Frequently Asked Questions about my campaign and Approval Voting

Since my campaign began in the late spring of 2001, I've spoken to a wide variety of people and groups about electoral reform and Approval Voting (AV). I've found that in the Q&A sessions that inevitably follow a speech, certain questions about AV come up fairly often. At this point I have a large enough experience base that I've decided to assemble these questions into an AV FAQ.

For the duration of the campaign I will add to the FAQ, so consider this to be a work in progress.

Paul Hager, 8 December, 2001

Update #1: 29 January 2002

Update #2: 11 February 2002

Q: Doesn't AV violate "one person, one vote"?

A: The principle of "one person, one vote" has to do with apportionment for legislative representatives being based on population. It also encompasses the idea that voters have equal access to the electoral process. It does not have anything to do with the voting method that is used to elect candidates to office. There is no legal prohibition against any state altering the voting method that it uses.

Q: Why wouldn't AV be expensive to implement? Wouldn't all of the ballots have to change?

A: Actually, the ballots wouldn't have to change at all. For example, an optical scanner system would use the same ballot as now. The only difference would be that with AV, a ballot with two candidates marked would count for both candidates. Under the present system, such a ballot would be "spoiled" and neither vote would count. Voting machines wouldn't pose any special problem either. In Indianapolis, voters may select 9 out of 17 judges and machines already have to accommodate this. The only change that would be required for AV would be that the machine would have to allow multiple choices in all races and not just those for judge. This would be trivial to implement.

Q: If AV really did break down the two-party system, wouldn't that produce the same sort of chaos that exists in European parliamentary-style multi-party systems?

A: No. Parliamentary systems often use proportional representation in which any party that receives more than 5% of the vote will be represented in parliament. Very often a special voting method is used in conjunction with this system. The result is a welter of tiny parties that may have to be included in governing coalitions. In practice, the small parties tend to be politically extreme and unlikely to grow but they can exert influence far beyond their actual size (for example, the Orthodox religious parties in the Israeli Knesset). Unlike proportional representation systems and the voting methods that may support them, AV selects only one candidate - the candidate with the most approval votes. Generally speaking, a party whose candidates consistently receive a 5% approval vote will never elect anyone to office. Were AV adopted throughout the U.S., it is certainly possible that after a series of elections there might be 3 or 4 parties with Representatives in Congress. However, each of those Representatives would have had to win a race outright with the most approval votes. Remember, by definition, the approval winner is the candidate most favored by the electorate.

Q: Isn't AV just a scheme to help the Libertarian Party?

A: If it is, it's a poorly designed one. It is the case that AV can help any third party (not just the Libertarian Party) because it eliminates the "wasted vote" and "split vote" problems, which create artificial barriers against the growth of a third party. However, it is still necessary for the third party to gain sufficient support, as reflected in approval votes on election day, to prevail over the other parties' candidates. All AV does is to give the Libertarian Party (and other parties) a fighting chance to compete with the "major" parties for the support of the electorate.

Q: Just because you are running on the platform of changing the voting method in Indiana doesn't mean that you'll be able to do it. The Indiana General Assembly will have to act before AV can become Indiana law. How likely is that to happen?

A: It's true that legislatures make law. This has never prevented candidates for governor from proposing changes in the law despite the fact that none of them has the actual power to do so. A successful reform-minded candidate will typically focus on a small set of issues and make his/her campaign a referendum on those issues. Legislators will generally react positively to an "electoral mandate" for change if the newly elected governor moves quickly and decisively to work with the legislature to enact the reform. Because I'm running on a single issue and representing a third party, my election could only be interpreted as reflecting the public's desire for electoral reform in Indiana. The current Secretary of State, Sue Anne Gilroy, assembled a "bipartisan" task force (in other words, it was made up of only Republicans and Democrats and excluded all other parties) to come up with ideas for improving Indiana's electoral system, so she obviously felt empowered to act. I've stated what I intend to do when I succeed Gilroy in 2003 in a press release dated 28 September 2001 (see Libertarian Paul Hager says election task force reforms "only cosmetic"). I will set up a non-partisan task force whose sole function will be to propose an improved voting method for Indiana. The task force will include representatives of all of the organized political parties in Indiana as well as distinguished academics in the field of voting science. I'm completely confident that if I'm elected in 2002, the 2004 election will be held using AV. Anyone who doesn't share my confidence that I can do this if elected is urged to vote for one of the many Libertarian candidates who will be running for the General Assembly. Give me some help in the legislature and I guarantee success.

Q: Giving Hoosiers the ability to hold recall elections in order to remove from office elected officials who have abused the public trust is a needed electoral reform. Would you consider adding it to your platform?

A: Recall is only one of several electoral reforms that would be beneficial. Of these, I'd rank easing the requirements for political parties to gain and hold ballot status among the most important. In Indiana, a political party's candidate must get at least 2% in the Secretary of State race to gain ballot status for the party. Some years ago the Indiana General Assembly raised the requirement from 0.5%. This was apparently done in order to try to get the Libertarian Party off the ballot. Since I'm running to win this year, I'm setting my sites considerably above the 2% requirement. But, to more directly answer your question, there are two reasons why I'm proposing changing the voting method as my only platform plank. The first reason is that if my platform consisted of a whole laundry list of reforms, it's very likely that we will either get none of them or only get those that are least beneficial to Hoosier voters because they are least threatening to the entrenched political class. The second reason is that we get, by far, the most bang for our buck by changing the voting method. One mathematically certain benefit of AV is that, by eliminating the wasted vote effect, third party candidates will be able to show their true strength, which will usually be well above the current 2% level. This doesn't solve the ballot access issue, but it certainly mitigates it considerably. I discuss some of the other benefits of AV in Why I'm running for Indiana Secretary of State on my website. Once the Indiana General Assembly has adopted an improved voting method (which I expect to be AV) by the target year of 2004, I can and will devote the remainder of my term to other important electoral reform measures.

Q: Why aren't you and other Libertarians in favor of campaign finance reform? Wouldn't that be a better solution that changing the voting method?

A: If regulating campaign finances actually accomplished the stated goals, I'd be in favor of it. As I point out in Why I'm running for Indiana Secretary of State, the actual effect is to increase the success rate of incumbents and make it harder for independent and third party candidates to compete. This happens because contribution limits favor candidates with an established network of small contributors. Building such a network and the infrastructure to support it costs a large amount of money. It's a classic catch-22 for an outsider. The proposed limits on so-called "soft money", which is money contributed directly to political parties, I call "third party killer" regulations. The two parties already have organizations in place for raising large amounts of money in the form of small contributions. Eliminate party-building "soft money" and there will be no realistic way of growing a party with any hope of competing. But, even with the ideal system of public financing of political campaigns, the basic problems with the current voting method will remain unchanged. Let's assume a system in which anyone who wants can get on the ballot, and all candidates on the ballot equally split a pot of government money. Plurality voting will still favor the top two candidates, which will almost always be the candidates with the large, established organizations. In contrast, AV eliminates the artificial barriers created by plurality voting. A large political organization will still have an advantage, but it becomes much easier to grow a competing organization because voters aren't punished if they support the party and/or candidate they like. Changing the voting method will open up the system. Regulating political speech by way of restricting contributions made to candidates clearly doesn't.

Q: If public financing of political campaigns wasn't good for third parties, how do you account for Jesse Ventura beating the Republican and Democrat to become Governor of Minnesota?

A: Plurality voting doesn't make it impossible for a third party or independent candidate to win; it just makes it very unlikely. Think of it this way. If you go into a casino and play roulette, you may place a few bets and walk out a winner. But, if you stay and continue to bet, you'll eventually bust out. The odds in roulette are stacked in favor of the casino, and in the long run, the house always wins. Although the analogy isn't perfect, it is fair to say that plurality voting stacks the odds in favor of the two dominant parties, and they will win the overwhelming majority of the time. Having said that, let's take a look at the Ventura campaign because it actually has something rather surprising to tell us about how a third party candidate may be able to "beat the odds" under special circumstances. It turns out that there is pretty good evidence that Ventura would not have beaten both the Republican and Democrat in head-to-head match-ups. In fact, he might have lost to both. Ventura was almost certainly not the majority candidate and would have probably lost the election had AV been used. Unlike most third party candidates, Ventura didn't fade as election day approached (see A hypothetical Indiana voting scenario comparing alternate voting methods for a discussion of this phenomenon). This is because his supporters were driven by the single issue of a tax rebate to be paid from a large state government surplus. This issue had a lot of traction, and Ventura's opponents never came up with an effective counter. Ventura had the name recognition and just enough public money to cement his minority support and keep it from bleeding away. Clearly, the majority of Minnesota voters rejected Ventura and his rebate, but they split their vote between two status-quo candidates, which allowed Ventura to "shock the world". I intend to do in this campaign exactly the same thing as Ventura. I have one very good issue, running against two status-quo candidates who have no issue at all. What I don't have right now is Ventura's name recognition. It will take money to buy that. Indiana doesn't have public funding of elections, but it also doesn't have contribution limits either. This means that it is possible to generate enough money from a few large contributors to start the ball rolling and get over the hump. If you'd like to help me beat the odds, and bring electoral reform to Indiana, go to my Paul Hager for Secretary of State web page, get the address of my campaign, and send $10,000. I will accept smaller (and larger) amounts, of course. All contributions will be greatly appreciated.

Q: Why is the goal of electing the majority candidate so desirable? Doesn't AV just facilitate a "tyranny of the majority"?

A: In our republican form of representative government, a balance is struck between protecting the rights of minorities while giving majorities their due. The separation of powers and the frequent use of super-majorities rather than simple majorities were intended to control factional excess and make a tyranny of the majority more difficult to achieve. However, when it comes to electing representatives, it was concluded that it is right and proper for the majority to decide. The alternative would be minority rule. It is at this point that the choice of voting method is crucial. If the voting method continually thwarts the majority will, it undermines the legitimacy of representative government. This is the problem with plurality voting that AV corrects.

Q: Would approval voting eliminate the Electoral College in Presidential Elections?

A: No it wouldn't. All AV would do is change the method by which each state appoints its Presidential Electors, pursuant to Article II, Section 1, clause 2, of the U.S. Constitution. Eliminating the Electoral College would require a constitutional amendment. I have defended the Electoral College in the past on the grounds that it is yet another minority protection. The Electoral College functions to prevent small states from being dominated by large states and it reduces the likelihood that populous regions will gain excessive power. The value of AV in this system is that the majority choice of a state's voters will determine the appointment of its Electors.