Debate on Ranked Choice v. Approval Voting

by AndrewDoris2 min read20th Mar 20211 comment

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Electoral reform
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Much has been written on election reform as an EA cause area. The topic is especially timely now, with H.R. 1 a hot topic in Congress, and the U.S. just months removed from an especially turbulent and polarizing election. 

My impression is that the national mood is ripe for reform, from a prevailing sense that something isn’t working well in the existing system. This may create a crucial messaging window before things return closer to normal (though normalcy would of course be welcome in other respects!). Local and nonpartisan changes seem especially likely to gain traction, and a switch to alternative voting methods fits both descriptions.

Given this, Yale Effective Altruism has organized a debate between Aaron Hamlin and Lee Drutman on the topic of ranked-choice v. approval voting. Forum regulars will be familiar with Aaron and his excellent work at the Center for Election Science. Lee is the author of a recent book on election reform titled Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop, and also writes for Vox, 538, and the New York Times. Both are quoted in this article providing an overview of their preferred systems.

The debate will interrogate which system is preferable for single-winner elections like president or governor – a question with significant implications for EA action on the subject. Even if your personal opinion is fairly settled, it could be an opportunity to improve your activism by learning about what compels others to think differently.

It’s also a chance to crystallize your thinking if you’re torn between the two, which I can certainly empathize with. Many people have heard of ranked-choice voting, but not approval voting. When we’re first confronted with arguments that approval voting is superior, we may be curious and open-minded about the possibility – but also suspect we’re only hearing one side of the story. Voting methods are complicated, most of us are not experts, and lots of smart people seem passionate about RCV. Unless we have many hours to dive into the question, our willingness to give either system our full-throated endorsement (or donations) may be tempered by a desire to hear what the other side’s experts have to say.

That’s what this debate aims to provide: a forum for informed advocates to air each side’s best arguments, while a political strategist (moderator Lisa D. T. Rice from Unite America) guides the conversation towards actionable policy implications.

It’s set to take place this Friday, March 26th at 3:30pm ET. The event is student-organized and hosted by Yale’s Jackson Institute, and but open to the public. Anyone interested can register here.

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Just following up with a link to the debate recording:  Debate on Alternative Voting Systems - YouTube.