Election Science
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Election Science

Momentum

People often argue that electoral reform advocates should rally behind ranked choice voting (RCV), even if they prefer STAR voting, score voting, or approval voting—because RCV has “momentum”. For instance, Andrew Yang recently expressed his support for STAR voting and approval voting.

[Ranked choice voting] has been adopted in Maine, Alaska, New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco…and so building upon that success when it resolves the spoiler effect and a lot of other issues seems like the best approach, but I’m a huge fan of both STAR and approval voting as well.

Making an impact

The Centre for Effective Altruism has laid out a framework for maximizing impact.

Working on a cause is likely to be highly impactful to the extent that the cause is:

* Great in scale (it affects many lives, by a great amount)
* Highly neglected (few other people are working on addressing the problem), and
* Highly solvable or tractable (additional resources will do a great deal to address it).

My contention is that ranked choice voting doesn’t align well with this framework. While there’s broad agreement that bad voting methods are a problem of great scale, ranked choice voting doesn’t improve outcomes by as great an amount as alternatives such as approval voting and STAR voting. And specifically, it doesn’t address the core issues that Andrew often speaks about, namely the spoiler effect, polarization, and moving beyond the duopoly.

Further, as Andrew points out in the video, RCV is not neglected. Anything but. It’s gotten enough supporters to be adopted statewide in Maine and Alaska, and in the metropolis of New York City. And it has millions of dollars in funding. Putting his effort behind ranked choice voting is like Yang trying to start an electric vehicle company in the 2020s. With scores of EV manufacturers, a wealthy climate activist’s efforts are much better spent innovating in energy storage, carbon capture, or residential geothermal.

Lastly, RCV isn’t as tractable as many advocates would have us believe. There has been a surge of support for RCV in the past few decades, but it hasn’t gone well. Here’s a summary by one Texas activist.

To restate that, RCV has only been successful (passed, used, and not repealed) in 20 of 46 contemporary cases in the US. For instance, RCV failed in liberal Massachusetts in Nov 2020 by a large 54.78% to 45.22% margin, despite the yes side having banked $7,774,807.32 compared to the no side’s $2,842.24 in receipts. See this compendium of RCV successes and failures.

Approval voting and STAR voting are what Andrew really wants

Approval voting and STAR voting better align with every aspect of our impact framework.

Conclusion

While RCV’s superficial appearance of momentum is compelling, it’s really not as tractable as it seems, and its substantial support is actually a good argument for focusing our attention on neglected solutions elsewhere. Approval voting and STAR voting perfectly fit the criteria for conducting effective high-impact altruism and accomplishing the goals of Andrew Yang and the Forward Party.

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Clay Shentrup

advocate of score voting and approval voting. software engineer.