Replacing the jungle primary, December edition

 photo via Wikimedia Commons by Rich Niewiroski Jr.

A few weeks ago, I posted “Replacing the jungle primary“, where I outlined a couple of proposals that seemed like plausible replacements for California’s current “top-two” primary system. I assigned both proposals jargon-y names, but I only want to highlight one of them: “Majority Approval Filter (MAF)”.  MAF is my preferred option, and has generated the most discussion.  I’ve been refining this option over the past few weeks, and I want to discuss the new version with a wider audience.

MAF is inspired by Approval Voting, and it’s my hope that it gets people interested in the latter by illustrating some of the benefits.  Approval Voting differs from our current choose-only-one voting system by allowing voters to select as many candidates for a particular office as they wish. The candidate with the highest approval rating wins the election.  The Center for Election Science advocates for Approval Voting this on this webpage describing the system.

MAF is designed as a complementary system to Approval Voting, designed for primary elections to narrow the field to a short list of candidates rather than a system to use in general elections to pick a final candidate.  MAF is designed to be an incremental update to California’s current choose-one jungle primary.  Here’s a simplified definition of MAF:

  1. Select the candidate who receives the highest approval rating
  2. Also add all candidates who receive greater than 50% approval
  3. Possibly add opposition candidates, if doing so is necessary to ensure that at least 75% of the electorate has someone they hope to vote for in the general election

The complete version of the MAF definition is more complicated, but reasonably straightforward. The newly-published “Draft 3” of MAF benefited greatly from the public conversations I had with Ted Stern and others on the election-methods mailing list (in November and in December), as well as private conversations I had with others. In short, this draft benefits from having a clear goal centering on “ballot satisfaction”.  The goal:

A set of rules for holding a primary election with an Approval Voting-style ballot, providing motivation for all candidates to achieve the highest approval rating, and resulting in a general election Ballot Satisfaction Score of at least 75%. The “Ballot Satisfaction Score” is the percentage of the electorate which approves of at least one candidate on a given ballot.

The Ballot Satisfaction Score is what ensures that both a Democrat and a Republican usually end up advancing to the general election.  There are a few cases where it’s possible for both advancing candidates to be Republicans, though both of these would probably need to be true:

  • No Democrat gets above 40% approval
  • Two Republicans get over 40% approval, and 75% of the electorate approves of at least one of them

Likewise, both of these would need to happen to create the unlikely case where two Democrats advance:

  • No Republican gets above 40% approval
  • Two Democrats get over 40% approval, and 75% of the electorate approves of at least one of them

In short, 75% of the electorate would have to approve of a candidate from the winning major party, while the opposing major party simultaneously has a problem fielding a candidate capable of getting 40% approval. It’s not impossible to imagine this scenario, but it only seems likely if one of the parties decides to embrace extremism rather than finding compromise.

A more likely novel outcome of a MAF election would be the selection of three or more candidates.  The bar is pretty high: all of them would need to get over 40% approval.  Moreover, the only way to have a guaranteed spot on the general election ballot is to score 50% approval or more.  The only way for candidates with forty-something-percent approval to get on the ballot is when more than 25% of the electorate doesn’t like the high-approval-rating candidates.

That’s why I like MAF.  It maintains the status quo when the electorate doesn’t understand Approval Voting, but motivates candidates to get good at running Approval Voting campaigns.  Over time, the electorate would learn the benefits, and we would start seeing general election ballots with three or more candidates.  If we modify election law to use MAF in the primary, and Approval Voting in the general, then what we would see is much better primaries almost right away (because MAF is way better than California’s jungle primary), but largely similar general elections (since, at first, only two candidates would advance to the general).  Then, over time, the electorate stops “bullet voting” (voting for only one candidate) and  more general election races include three or more candidates,

What’s next (December edition)

That’s becoming a little clearer since my last post. I saw Aaron Hamlin speak at Berkeley REACH, and had plenty of time to speak with him about MAF. He’s not fully on board yet, but he seems intrigued, and Draft 3 also benefits a lot from his feedback. Many members of Indivisible SF are also openly frustrated with California’s jungle primary, so I’m leading a jungle primary strategy group at our weekly meetings.  One other update since my last post: there is now a subreddit for Approval Voting in California: /r/ApprovalCalifornia.

As in November, I  encourage you to join me on the Election Methods Mailing List, or on the /r/EndFPTP on reddit, or on the /r/EndFPTP Slack workspace, or help me refine the “Majority approval filter (MAF)” proposal over on electowiki.

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