Aug 9, 2010

Exclusive: Interview with Jaimes Brown, Libertarian Candidate for Governor of Colorado, on Electoral Reform and Approval Voting

Jaimes Brown is the Libertarian Party candidate for governor of Colorado. He is an outspoken advocate of electoral and political reform, and one of the few candidates for elected office who calls for the implementation of approval voting in the United States. I recently contacted Mr. Brown via email and asked him a few questions about alternative voting methods and why he thinks approval voting is superior to plurality voting and instant runoff voting. He kindly obliged. The interview is published in full, below. Follow the links at the end for more information on approval voting.

TPID: You state on your campaign website that the current plurality voting system is counterproductive and effectively rigged against the people. What do you mean by this? Can you expand upon this criticism?
Brown: There is a lame argument ("one man, one vote") against any form of ranked voting. We should really think of elections as "one person, one ballot". Several of our founders vehemently opposed having any political parties, and we have come to realize why they did. The Constitution makes no mention of political parties or plurality voting.

As evidenced by the 2000 election in which Nader split the vote of the theoretical "left", polls show that had Nader not been in the race, enough of his votes would have gone to Gore to give him the presidency. In 2004, the people had an "anybody but Bush" sentiment. Approval voting would accommodate that type of sentiment. Plurality voting is counterproductive because it splits the vote of philosophical allies. The numbers indicate that a majority of voters in the 2000 election preferred Gore over Bush... if they had been the only two choices on the ballot.

Plurality voting systems cause (as a long term effect) 2-party domination. Political scientists call that "Duverger's law." NES poll data showed 90% of Nader supporters chose not to vote for him in 2000. Over time this weakens third parties, which just strengthens this effect.

The last 3 US congresses & senates have contained ZERO third-party members. 98% of major US races are predictable 1 year ahead of time, so it is even worse than "2" choices, more like "1.04." Examples:

• 2004, top issue was the Iraq war. Polls indicated majority of US public was against it. Both Bush & Kerry, were for it.
• 2008, top issue was bank bailout. Polls indicated majority of US public was against it. Both McCain & Obama, were for it.

In both cases, thanks to the voting system and 2-party domination, the US public had no way to get what it wanted. This was a failure of "democracy." Also, entire views and view-combinations are simply 100% shut out of power, and hence the media, due to 2-party domination. Obviously "democrat" and "republican" are not the only views the US public has.
TPID: Among those who advocate alternative voting methods, many call for the implementation of instant runoff voting. But you do not. What are the drawbacks of IRV on your view?

Brown: Instant runoff voting (IRV) also causes 2-party domination. IRV is much more complicated and expensive to implement than Approval Voting. IRV leads to higher voter-error and ballot spoilage rates. IRV generally requires changes to voting equipment, and consulting companies to count the ballots. In contrast to that, Approval Voting is simple to count, and can be handled with any existing voting equipment. The complexity of IRV makes it difficult to assure honest elections. In particular, ballots cannot be counted in precincts, thus reducing election transparency and enabling fraud.
TPID: Why do you advocate approval voting instead? What is approval voting?
Brown: Approval voting is more indicative of voters' actual preferences and is more easily implemented. Approval voting is "approving" all the candidates the voter approves of. With the Nader/Gore model, let's say there were 4 candidates on the ballot: Bush (R), Gore (D), Nader (G) and Browne (L).

Those who favor Nader could have approved of Gore also so their vote wasn't "wasted" on the candidate who best represented them. Those who favored fiscal responsibility could have voted for Browne and also approved of Bush in hopes that Bush was fiscally conservative (which only history could prove he wasn't). These are just examples. The reality is that our individual opinions are diverse and dynamic and approval voting accounts for our diversity.
TPID: How and when did you first learn of approval voting?

Brown: I have dabbled in voting mechanisms even before I was a registered Libertarian, because as mentioned above, the will of the people is not served by the two-party system or plurality voting. While I'm no expert in electoral theory, In the past few years, I've found the evidence compelling for approval voting as a method to achieve the will of the voter.
TPID: As a Libertarian, how does your political philosophy inform your critique of plurality voting and IRV? How has it informed your advocacy of approval voting?
Brown: As a libertarian, neither Republicans nor Democrats represent my primary political philosophy. I think of the Republican party as having three major factions; Imperialists, Theocrats, and Free Marketeers. As a libertarian, I only share one of these philosophical objectives. I think empire building is incompatible with free markets. Similarly, I think of Democrats as being Socialists, Labor Unionists, and Civil Libertarians. I am very skeptical of Socialists, although they tell me it's for my own good! There is a place for Unions, but I think laws should account for Unions' primary objectives. Where I agree completely with Democrats is when they advocate civil liberty, which tends to be incompatible with the reality of socialism.

The point of this is that we can debate the particulars of political theory, but I want candidates and politicians who represent more than 33% of my core political ideology. As long as we have a two party system, I have to choose which 50% to 70% of my freedom I have to sacrifice. Gridlock is as good as Americans can hope for. This is why anti-incumbency voting is so prevalent... but in "voting the bums out" we just replace the bums with more bums.

With all this in mind, if IRV is not solving the problem, I'm looking to something that does solve the problem. I think Approval Voting is the most immediately achievable solution. I'd obviously just prefer that all of our politicians were honest, had more personal integrity, and focused on liberty over authority. I have absolutely no preference to Republican or Democratic candidates. I believe in person over party and principle over personality. The two party system is about maintaining their authority, not advancing our liberty.
TPID: What kind of response have you gotten advocating approval voting as a candidate for governor in Colorado?

Brown: Anyone who has cared to understand the principles behind it have been overwhelmingly supportive. As with all issues, first they ignore it, then they fight it, then they accept it as self-evident. Unfortunately, I think we're still in the ignorance phase, but hopefully, we can go straight to the self-evident phase.
TPID: Do you have plans to continue this advocacy beyond the gubernatorial campaign? What is your advice to others who would like to see the implementation of approval voting?

Brown: Absolutely, it's not about me, it's about liberty. I find it offensive that the two parties have spoiled the whole system and they have the audacity to label anyone with a fresh approach as "spoilers"! My advice would be to continue to point out to all political parties, independents, and citizens that we all win by implementing approval voting. Democrats would have been better off with it in 2000, Republicans would be better off with it in the 2010 Colorado Governor election. The people are better off with it because we will get better representation. Isn't that what a Republic is all about?
TPID: You are the first candidate for any office whom I've heard advocating approval voting. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions!

Brown: Thanks.
For more information on approval voting, head over to Citizens for Approval Voting and the Center for Range Voting, and be sure to check out Least of All Evils, a highly informative blog devoted to approval and range voting.


broken ladder said...

Mr. Brown's advocacy for Approval Voting puts him far ahead of the curve. Especially because he understands the often counter-intuitive fact that it's better and simpler than Instant Runoff Voting.

One of the best things about Approval Voting is that it passes the Favorite Betrayal Criterion, which means you don't ever have to fear voting for your sincere favorite candidate. Say you want to vote for Brown, but you're not sure a candidate outside the two major parties has a shot. Then you just vote strategically for whoever you prefer between Democrat or the Republican, and also cast your sincere vote for Brown. Whereas with IRV, the best tactic is generally to just rank your favorite major party candidate in first place, even if that's not your true overall favorite. Who wants a system where you have to be afraid to support the candidate you truly like the most?

And Approval Voting can be done an the same ballot you're used to using. If you want to keep things simple, you can just vote for one candidate like you always did.

And for the math nerds, Approval Voting gets excellent average voter satisfaction, as measured via Bayesian regret.

If you support Score Voting and/or Approval Voting (AV is the simplest form of SV), please checkout the Facebook group for the Election Science Foundation, to keep up to date and share your thoughts with other proponents.

ThirdPartyDaily said...

Correction: at the time of posting this interview, Brown was not yet "the" Libertarian candidate for governor in Colorado, as the party primary had not yet been held. However, Brown has now won the primary race against Dan "Kilo" Sallis. Thanks to one of TPID's anonymous readers for pointing this out.