A Look at Voting in America: Could We Do Better?

A Look at Voting in America: Could We Do Better?

What's the problem with the U.S.' current system of voting - Plurality - and what other options could Americans have to make sure their voices are heard during elections? FactSumo examines three methods below:

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Voting: 3 Methods

The U.S. 2018 Midterm elections are coming up in November. It’s set to be one of the most important times in modern American history. But just how much do you know about our voting system? And is there a better way to accurately gauge the choice of the people? Let’s take a brief look at some of the ways we vote (and some ways we don’t) so you can decide for yourself.

You may be asking, why does the way we vote matter? Aren’t the most popular candidates going to win anyway? Well, yes and no. It’s true that whoever the people want to win should win. But this isn’t always the case, and history shows that the way we elect officials, especially in the United States, can produce results that don’t accurately reflect the majority population. For sake of convenience, we’re going to discuss three major types of voting: plurality, approval, and score.

The Plurality Method

Plurality voting may be a term you haven’t heard before, yet it’s used by most US elections. It’s a simple majority, winner-takes-all voting, where the only goal is for someone to receive more votes than other candidates. In this respect, reaching a number of votes within a population guarantees a victory to one candidate. It’s why this style of voting is also called “first past the post.”

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Plurality voting preserves the idea that one person in a society gets one vote for one individual of their choosing. In places like the United States, that upholds the notion that the ratio of an individual vote to a candidate is one to one. In other words, the only influence a voter has on an election is furthering one candidate towards being elected. This can be advantageous or not depending on your frame of reference.

As far as disadvantages are concerned, there are quite a few. For one, plurality encourages fewer political parties from emerging. Second, it also may result in less desirable candidates elected. How? Voters may feel their candidate is so unrepresented that they choose the next best person because of their ability to win the race. Plurality also encourages gerrymandering to reduce seat strength in an opposing party. Additionally, one of the biggest critiques of plurality is that it wastes votes. If 45% is needed to win an election, and 58% vote for that candidate, that means 13% of the vote did not influence the election in any way

The Approval Method

Approval voting is pretty similar to plurality voting in that there’s one winner. The difference is, approval voting means a voter can choose as many candidates as they want. They “approve” from none to all of the candidates on the ballot, and the candidate with the most approvals wins the election. Potential downsides of approval voting include electing candidates that do not coincide with a majority vote, and candidates elected that are more utilitarian than popular within a population. 

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It also raises a unique problem about second-choice candidates for voters. Some voters may choose to approve a second-choice because they also want them to win, while others may opt not to approve their second-choice because they want to strengthen the vote of their primary candidate. This problem doesn’t exist with plurality voting.

The Score Method

The final method we’ll discuss is score voting. This one is pretty straightforward. Each candidate is given a scale from 0-9 (or any equal metric). The voter scores every candidate based on this. The candidate with the highest sum score wins. Similar to the approval method, score voting may also not elect a majority candidate because of how scores are calculated.

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It may also lead to ties amongst lead candidates. Like the approval method, choosing to null a second-choice candidate score (0) instead of choosing a lower score than the primary choice (assuming the primary choice is a 9 or perfect score) will affect the outcome. In other words, score voting may be vulnerable to the fact that 0-9 is subjectively approached by voters. What is a poor score of 3 or 4 to some voters to others is considered high and may swing an election in favor of a 3rd or 4th choice candidate.

Obviously there are flaws in each system, some more than others. And it’s also true that some methods of voting work in certain places and fail to work in others. In America’s current system (or any voting system(, it’s important to get out and exercise your right to vote!

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