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We the People, Hate Our Elections


Take one look at the raucous circus that is the US Congress, and it’s easy to think that Americans don’t agree on anything political.

According to a recent Civiqs poll, the majority of Democrats (55%) think the country is on the right track, while 97% of Republicans think we’re on the wrong track. 

But when it comes to the 2024 election, there is one thing that everyone agrees on. 

Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters agree that they don’t like their potential options for President in 2024. 

Many Democrats don’t want Joe Biden to run for reelection. Many Republicans are ready to move on from former President Donald Trump but will likely split their support among a crowded field. Independents are just plain unhappy. 

A recent poll by NPR showed that 61% of Americans don’t want to see a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024. But because of choose-one voting, that continues to be a very real possibility.

Why? Because of vote-splitting

Vote-splitting happens when like-minded candidates split majority support in an election, and a less popular candidate wins. This happens at every level of our government, including 30% of congressional districts last year.

If Joe Biden runs for reelection, choose-one voting almost guarantees that no one will challenge an incumbent in the primary. It certainly didn’t work well for Ted Kennedy in 1980, when he challenged President Jimmy Carter.

On the Republican side, a crowded field of candidates could produce a vote-split that ultimately nominates a candidate with less than majority support. Even if Trump only has 35%-40% support among Republicans, that could be enough to win, thanks to vote-splitting.  

Both major parties have had recent presidential primary contests impacted by vote-splitting. In 2016, Donald Trump won the primary only after performing well in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, all contests that ended in a vote-split. 

In 2020, Democrats fielded a long list of candidates that split the vote substantially in the early contests until President Biden scored a convincing win in South Carolina.  

Thankfully, there is a better way to do the presidential primaries – approval voting. Approval voting gives voters the freedom to pick all the candidates they like on their ballot.  Evidence shows that this simple reform can change the voter’s approach. 

The Center for Election Science has been studying the impact of voting-methods on electoral outcomes for more than a decade. In 2020, our analysis showed how adopting approval voting could’ve changed the Democratic primary, giving other candidates a chance to win. 

Approval voting is the simplest, most transparent way to improve voting. Voters vote for as many candidates as they like, and the candidate with the most votes wins. Unlike ranked-choice, the tabulation is simple addition, results and counting are immediate, and the results show everything that the voters put on their ballot. 

That means the results not only tell you who won, but the true support level for every candidate in the contest. This simple reform makes our elections far more instructive and inclusive. 

Approval voting is an inexpensive reform because it relies on existing ballot infrastructure. Every voting machine can already support a pick-all-you-like election. 

With approval voting, potential candidates can more freely challenge an incumbent, without fear of splitting the vote. 

With approval voting, the consensus opinion of the electorate will arise, lowering the likelihood that an unpopular candidate wins with a small share of the vote.

With approval voting, there is an easy way to improve the presidential primaries. Whether it’s Republicans or Democrats who implement approval voting first, they will have the advantage of a stronger, more broadly supported candidate.

Two jurisdictions – Fargo and St. Louis – have already adopted approval voting, and The Center for Election Science is working to increase public awareness of this vital reform. 

If our elections switched to using approval voting, it would break the cycle of dysfunction, chaos, and partisanship. Instead of stoking division, our elected officials could get to work on finding common ground and actually help the American people. With approval voting, Congress would look less like a circus, and more like a government that reflects us. 

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