Approval Voting FAQs

How does approval voting work?

Approval voting is super simple, and it works great for elections with more than two candidates. Voters can vote for as many candidates as they want. The votes are tallied, and the candidate with the most votes wins!

How is approval voting better than our current system?

  • Voters can always vote for their favorite candidate, whether they have a good or bad chance of winning
  • Voters can more fully express how they feel about each candidate, instead of just one
  • No more third party “spoilers” that change election outcomes
  • Doesn’t hurt candidates from the same community or similar ideology – in fact it helps 
  • Greatly reduces the risk of “vote splitting” problem among similar candidates
  • No more voting only for the “lesser-of-two evils”
  • Winning candidates will have broader support from voters
  • More people will be satisfied with the winner
  • Quick to implement at little or no cost – nearly every voting machine in the U.S. can already do approval voting
  • Easy to understand results and ballots

Why should we use approval voting instead of ranked-choice voting (RCV)?

  • It’s more costly and complicated than approval voting
  • Voting machines often have to be updated to run RCV elections. That can be very expensive
  • There is often very little desire by officials or the public to spend extra money on elections
  • The ballot counting process takes longer. It is also more difficult to audit
  • RCV ballot designs can be confusing when there are long lists of candidates
  • It can be hard for voters to rank lots of candidates outside of their top choices
  • RCV does not fully fix the spoiler effect. It works well when a third candidate has little support and their votes easily transfer. RCV can still cause a spoiler effect when there are three or more viable candidates
  • Ranking your favorite as first under RCV can cause your least favorite to win
  • Ranking a candidate as better can sometimes hurt that candidate. Also, ranking a candidate as worse can sometimes help that candidate
  • In approval voting, you can always vote for your favorite candidate. Voting for your favorite will never harm their chances of winning

Who will benefit from approval voting? Is this going to help major or third parties?

Approval voting is a benefit to everyone because it will help elections reflect the true preferences of voters. It helps major parties in several ways:

  • No more third party “spoilers” who can take votes from a major party candidate and change the outcome of the election.
  • It makes primaries better. No more vote splitting among similar candidates and more civil debates on the issues. 
  • It opens up new groups of swing and persuadable voters for major parties.
  • Major parties can actually gain more votes than before by appealing to new groups of voters. 
  • Major parties can gauge support for ideas by looking at how well other parties did. 
  • It encourages more voters to enter the process, who most likely already share values with a major party.
  • Elected candidates will feel more empowered if they are elected with high approval
  • Gives nominees/winners a vote of confidence. No more winners with 36% in a three-way contest carrying the party flag
  • Let’s all “wings” of the party have a say in a primary, while choosing a party nominee that is most acceptable to all

Third parties also benefit from approval voting. 

  • Minor party and outsider candidates can feel encouraged to run, since they don’t have to worry about becoming a “spoiler.” 
  • They can receive a more accurate reflection of how many people support them, as people can vote for a third party AND a major party candidate.
  • Having an accurate reflection of support can help third parties build momentum for future elections and influence current policy conversations.

What is a consensus-style candidate? Why is it better?

Candidates in an approval voting election need to get votes from as many people as possible. To win, candidates need votes from people with differing views. We call these people “consensus-style” candidates.

With a consensus-style candidate, more people will feel like their voices are heard and they can be happy with the winner. As well, candidates are discouraged from attacking opponents. Even supporters of rivals can potentially be votes.

Will approval voting result in candidates who don’t have strong positions on policy?

While approval voting does tend to elect more consensus-style candidates, that does not mean that the winning candidate would have no strong positions. Candidates who don’t take strong stances or don’t take stances at all are unlikely to be acceptable to many voters.

Does approval voting violate “one person, one vote”?

No, approval voting doesn’t violate “one person, one vote.” This term actually refers to the weight of each vote, not that every person only gets to vote for one candidate. There are many elections in the US where voters already vote for more than one candidate. For example, elections for school boards or city councils often ask you to vote for as many candidates as there are seats to fill. 

The real meaning of “one person, one vote” is that no individual voter’s ballot should be given more weight than any other—that’s why U.S. Congressional districts represent equal numbers of people. With approval voting, all voters have equal opportunity to vote for as many candidates as they want, and each vote counts the same.

Here’s an example. We have 3 candidates in an election—candidates A, B, and C. 

Person #1 votes for A and B
Person #2 votes for C
Result – Tied! A (1 vote), B (1 vote), C (1 vote) 

The election resulted in a tie! This shows that all of the votes were weighted equally.

Where has approval voting been used before?

Approval voting was implemented in Fargo, ND in 2018 through a citizens’ ballot initiative, and the city held its first approval voting election in June of 2020. In a poll of Fargo voters during their first election, 71% said that approval voting was easy and 62% said they liked it.

It is used by the United Nations to elect the Secretary General, and it is used by many political parties and professional associations for internal elections⁠—including the Texas Liberarian and Green Parties, the Reform Party, the Mathematical Association of America, and the American Statistical Association. The citizens of St. Louis, MO will vote on an initiative to implement nonpartisan, approval voting primaries with a top-two runoff in November of 2020.

How can I get approval voting implemented where I live?

We’ve launched a grassroots chapter program to help advocates like you empower voters in your community with approval voting. Chapters are officially sanctioned supporter organizations of The Center for Election Science. They engage in grassroots activities like educating the public, reaching out to officials and advocating for voting method reform. Chapters are largely self-run, but they will receive guidance and support from CES staff. Learn more about the chapter program here, and feel free to reach out to chris@electionscience.org with any questions.