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Thursday, March 23, 2023
ArlingtonOpinionEditorial: A better alternative to instant-runoff voting?

Editorial: A better alternative to instant-runoff voting?

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A letter-writer (Brian Stephenson, to be exact) brought to our attention a seldom-mentioned option for changing the current winner-take-all voting process, and we admit that it kind of strikes our fancy.

It’s called “approval voting,” and while similar to the instant-runoff voting that is being promoted as the alternate to the status quo, it has the added benefit of simplicity and understandability.

And given that Arlington leaders are currently starting to think about options, we’d commend it to their attention.

Stripped down to its basics, approval voting works this way: The electorate has the opportunity to vote for every person for a particular office that they approve of. If there are six people vying for a political job and you like three (or two, or none, or all six), mark your picks. The person with the most cumulative votes wins the election.


We acknowledge that, in most cases, political partisans would never vote for more than one candidate per post. And even independents might be wary. But we can see cases in which we might be willing to tick off more than one candidate (say the 2018 Arlington County Board race; we’ve have marked both Matt de Ferranti and John Vihstadt).

Such a format change from winner-take-all would likely force candidates to be more positive in their messaging, in order to get the most possible votes, similar to the hopes for instant-runoff balloting.

It appears as if proponents of instant-runoff voting got out of the gate first; as such, approval-voting would need a come-from-behind victory to become the voting method of choice in local elections. But before dismissing it, it should be studied – and those who support the instant-runoff option should be tasked to explain why their preference is preferential to the approval-voting option, which seems to have as many pluses and fewer minuses.

And if one truly wanted to be cheeky, one could create “disapproval voting,” where voters could mark all the candidates they would never, ever, ever want to see in office. The candidate with the lowest vote total wins!

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