of the candidates. When there are three or more candidates, every voter has more than one sincere approval vote that distinguishes between the candidates.


Based on the definition above, if there are four candidates, A, B, C, and D, and a voter has a strict preference order, preferring A to B to C to D, then the following are the voter's possible sincere approval votes::*vote for A, B, C, and D:*vote for A, B, and C:*vote for A and B:*vote for A:*vote for no candidates

If the voter instead equally prefers B and C, while A is still the most preferred candidate and D is the least preferred candidate, then all of the above votes are sincere and the following combination is also a sincere vote::*vote for A and C

Strategy with ordinal preferences

A sincere voter with multiple options for voting sincerely still has to choose which sincere vote to use. Voting strategy is a way to make that choice, in which case strategic approval voting includes sincere voting, rather than being an alternative to it.Niemi, R.G. (1984) [ "The Problem of Strategic Behavior under Approval Voting"] "American Political Science Review" 78(4) pp. 952-958] This differs from other voting systems that typically have a unique sincere vote for a voter.

When there are three or more candidates, the winner of an approval voting election can change, depending on which sincere votes are used. In some cases, approval voting can sincerely elect any one of the candidates, including a Condorcet winner and a Condorcet loser, without the voter preferences changing. To the extent that electing a Condorcet winner and not electing a Condorcet loser is considered desirable outcomes for a voting system, approval voting can be considered vulnerable to sincere, strategic voting. [Yilmaz, M.R. (1999) [ "Can we improve upon approval voting?,"] "European Journal of Political Economy" 15(1) pp. 89-100] In one sense, conditions where this can happen are robust and are not isolated cases. [Saari, D.G. and Van Newenhizen, J. (2004) "The problem of indeterminancy in approval, multiple, and truncated voting systems", "Public Choice" 59(2) pp. 101-120] On the other hand, the variety of possible outcomes has also been portrayed as a virtue of approval voting, representing the flexibility and responsiveness of approval voting, not just to voter ordinal preferences, but cardinal utilities as well.Saari, D.G. and Van Newenhizen, J. (2004) [ "Is approval voting an ‘unmitigated evil?’ A response to Brams, Fishburn, and Merrill"] "Public Choice" 59(2) pp. 133-147]

Dichotomous preferences

Approval voting avoids the issue of multiple sincere votes in special cases when voters have dichotomous preferences. For a voter with dichotomous preferences, approval voting is strategy-proof (also known as strategy-free). [Brams, Steven and Fishburn, Peter (1983). "Approval Voting", Boston: Birkhäuser, p. 31] When all voters have dichotomous preferences and vote the sincere, strategy-proof vote, approval voting is guaranteed to elect the Condorcet winner, if one exists. [Brams, Steven and Fishburn, Peter (1983). "Approval Voting", Boston: Birkhäuser, p. 38] However, having dichotomous preferences when there are three or more candidates would not be typical. It would be an unlikely situation for all voters to have dichotomous preferences when there are more than a few voters.

Having dichotomous preferences means that a voter has bi-level preferences for the candidates. All of the candidates are divided into two groups such that the voter is indifferent between any two candidates in the same group and any candidate in the top-level group is preferred to any candidate in the bottom-level group. [Brams, Steven and Fishburn, Peter (1983). "Approval Voting", Boston: Birkhäuser, pp. 16-17] A voter that has strict preferences between three candidates -- prefers A to B and B to C -- does not have dichotomous preferences.

Being strategy-proof for a voter means that there is a unique way for the voter to vote that is a strategically best way to vote, regardless of how others vote. In approval voting, the strategy-proof vote, if it exists, is a sincere vote.

Approval threshold

Another way to deal with multiple sincere votes is to augment the ordinal preference model with an approval or acceptance threshold. An approval threshold divides all of the candidates into two sets, those the voter approves of and those the voter does not approve of. A voter can approve of more than one candidate and still prefer one approved candidate to another approved candidate. Acceptance thresholds are similar. With such a threshold, a voter simply votes for every candidate that meets or exceeds the threshold.

With threshold voting, it is still possible to not elect the Condorcet winner and instead elect the Condorcet loser when they both exist. However, according to Steven Brams, this represents a strength rather than a weakness of approval voting. Without providing specifics, he advocates that the pragmatic judgements of voters about which candidates are acceptable should take precedence over the Condorcet criterion and other social choice criteria.Brams, S.J. and Remzi Sanver, M. (2005) [ "Critical strategies under approval voting: Who gets ruled in and ruled out,"] "Electoral Studies" 25(2) pp. 287-305]

Strategy with cardinal utilities

Voting strategy under approval is guided by two competing features of approval voting. On the one hand, approval voting fails the later-no-harm criterion, so voting for a candidate can cause that candidate to win instead of a more preferred candidate. On the other hand, approval voting satisfies the monotonicity criterion, so not voting for a candidate can never help that candidate win, but can cause that candidate to lose to a less preferred candidate. Either way, the voter can risk getting a less preferred election winner. A voter can balance the risk-benefit trade-offs by considering the voter's cardinal utilities, particularly von Neumann-Morgenstern utilities, and the probabilities of how others will vote.

A rational voter model described by Myerson and Weber specifies an approval voting strategy that votes for those candidates that have a positive prospective rating. [Myerson, R. and Weber, R.J. (1993) "A theory of Voting Equilibria", "American Political Science Review" 87(1) pp. 102-114.] This strategy is optimal in the sense that it maximizes the voter's expected utility, subject to the constraints of the model and provided the number of other voters is sufficiently large.

An optimal approval vote will always vote for the most preferred candidate and not vote for the least preferred candidate. However, an optimal vote can require voting for a candidate and not voting for a more preferred candidate.

Other strategies are also available and will coincide with the optimal strategy in special situations. For example:
* Vote for the candidates that have above average utility. This strategy coincides with the optimal strategy if the voter has no knowledge of how other voters will vote. [Brams, Steven and Fishburn, Peter (1983). "Approval Voting", Boston: Birkhäuser, p. 85]
* Vote for any candidate that is more preferred than the expected winner and also vote for the expected winner if the expected winner is more preferred than the expected runner-up. This strategy coincides with the optimal strategy if there are three or fewer candidates or if the pivot probability for a tie between the expected winner and expected runner-up is sufficiently large compared to the other pivot probabilities.
*Vote for the most preferred of the two leading candidates. This strategy coincides with the optimum strategy if the pivot probabilities for any other candidate being in a leading tie are sufficiently small and if the voter's most preferred candidate is one of the two leading candidates.
*Vote for the most preferred candidate. This strategy coincides with the optimal strategy when there is only one candidate with a positive prospective rating.

Another strategy is to vote for the top half of the candidates, the candidates that have an above-median utility. When the voter has no knowledge of how other voters will vote, the strategy will maximize the voter's power or efficacy, meaning that it will maximize the probability that the voter will make a difference in deciding which candidate wins. [Brams, Steven and Fishburn, Peter (1983). "Approval Voting", Boston: Birkhäuser, p. 74, 81]

Optimal strategic approval voting fails to satisfy the Condorcet criterion and can elect a Condorcet loser. Strategic approval voting can guarantee electing the Condorcet winner in some special circumstances. For example, if all voters are rational and cast a strategically optimal vote based on a common knowledge of how all the other voters vote except for small-probability, statistically independent errors in recording the votes, then the winner will be the Condorcet winner, if one exists. [Laslier, J.-F. (2006) [ "Strategic approval voting in a large electorate,"] "IDEP Working Papers" No. 405 (Marseille, France: Institut D'Economie Publique)]

Strategy examples

In the example election described earlier, assume that the voters in each faction share the following von Neumann-Morgenstern utilities, fitted to the interval between 0 and 100. The utilities are consistent with the rankings given earlier and reflect a strong preference each faction has for choosing its city, compared to weaker preferences for other factors such as the distance to the other cities.

All four ballots are interchangeable. The more structured ballots may aid voters in offering clear votes so they explicitly know all their choices. The Yes/No format can help to detect an "undervote" when a candidate is left unmarked and allow the voter a second chance to confirm the ballot markings are correct.

ee also

* Borda count
* Bucklin voting
* First Past the Post electoral system (also called Plurality or Relative Majority)
* Condorcet method
* Schulze method
* Instant-runoff voting
* Range voting
* Voting system - many other ways of voting


External links

* [ Citizens for Approval Voting]
* [ Americans for Approval Voting]
* [ Approval Voting Free Association Wiki]
* [ Approval Voting: A Better Way to Select a Winner] Article by Steven J. Brams.
* [ Approval Voting on Dichotomous Preferences] Article by Marc Vorsatz.
* [ Scoring Rules on Dichotomous Preferences] Article by Marc Vorsatz.
* [ Approval Voting: An Experiment during the French 2002 Presidential Election] Article by Jean-François Laslier and Karine Vander Straeten.
* [ The Arithmetic of Voting] article by Guy Ottewell
* [ Critical Strategies Under Approval Voting: Who Gets Ruled In And Ruled Out] Article by Steven J. Brams and M. Remzi Sanver.
* [ Going from Theory to Practice:The Mixed Success of Approval Voting] Article by Steven J. Brams and Peter C. Fishburn.
* [ Strategic approval voting in a large electorate] Article by Jean-François Laslier.
* [ Spatial approval voting] Article by Jean-François Laslier, published in Political Analysis (2006).
* [ Approval Voting with Endogenous Candidates] An article by Arnaud Dellis and Mandor P. Oak.
* [ Generalized Spectral Analysis for Large Sets of Approval Voting Data] Article by David Thomas Uminsky.
* [ Approval Voting and Parochialism] Article by Jonathan Baron, Nicole Altman and Stephan Kroll.

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