Opinion: The Argument for Approval Voting

Don’t call them spoilers: These former Senate District 14 candidates think there’s a better alternative to run-offs

Opinion: The Argument for Approval Voting

We are two of the six candidates that were on your ballot in the recent special election for Texas state Senate District 14. We did not win, and neither did anyone else. Had one of the two top candidates not dropped out, there would have been another run-off election to settle the matter that the taxpayers would have to pay for.

This is certainly not the first time this has happened. In 2018, Austin had three run-off elections for City Council. Run-off elections are unfortunately commonplace.

Some would call us spoilers. Having more than two choices can result in nobody getting over 50%, with vote splitting in which similar candidates cause voters to have to chose between them and split their vote. Therefore, candidates like us constantly fight to gain ballot access, while others call us spoilers and try to reduce the ballot to only two choices. This is in contrast to the growing number of independent voters that appreciate having more choices.

Vote splitting, combined with the cost and poor turnout of run-off elections, leads one to ask if there is a better way. Approval voting provides a solution.

With approval voting, you get to vote for every candidate you approve of. Any and all of the six candidates on the ballot in the recent special election could receive your vote. This eliminates vote splitting and mitigates the necessity of a run-off since a winner can get a majority on the very first ballot regardless of the number of candidates.

That was the experience in Fargo, Nev., which held an approval voting election on June 9 for their city commission. Voters liked it and found it easy.

Austin has experience with approval voting. In November of 2014, Austin voters cast ballots to decide whether to divide City Council into precincts. Proposition 3 consisted of having 10 City Council members represent 10 unique districts, and then a mayor that was elected at large. Proposition 4 was a proposal for eight district members, two at large, and a mayor at large. Proposals to divide City Council into precincts had failed in six prior elections. Fortunately in 2014, both proposals were on the ballot and voters were allowed to approve or disapprove of each. The actual result was: Prop 3 votes YES: 145,910 (WINNER); Prop 3 votes NO: 96,683; Prop 4 votes YES: 121,336; Prop 4 votes NO: 116,196.

Approval voting gave us the current City Council structure with no vote splitting and a clear winner on the first ballot.

Another benefit of approval voting is that it rewards candidates that seek consensus. Since every voter is in play, appealing to the broad electorate is rewarded. In the current system which forces voters to only select one candidate, a candidate is rewarded for mobilizing and firing up their base, which contributes to polarization. Electing candidates that seek common ground and can work together is encouraged with approval voting.

The most common objections to approval voting have been:

1) There has long been a principle of "one person, one vote." This has sometimes been confused with the notion that you can only vote for one candidate. The principle actually means that every voter has the same empowerment. A voter with more wealth or property does not get to cast more ballots than another voter. Under approval voting, every voter has exactly the same empowerment to approve or disapprove of every candidate.

2) Some voters prefer systems in which they can rank candidates, such as instant run-off voting (IRV). We support these as well. The benefit of approval voting is its simplicity. It can use the existing ballot and tabulation is straightforward. With ranked choices the math can become complex and it can be more unclear to understand who won. With experience we think ranked systems can be effective, but for simplicity and its benefits we think approval voting is ready now.

If you agree with us that it is time for approval voting, let the remaining candidates know. Neither of us will be in the Texas Senate, but those who are need to make the appropriate changes in the Election Code to make it possible. The Center for Election Science (www.electionscience.org) has taken the lead on research and advocacy for approval voting and can be a valuable resource. With the research and voters like you on our side, we can empower voters and relieve taxpayers.

Pat Dixon was the Libertarian candidate for Texas SD 14 in the recent special election. He served as state chair of the Libertarian Party of Texas from 2004 to 2014. Dr. Jeff Ridgeway was the Independent candidate for Texas SD 14 in the recent special election. He has been a practicing physician in Austin for 14 years trained in obstetrics and gynecology as well as maternal-fetal medicine.

The Chronicle welcomes submissions of opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Find guidelines and tips at austinchronicle.com/contact/opinion.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Opinion
Opinion: Minimum Lot Size Reform Is Gaining Traction in Texas Cities. That’s a Good Thing.
Opinion: Minimum Lot Size Reform Is Gaining Traction in Texas Cities. That’s a Good Thing.
Austin should follow Houston’s lead and embrace this solution to address our housing affordability problem

Jake Wegmann, Sept. 15, 2023

Opinion: The Outdoor Recreation Economy in Texas Depends on EPA Safeguards
Opinion: The Outdoor Recreation Economy in Texas Depends on EPA Safeguards
An Austin bike shop owner on why the climate crisis isn’t just bad for the environment – it’s bad for business, too

Brad Wimberly, Aug. 25, 2023


Pat Dixon, Jeff Ridgeway, SD 14, July 2020 Elections, approval voting

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle