Social Choice and Welfare

, Volume 25, Issue 2–3, pp 457–474 | Cite as

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

  • Steven J. BramsEmail author
  • Peter C. Fishburn
Original Paper


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.


American Statistical Association Condorcet Winner Approval Vote Plurality Vote Lower Common Denominator 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Richard F. Potthoff for valuable comments. Brams gratefully acknowledges the support of the C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics at New York University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PoliticsNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.AT&T Shannon LaboratoryInformation Sciences Research CenterFlorham ParkUSA

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