Score voting and approval voting. Ways to break the duopoly

Our two-party duopoly is supported and kept in power by a plurality voting system that makes it difficult for third parties to break through. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are other, far more equitable voting methods. Among them are score voting and approval voting. I plan to explore these methods deeper in future posts, but for now, here’s some useful links. If you have thoughts and ideas on this, please, jump into the discussion.

Duopoly must go: An appeal for score voting

Progressive thinkers on all sides of the political spectrum often wonder why the United States seems incapable of escaping a two-party political system. Is it a result of an extreme demographic situation, an urban and a rural America so large and obstinate that they are incapable of cooperation? Does it somehow come from the unique American spirit, a tradition steeped in individualism and adventure? Are the third parties being silently stifled because of their opposition to our incessant march toward rule by large corporations? The answer, in fact, may be so simple that it is right at our fingertips at least once a year. Every time we vote, in fact.

The plurality voting method tends to favor a two-party system, whereas “the double ballot majority system [a.k.a. ‘top-two runoff’] and proportional representation tend to multipartism.” Observations in the social sciences are never absolute, but this tendency for plurality voting to maintain two-party domination is so reliable that it has become known as Duverger’s Law.

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

More and more Americans are agitating for a “third party”, most without even realizing that there are already dozens of active third parties to choose from. But they don’t win. They can’t win. And this is without even acknowledging the effects of tactical voting, this is with honest voters! In this simulation, the only ones voting for the big-two are the ones who honestly believe them to be the uniquely best option available.

The existence of a multitude of third parties hasn’t change this. Screaming that we need even more third parties won’t change this. You cannot win this game. The only way you can win, is if you change the rules.

And the rules that would give third parties a chance to win are approval voting and score voting.

Approval Voting

Approval Voting is a voting procedure in which voters can vote for as many candidates as they wish. Each candidate approved of receives one vote and the candidate with the most votes wins. It was independently proposed by several people in the 1970s. In the United States, the case for Approval Voting seems particularly strong in primary and nonpartisan elections which often draw large fields of candidates.

Range or Score Voting

Score voting … is a voting system for one-seat elections under which voters score each candidate, the scores are added up, and the candidate with the highest score wins.

[It] uses a ratings ballot; that is, each voter rates each candidate with a number within a specified range, such as 0 to 99 or 1 to 5. Although in cumulative voting voters are not permitted to provide scores for more than some number of candidates, in range voting all candidates can be and should be rated. The scores for each candidate are summed, and the candidate with the highest sum is the winner.

Another problem the US voting system has is that the country is not a parliamentary system. To my knowledge, it is the only democracy that is not. In a parliamentary system, a vote of no confidence can bring down and government – no waiting four years – and by its nature, smaller parties can join the ruling coalition and thus have real power.


  1. I just wish there was an organization out there promoting range voting and approval voting (and proportional representation) like there is with FairVote promoting IRV. I know the people at (I think that’s the website) are working on it, but I don’t know what’s happening with that.

    • It needs to be made really easy to understand. That’s the challenge. I’m not sure of the difference between IRV, score voting, and approval voting. For new voting methods to be adopted, voters need to be able to understand it easily and see why it is of benefit to them. And it needs to be done in a couple of non-technical paragraphs.

      • Have you ever read William Poundstone’s book “Gaming the Vote?” It’s one of the better books about election reform out there, and makes a great argument for range voting.

        Anyway, the way the book describes range voting is that it’s pretty much the same thing as online ratings, like product or movie reviews.

        And approval voting is pretty simple. You just cast a single vote for as many candidates as you want.

          • My understanding is that Germany divides up the seats into two types of elections. In one, you vote for a party and the number of seats awarded to the party is proportional to the number of votes it got. Sounds to me like MMP.

            The other seats are elected by normal plurality elections for politicians.

      • Though posts at Least of All Evils can become quite technical sometimes, Dale Sheldon does a really good job there making a case for approval voting and score voting.

        “voters need to be able to understand it easily”

        The funny thing about score voting and approval voting is, though it might seem really strange at first, we use it all the time in our daily lives, website rating systems etc. I have a number of posts linking to some good descriptions of approval and range voting at Poli-Tea under the RV label, if you’re looking for some more info. See, for instance:

        • this guest post introduction to score voting by Dale Sheldon
        • at TPID, I recently did an interview with the Libertarian candidate for governor of Colorado, Jaimes Brown, who is the first candidate for any office I’ve heard advocate score and approval voting.
        • For comparisons of IRV, score and approval, from a progressive perspective, see Maikeru’s series of posts comparing and contrasting various alternative voting methods.

        • When I was active in the Green Party in California from 200-2004, they were big on IRV. That includes Green politicians, including Kevin McKeown, who was also (and still is) an elected member of the non-partisan Santa Monica City Council.

          (He later left the GP for the same reasons I did, but that’s a whole other thoroughly tangled tale…)

    • Ross,

      We’re working on it. We’ve finally settled on the name: The Center for Election Science. One of our members, a law student, is working on the incorporation paperwork right now. Once that’s done, we can put up a “donate” button and try to make some more strategic efforts to get Approval Voting used in political elections.

      Our de facto current web site is:

      It’s just a Google Sites “wiki” that I threw up, but I think a good wiki is all we’ll really need for a while. I’m going to be working with a graphic designer to get a nice logo created, and to choose an appealing color theme, which I think will make it a lot more palatable. My goal is to gear the pages to the lay audience, and address a lot of common talking points from FairVote and other purveyors of misinformation.

      If we can get serious funding, I’d ideally quit my job as a full-time Ruby on Rails software engineer to run things. Then I’d certainly like to use my programming skills to make a more feature-rich site. Trying to follow the lean startup mentality right now, and stick to the basics.

      Interested parties, PLEASE join our discussion groups, so we can keep in touch with you.


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