Approval Voting Could Give Coloradans More Options at the Polls

Posted on April 26, 2017

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Let’s take a hypothetical trip through time by fast-forwarding to the 2017 election.

Picture yourself sitting on your couch with a mail ballot in your lap, researching the candidates vying for a single city council seat. Two of the five candidates appeal to you—in fact, you’re having a hard time deciding between the two. “I wish I could just vote for both of them,” you say to yourself.

Of course, this is not an option under our current electoral system. But a new bill introduced into the Colorado General Assembly may change that.

House Bill 1281—sponsored by Rep. Singer and Sen. Kefalas—would allow cities, towns, counties, school districts, and special districts to conduct nonpartisan elections using the approval voting model. 

Wait… what’s approval voting?

Approval voting is an electoral method that allows a voter to cast a vote for as many of the candidates for each office as the voter chooses. The candidate who receives the most number of “approval votes” wins the seat.

For example, let’s say there are four candidates running for one seat on Adams County school board. In our current system—known as a plurality voting system—you would be forced to vote for only one of these four candidates. But with approval voting, you have the option to vote for multiple candidates—two, three, or even all four.

Here’s a YouTube video showing how approval works in Plantsville, USA.

Under House Bill 1281, no entity (such as a city or county) running an election would be required to use the approval voting method. It would simply allow each jurisdiction to decide for itself. Additionally, voters would not be obligated to vote for more than one candidate.

Approval voting has not yet been implemented widely across the US. Therefore, it is difficult to know how—or if—approval voting impacts election outcomes. However, there do appear to be some advantages. Approval voting may increase voter participation by eliminating the limited binary choice that dissuades people from participating. It could also reduce negative campaigning, as candidates would be focused solely on winning votes for themselves (as opposed to stealing votes from an opponent).

Colorado Common Cause supports approval voting. We believe that approval voting can give candidates and voters a much better sense of the level of support for candidates and viewpoints. It is important for voters to have their voices heard, and have election results that are fully representative of the will of the voters. While approval voting may not be the best method for every election, we believe that it should be an option.

Last week, we testified in favor of House Bill 1281 in the House State Affairs Committee. The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: House Bill 17-1281 was killed in the Colorado House Appropriations Committee on Friday, April 28th.

Office: Colorado Common Cause

Issues: Voting and Elections

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Caroline Fry Advocacy & Media Manager, Colorado Common Cause Ph: (303) 292-2163

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