Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hawaii 01: Another Example

The state of Hawaii has provided us yet another example of the need to reform our electoral system. Voting in the special election to fill HI-01, left open by Neil Abercrombie's (D) retirement, finished up today, and the results are out:

  • (R) DJOU, Charles 67,274 39.5%
  • (D) HANABUSA, Colleen 52,445 30.8%
  • (D) CASE, Ed 47,012 27.6%

Quick math will show that Hanabusa and Case, both Democrats, combined for 58.4% of the vote. (The other three Democrats, other four Republicans, and four third-party and independent candidates combined received about 1.5%.) It would be a hard argument to make that a majority of either of the Hanabusa or Case voters would prefer that Djou be their representative, and yet, for the next 8 months, he will be.

Some people will claim that this is mostly Abercrombie's fault: he knew that Hawaii election law would lead to this free-for-all election, and he should have stayed on the job until January. Some will blame Case: he should have known he was running behind Hanabusa, and therefore should have stepped aside. Some will claim that this shows Hawaii should update its election laws to allow for primaries, or at least for party-commission selection of candidates.

A better answer would be approval voting (or score voting). This wouldn't have required a gubernatorial hopeful to half-heartedly continue on as a congressmen. And it wouldn't have forced a legitimately viable candidate (27.6% is a pretty respectable percentage) to bow out prematurely. Nor would it require another expensive and time consuming set of elections, or required the choice to be made by an undemocratic party boss. Instead, voters whose concern is that a Democrat, any Democrat, wins could have approved of both Hanabusa and Case, and as long as about 9% or so of the electorate had done that (or about 1/6th of the voters who voted for any Democrat), a Democrat would have won.


  1. Approval voting would have produced the same undemocratic outcome as plurality voting because most backers of the two Democrats opposed the other Democrat nearly as much as they were against the Republican. When indicating support for a lesser choice counts directly against the odds of your first choice, then you're quite unlikely to do anything other than vote for your first choice.

  2. I disagree with your assessment.

    The truth is, there haven't been a lot of real-world trials, so your guess is completely unsubstantiated.

    What we do have are extensive computer simulations though, and those suggest that I might be right. Worst case, nothing changes; best case, a golden age for democracy. Is it worth trying? I say yes.

    But more importantly, you've inadvertently pointed out the great advantage that approval voting provides: voting for a lesser choice decreases the odds for your first choice, yes; but if you lose that fight, you still get your SECOND choice. Under every other voting system out there (including instant runoff voting, which I presume you favor since you use their deceptive "later harm" language), when you make that choice and lose, you risk ending up with your LAST choice.

    The harm I'm concerned in avoiding isn't the harm to my favorite candidate, it's the harm to ME, the voter. And approving an honest second choice and "losing" does SIGNIFICANTLY less harm to ME then either ranking my true-favorite second, or ranking them first and getting my least-favorite.