Legislators ponder alternative method to elect candidates
DENVER — If voters were allowed to choose more than one candidate for a political office, the winner could take office with a majority vote rather than a plurality.
That, at least, is the concept behind a bill approved in the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee on Wednesday. The measure, HB1281, would allow for a new method of selecting candidates called approval voting.
Unlike ranked-choice voting, which the state already allows local governments to conduct, approval voting does not allow attaching a political party next to a candidate’s name, and allows voters to choose as many candidates they want without saying who is their top pick.
Proponents of the idea say it would eliminate having to vote for the lesser of two major-party candidates they don’t like just to ensure that a more electable one gets the nomination in a general election.
Opponents, however, say the idea opens the door to something known as “tactical voting,” the practice of voting for a lesser-known candidate in order to dilute total votes for a more popular one that the voter doesn’t want to see get elected.
“Approval voting creates unrepresentative outcomes,” said Martha Tierney, an attorney with America Votes, a left-leaning group that advocates progressive causes. “If the voters follow the instructions and vote not only for their favorite candidate but also for their second and third favorite ... it is very possible that the candidate who is the first choice with more than 50 percent of the vote could lose.”
Opponents also said the state already allows ranked voting, a method that allows voters to choose more than one candidate in order of how they like them, but only a few local governments are using it.
A handful of major cities around the nation use ranked voting, such as San Francisco and Minneapolis, but only one state, Maine, has passed a law requiring all elections to be done with the approval voting method, including for statewide races.
In the Grand Valley, voting is done the traditional way, but candidates’ political affiliations in city and school district races do not appear on ballots.
Suzanne Staiert, deputy secretary of state, said the bill could create some confusion about who runs an election if a county clerk’s office chooses not to conduct that race, as the bill allows.
“It’s unclear if someone at the municipal level were to violate the secretary’s (election) rules whether we have any enforcement ability,” she said. “Generally (now) we do not.”
Supporters said the method requires voters to chose candidates based on their experience rather than their affiliations.
“A last choice could win with plurality voting,” said Andrew Winkler, a one-time Republican candidate for the Northglenn City Council. “A last choice would never win in approval voting.”
The bill heads to the House Appropriations Committee.