2020 Election, Ari Armstrong, Elections, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Voting is good in Colorado, it could be better

So I voted. Although initially I complained about mail ballots, I confess I now vastly prefer filling out my ballot at home, where I can take my time and look things up, to waiting in line at the local school where I used to vote. During the pandemic, voting from home is especially great. One cool feature is that counties already have a formal process to transfer ballots if voters drop them in an out-of-county box. So our voting system is working pretty well. But Colorado’s ballots remain troublesome in ways that may not seem obvious at first glance.

One problem is that, if you choose not to cast a vote for some race or measure, that opens a window for others who may come into contact with the ballot to enter a mark. Maybe that never happens, and if it does it’s rare, by why risk it? There’s such an easy fix: Just include an option for “none of the above” (NOTA) or “I choose not to cast a vote for this race or item.”

In addition to tightening security, a NOTA option would let voters better-express their views. There’s a difference between just skipping past some race and thinking carefully about the race and deciding none of the candidates deserves a vote.

A Colorado writer suggested on Twitter that someone who does not vote for every race and measure is apathetic. Not so! I didn’t vote in several races this year. I find it insulting and pointless to cast a vote where only one candidate is listed when there’s no NOTA option and I don’t especially love the candidate (which I hardly ever do). In one race with three candidates, I did not vote for any of the candidates, because I could not decide which one I detest least. Loathing all the candidates in a given race equally is hardly the same as being apathetic about the race.

Nor must one vote on a given ballot measure. Some ballot measures are by my lights clearly good (Amendment C to loosen up charitable gaming) while others are obviously bad (including the national popular vote, the nicotine tax, and coercive paid leave). But I struggled with Amendment B, regarding property taxes. Although I ended up voting against it, I regard the status quo as a total mess. I just don’t think B is the right way to fix the mess. But I seriously considered not voting either way. (If it were up to me, I’d simply repeal all property taxes across the board, even if I had to make up the difference with tax hikes elsewhere, but we’ll almost certainly never see anything like that on the ballot.)

In general, there’s no reason to assume that every ballot measure is on net either good or bad; a given measure may be hopelessly muddled. And of course different people will have different opinions about what’s good, bad, and mixed. Voters, then, should have the ability to positively mark “no vote for this item,” if they don’t feel comfortable with a yes or no, rather than simply leave it blank.

Regarding the apathy question, some people might have reason not to vote at all. Some of my libertarian friends don’t vote because they think voting sanctions a fundamentally corrupt system. I disagree with them, but certainly they are not apathetic about it. Other people understand that casting an educated vote takes effort, and they’d rather spend their time doing something else. That’s rational. Even in the tightest races, your single vote almost certainly will never decide the outcome. Someone passionately pursuing values other than voting should not be smeared as apathetic. That said, people who take voting seriously deserve praise.

Another problem with Colorado’s ballot is that it is absurdly easy to run for president. With due respect to Princess Khadijah M. Pres Jacob-Fambro, I have never heard of almost all of the people “running” for president.

I will keep beating this drum: Ballot access rules should be the same for all comers and should require some reasonable amount of effort or show of support. Now the state gives preferential treatment to some political parties, which is wrong. Yet, for president, the state makes ballot access too easy.

Given our silly rules, though, I’m glad that my friends Blake Huber and Frank Atwood are running with the Approval Voting Party. Obviously they do not really think they might rise to the White House. Their aim is to popularize approval voting, which I’m happy to help them do.

Approval voting means you get to vote for as many candidates as you want. So, for example, if you wanted to vote for Donald Trump as well as for Jo Jorgensen, or for Joe Biden and Jorgensen, or for Biden and Jorgensen and Huber, you could do that. The candidate with the most votes overall wins. This prevents the problem of two candidates splitting the same voter base.

To avoid the problem of someone downstream adding marks to a ballot, I propose that, with approval voting, a voter should be able to mark “yes” or “no” for every candidate. A blank would count the same as a “no,” but, by filling in the “no” bubble, the voter would have the assurance that someone else could not mark “yes.”

The absurdly long list of people running for president illustrates the basic problem with ranked voting—it’s harder to implement than approval voting and more prone to error. I guess you could limit rankings to, say, the top five. But even then it’s a lot harder to manage ballots with ranking. Approval voting is simple both for voters and for those tallying the ballots.

This brings me to my next gripe: Ballots list party affiliation, and they should not. As I have long argued, it is simply not the state’s proper business to track voters or candidates by party affiliation. The state should establish reasonable ballot-access rules that apply equally to all, and leave parties to sort out their own business of endorsing candidates. This also means that the state should stop running party primaries.

I do have some residual concerns about our mail ballots. Outright ballot theft just isn’t a problem. But a remaining problem with mailed ballots is that they often are not totally private. When you walk into a voting booth, it’s just you and the ballot, and no one else knows how you voted unless you tell someone. Voting at home can create a very different dynamic.

No doubt mail ballots lead to at least a few cases of genuine abuse. Think of someone who “helps” the grandma with dementia fill out her ballot. Or think of the abusive husband who pressures his wife to vote a certain way and who is able to check her ballot.

Even aside from such obvious abuse, voting from home probably creates some social pressure to vote certain ways among people who cohabitate, even if people don’t intend to exert any pressure. There’s a big difference between voting around the kitchen table and voting in the privacy of a booth. Although I’m not sure how a person would get ahold of relevant data, I suspect that, with the shift to mostly mailed ballots, couples started voting alike more.

Of course it is easy to overcome such problems within your own household. Simply respect each other’s privacy with the ballot. Everyone should feel totally free to close the door, fill out the ballot while totally alone, and seal the envelope. How you vote is your business alone—unless you choose to share that information.

In those rare cases where an abusive spouse strongly pressures someone to vote a certain way, we need to make sure there’s adequate recourse for the pressured voter.

The upshot is that Colorado’s voting systems work pretty well. But we shouldn’t let the good be the enemy of the potentially great. Let’s add NOTA to the ballot, add approval voting, delete party affiliations, and make sure pressured voters have recourse. And if the legislature won’t get it done, someone could always put together a set of ballot measures.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism.  He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.

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