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Editorial: Voting reform could solve 2016's woes

A long tradition in newspaper editorials is to use Election Day to celebrate America's system of voting. But 2016 is a troubling year, because the widespread unhappiness with both major presidential candidates makes the system seem creakier and l...

A long tradition in newspaper editorials is to use Election Day to celebrate America's system of voting. But 2016 is a troubling year, because the widespread unhappiness with both major presidential candidates makes the system seem creakier and less reliable than in previous years.

How about fixing it?

Maybe it's time for reforms that could boost Americans' satisfaction with the system. And maybe Election Day is the perfect time to start thinking about them.

Slate.com has one idea, and it's a reform that has been talked about in North Dakota before. It's called approval voting. Its appeal is the improvement it would offer over plurality voting, our current system, and one that's "mathematically the absolute worst way to vote," author William Poundstone told Slate.com.

Plurality voting's weakness is that many times, the "winner" of a three-or-more-candidates race triumphs with less than majority support. Most recently, this happened in Donald Trump's Republican primary campaign, when Trump won the nomination after getting only 44 percent of the Republican popular vote.

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"Trump succeeded, especially early on, by commanding small pluralities within a very large field," Slate.com notes.

"There was a desperate thirst for a more traditional nominee, but the 'establishment lane' candidates ate into each other's support."

In contrast, approval voting lets voters choose any number of candidates. Then, "final tallies show how many voters support each candidate, and the winner is the candidate whom the most voters support," Wikipedia describes.

"Let's imagine the GOP had used approval voting," Slate.com continues.

"Instead of agonizing over whether Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, or John Kasich was the best mainstream candidate to foil Trump and push the establishment agenda, a GOP voter could have checked the boxes next to all three."

That way, all three of those candidates would have gotten more votes. And one of them would have received more than the other two-as well as more than many others in the GOP field, because the establishment vote wouldn't have been split.

Would that candidate have beaten Trump? Hard to say, because as Slate.com points out, Trump also would have gotten more votes-say, from Ben Carson supporters.

But what's clear is that approval voting "tends to elect candidates who would beat all rivals head-to-head," as the Center for Election Science notes.

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In other words, the most popular candidate wins. Trump himself could have benefitted, because if he had won in that fashion, he would have had a much stronger mandate from his own party's voters.

That's why approval voting has been adopted by the Mathematical Association of America, the American Mathematical Society and the American Statistical Association. It's seen as a simple, easy and fair way for elections to yield a more broadly satisfying result.

"In 1987, a bill to enact approval voting for certain statewide elections passed in the Senate but not the House in North Dakota," the Center for Election Science notes. Maybe it's time for lawmakers to reconsider, now that unhappiness with the current system has become a new national norm.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2016
Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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