Like its better-known cousin, ranked-choice voting, approval voting is a popular proposal among election reformers looking to fix the flaws of our first-past-the-post electoral system (i.e., the election system you’re probably most used to: voters pick only one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins, regardless of whether they get a majority). By allowing people to vote for multiple candidates, approval voting aims to remove the often zero-sum game of our politics, no longer forcing people to choose between a candidate they love who has little chance of winning and a more viable candidate about whom they are less enthusiastic. For this reason, proponents argue that approval voting gives a fairer shot to third parties. It also theoretically eliminates the problem of vote-splitting. For instance, St. Louis is a plurality-Black city, but it has had a white mayor for the last 20 years in part because Black candidates have split the vote in the city’s predominantly Black north side. But under approval voting, Black voters will be able to vote for as many Black (and non-Black) candidates as they want.
Approval voting’s boosters also prefer it to ranked-choice voting because it’s simpler. Election officials can use the same ballots and machines they currently do, whereas ranked-choice ballots need to be redesigned to accommodate voters’ second, third, fourth, etc. choices. Ranked-choice voting can also lead to voter confusion and may lower turnout (although this is disputed), while approval voting actually produces fewer spoiled ballots — because a common reason ballots are currently disqualified is that voters vote for too many candidates. Approval voting also spits out results a lot faster than ranked-choice ballots, which can take days to tabulate.