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Approval voting

Approval voting is a voting system used for single or multiple-seat elections, in which each voter can vote for as many or as few candidates as the voter chooses. Approval voting is a limited form of range voting, where the range that voters are allowed to express is extremely constrained: accept or not.

Some features of approval voting include:

  • It allows voters to express tolerances but not preferences. This is considered by some political scientists a major advantage, especially where acceptable choices are more important than popular choices.
  • It is extremely simple. This matters where education is low and ballots may be easily mismarked; where disputed results can be dangerous, and recounts may be unreliable.
  • It is easily reversed as disapproval voting where a choice is disavowed, as is already required in other measures in politics (e.g. representative recall).

A single simple ballot can serve for single, multiple, or negative choices. It requires the voter to think carefully about who or what they really accept, rather than trusting a system of tallying or compromising by formal ranking or counting. Compromises happen but they are explicit, and chosen by the voter, not by the ballot counting.

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Each voter may vote as many times as they wish, at most once per candidate. This is equivalent to saying that each voter may "approve" or "disapprove" each candidate by voting or not voting for them, and it's also equivalent to voting +1 or 0 in a range voting system.

Counting the Votes

The votes for each candidate are summed. The candidate with the most votes wins.



  • 35 voters vote for Andrea and Brad
  • 30 voters vote for Andrea and Carter
  • 17 voters vote for only Andrea
  • 27 voters vote for Brad and Carter
  • 14 voters vote for only Brad
  • 13 voters vote for only Carter


  • Andrea: 82 total votes
  • Brad: 76 total votes
  • Carter: 70 total votes

Andrea wins.

Potential for Tactical Voting

Every voter must, for each candidate, decide whether it's more important to them that their favorite candidate get elected over the current candidate, or instead that the current candidate get elected over their disfavorite candidate. This does not promote inaccurate voting, but it does promote the use of strategy and outside information in the voting process. However, every strategic vote is a sincere vote, in that no strategic vote expresses an insincere preference for one candidate over another. No ranked-ballot system can make that claim.

The most typical strategy for a voter with basic knowledge about other voters' preferences is to vote for the candidate they prefer of the two leading candidates, and any other candidate they prefer to that one. A better strategy is to vote for every candidate preferred to the leading candidate and to vote for the leading candidate if preferred to the current second-place candidate. When all voters follow this strategy, a Condorcet candidate is almost certain to win.

Impact on elections

The impact of this system as an electoral reform is disputed. It seems on first impression that the system must promote compromise candidates[?], as it is easy to support additional candidates that one finds acceptable (as opposed to desirable), and these are not differentiated from the first choice. For these reasons preference voting is preferred by many who believe that political systems are about choices, not tolerances - they describe that method as instant runoff voting despite the fact that preference and approval voting are both 'instant runoff' systems.

A mathematical study by Steven Brams and Dudley R. Herschbach published in Science[?] in 2000 argued strongly that approval voting was "fairer" than preference voting on a number of criteria. They claimed, contrary to the popular view, that a close analysis shows that the hesitation to support a 'compromise candidate' to the same degree as one supports one's first choice (as approval voting requires) actually outweighs the extra votes that such second choices get. Accordingly, preference voting is more biased towards compromise candidates than approval voting - a non-obvious and surprising result.

Despite this recent argument, most advocates of electoral reform have focused on instant-runoff voting, but Citizens for Approval Voting[?] was organized in December 2002 to promote the use of approval voting in all public single-winner elections.

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