Voting Systems Confused with Approval Voting


In this page we discuss several voting systems which are superficially similar to approval voting. But they are not approval voting. Some are actually peculiar variants of other existing methods.

Approval voting is a voting method used in single-winner elections. Voters are permitted to choose as many candidates as they want, and the candidate with the most votes wins. Approval voting’s distinguishing features are that you can choose as many candidates as you want, all selections count equally, and you cannot select any candidate more than once. Approval voting may also be used to elect multiple candidates in its bloc or proportional forms.

Single Winner Methods

Single-winner methods are voting methods that elect only one winner.

Instant-Runoff Voting

(a.k.a. ranked choice voting, Hare Method, preferential voting)

Despite being a method where voters rank their choices, IRV is confused with approval voting surprisingly often. IRV has voters rank their preferences. If a candidate is ranked first on more than 50% of the remaining valid ballots, then that candidate wins. If not, the candidate with the least first-choice votes is eliminated and those ballots are transferred to the other candidates. This process repeats until a candidate has more than 50% of the remaining valid ballots.

Compare this to approval voting where there is no ranking. It’s simply the candidate approved/chosen the most wins. Approval voting also performs better (see here).

"Modified Cumulative Voting"

People sometimes unfortunately employee a variant of cumulative voting, in which there is only one winner but multiple votes. For instance, you are given three votes. You may distribute them however you like. If you want to give them all to the same candidate, you can. Note that if this were approval voting, then you would never be limited to the number of candidates you could choose, and you would not be allowed to choose a candidate multiple times.

The problem is that this system degenerates into ordinary plurality voting. It fails the favorite betrayal criterion, meaning it can hurt you to vote for your sincere favorite candidate. Say you prefer the Green Party candidate, but the Democrat and Republican are the clear frontrunners. Then your best strategy is to vote for your favorite between the frontrunners. You “betray” the Green, so to speak. And your best tactic is to give all of your votes to the same candidate.

"Anti-Limited Voting"

Another option sometimes instituted by people without a background in electoral system design is to allow more votes than the number of winners. E.g. there is one winner, but you may vote for three candidates — but, unlike cumulative voting, not more than once for the same candidate. Notice that this is the opposite of limited voting. Also note that if this were approval voting, then voters would not be limited whatsoever in the number of candidates that they could select.

Multi-Winner Methods

Multi-winner methods are voting methods that elect more than one winner.

Cumulative Voting

(a.k.a. Accumulation Voting, Weighted Voting or Multi-voting)

The voter has a fixed number of votes (usually the same as the number of winners), but can give more than one vote to the same candidate. One variant is to only allow the voter to vote once per candidate, and to then evenly distribute the votes to those candidates. E.g. the voter has six votes and votes for two candidates, so each candidate gets three votes. Cumulative Voting is a semi-proportional method.

Bloc Voting

(a.k.a. Plurality-at-large Voting)

The voter has as many votes as there are winners in a multi-winner election. The voter cannot vote more than once for the same candidate.

Limited Voting

The voter has fewer votes than there are winners. E.g. the voter may vote for up to two candidates, and there are three winners. This is a semi-proportional system.

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