Voters take to the polls today throughout New Hampshire as part of the Town Meeting process. (Monitor file photo by John Tully/)
The concept of “one man, one vote” is ingrained in American democracy, but some people
believe this doesn’t mean the one vote has to be for only one candidate.
In the latest in a series of unsuccessful efforts to tweak voting procedures, in hopes of better
reflecting the wishes of the electorate, two bills have been filed in the New Hampshire House
of Representatives that would allow voters to cast ballots selecting more than one candidate.
Don’twant to vote for just one candidate? Billswould allow
by DAVID BROOKS Monitor staff - Jan 20, 2016
“You have a lot more information about what the voter thinks about each individual candidate
with this method than with the current method,” said Rep. Dan McGuire, an Epsom
Republican, during testimony Tuesday about a process known as approval voting.
House Bills 1265 and 1521, which concern municipal and statewide elections, respectively,
would allow voters facing a ballot with multiple candidates they are interested in to cast more
than one vote if they wish. The total number of votes would be added up and, just as with
current elections, the person with the most votes would win.
Unlike some alternative systems, approval voting does not allow voters to rank their
respective choices, merely fill in as many ovals on the ballot as they wish.
Both bills received initial hearings Tuesday before the House Elections Committee.
Approval voting is one type of alternative voting system, among more complicated variants
like the Condorcet Method or instantrunoff voting. A number of efforts to allow such systems
in New Hampshire have been filed by legislators in recent years, but haven’t received much
Advocates of alternative voting systems argue that our current system, called plurality voting,
does a poor job of reflecting voters’ opinions, makes it hard for alternative viewpoints to be
heard, and leads to divisive politics.
Alternative systems have been used in a few city elections across the country and some
nongovernmental elections such as for the board of the IEEE, an organization of electrical
engineers. But approval voting in particular is not used in any governmental races in the U.S.,
said Jameson Quinn, a Harvard University Ph.D. candidate in statistics. Quinn is on the board
of the Center for Election Science, and testified in favor of both bills.
Even when adopted, alternative systems can be divisive. Burlington, Vt., used rankedchoice
voting to choose its mayor for three elections, but went back to plurality voting after a
candidate who was lagging in the initial tally went on to win.
New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan, who oversees elections, expressed
concern at the hearing Tuesday that allowing a different number of votes would allow those
who voted for more candidates to effectively “dilute” the vote of people who vote for fewer
“I question the fairness of this type of voting procedure,” he said.
The example cited Tuesday by several proponents when explaining how alternative voting
works is the crowded Republican presidential primary. The field is so crowded that a couple of
Republican lawmakers confessed they weren’t quite sure how many people were running.
Under the current system, GOP primary voters can only select one candidate, which says
nothing about their opinion of the other hopefuls.
Approval voting would allow them to check more than one candidate, effectively indicating
whether they think each person is acceptable to them as presidential fodder.
“They’re saying ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ for each person up for election,” said Rep. Eric Schleien, a
Hudson Republican and cosponsor of both bills.
A halfdozen proponents argued that this would allow voters to truly reflect their opinion,
removing the need for strategic voting, or “gaming the system,” in which a primary voter
selects a candidate only because they think that candidate has the best chance of winning in
the general election.
“I may want to vote for person X, but I feel like I’m going to waste my vote,” Schleien said,
noting that he could vote for person X as well as the person who he thinks is likely to win in
the approval voting system.
“You hear people say they are voting for the lesser of two evils,” said Rep. Keith Ammon, a
New Boston Republican and cosponsor of both bills. “With approval voting, you don’t have to
Alternative voting systems are often popular with thirdparty candidates because it can make
it easier for those parties to get votes.
One advantage of approval voting compared with other alternates is that it does not require
any change to ballot design or the function of ballot counting machines. Another advantage,
proponents told the committee, is that it would largely eliminate the problem of spoiled
ballots caused when somebody marks too many candidates in a race.
“It’s good from time to time to reexamine how things are done,” Ammon said.
(David Brooks can be reached at 3693313, email@example.com, or on Twitter
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