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Littleton’s Election Commission eyes ‘approval voting’ plan

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By Ramsey Scott

The Colorado Coalition for Approval Voting is asking Littleton to change its voting system for municipal positions to make it possible for a voter to “approve” several candidates for an office.

The coalition, led by Frank Atwood, made a presentation to Littleton’s Election Commission last week.

Unlike the current system, in which a voter can choose only one candidate, “approval voting” allows endorsement of one, some or all of the candidates. The candidate with the most total votes still would be the winner.

The goal is to prevent contested elections and what Atwood called “spoiler” candidates, who siphon off votes from a more electable choice, as in the case of Ross Perot in 1996 and Ralph Nader in 2000 in those presidential elections. 

With approval voting, a voter could have cast a ballot for his first choice and then one for the candidate who had a better chance of winning. The method could also eliminate the need for runoff elections, Atwood said. 

"Spoilers and split votes are not healthy for the democratic process," Atwood said. "I (once) considered those features to be inevitable, like death and taxes."

Atwood also said that approval voting would create a more civil political debate. Since voters could pick more than one candidate, Atwood said, politicians would want to be seen as likable in order not to alienate a possible vote. 

Some who heard Atwood's presentation said approval voting might lead voters to cast ballots in a way that would encourage people to settle for a second choice. 

"As I think about when people step into a voting booth, close the curtain and pull the lever, the idea is prior to that moment they take the time, they find the person that they want to be their elected official and then go in and make a decision," said Mark Crowley, election commissioner. “Rather than do that, it then puts the constituency in a position for having to settle for something less than I really wanted.”

Atwood would like to see the process instituted for the 2015 municipal elections. The Elections Commission said it would plan a study session with the City Council to discuss a possible change. 

 

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.