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Going from theory to practice: the mixed success of approval voting


  • Steven Brams


  • Peter Fishburn



Approval voting (AV) is a voting system in which voters can vote for, or approve of, as many candidates as they like in multicandidate elections. In 1987 and 1988, four scientific and engineering societies, collectively comprising several hundred thousand members, used AV for the first time. Since then, about half a dozen other societies have adopted AV. Usually its adoption was seriously debated, but other times pragmatic or political considerations proved decisive in its selection. While AV has an ancient pedigree, its recent history is the focus of this paper. Ballot data from some of the societies that adopted AV are used to compare theoretical results with experience, including the nature of voting under AV and the kinds of candidates that are elected. Although the use of AV is generally considered to have been successful in the societies-living up to the rhetoric of its proponents-AV has been a controversial reform. AV is not currently used in any public elections, despite efforts to institute it, so its success should be judged as mixed. The chief reason for its nonadoption in public elections, and by some societies, seems to be a lack of key "insider" support.
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Suggested Citation

  • Steven Brams & Peter Fishburn, 2005. "Going from theory to practice: the mixed success of approval voting," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 25(2), pages 457-474, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:sochwe:v:25:y:2005:i:2:p:457-474
    DOI: 10.1007/s00355-005-0013-y

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michel Regenwetter & Bernard Grofman, 1998. "Approval Voting, Borda Winners, and Condorcet Winners: Evidence from Seven Elections," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 44(4), pages 520-533, April.
    2. Steven J. Brams, 1990. "Constrained Approval Voting: A Voting System to Elect a Governing Board," Interfaces, INFORMS, vol. 20(5), pages 67-80, October.
    3. Robert J. Weber, 1995. "Approval Voting," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(1), pages 39-49, Winter.
    4. Brams, Steven J. & Fishburn, Peter C., 2002. "Voting procedures," Handbook of Social Choice and Welfare,in: K. J. Arrow & A. K. Sen & K. Suzumura (ed.), Handbook of Social Choice and Welfare, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 4, pages 173-236 Elsevier.
    5. anonymous, 1987. "Amendment June 12, 1987," Federal Reserve Bulletin, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), issue Aug, pages 656,659-660.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General


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