How to talk to lay people about voting reform?


As much as I think we need to get the idea of cardinal voting reform in national media (which UnfairVote has succeeded at several times, possibly dozens), I have also tried to spread the word locally… but doing so is a harder problem than I expected.

One time, I was talking to someone about politics and I decided to mention Score Voting. We did discuss it in detail and I gave the website, but it was sort of awkward and I am not sure if the person actually remembers what I said to this day or looked at (which is my go-to recommendation but all three websites have their own issues…)

Another time, a different person had heard of IRV and I was not sure how to respond (fight/flight/freeze played a role here… well, the last two did…). I only said something vague like “be careful of propaganda” and got out of the conversation. I have not seen this person since, either.

What I need is ways to approach this involved and unusual topic with common people without seeming like a snake oil merchant, an arrogant know-it-all, or both. Or just not really leaving a mark on the person’s mind.

(One obstacle is outside my control – all websites have disadvantages: is designed by intellectuals for intellectuals, is under construction, adds a complication (runoff) that I usually omit in conversation for simplicity, and is annoying because I want Score, not Approval.)


It is quite easy to explain simple score voting to people on the street, merely because it utterly lacks distracting frills, or “bells and whistles.” You can just tell them that they can grant from (1) to (10) votes (grant a 10% to 100% portion of assertable support) to each of as many of the candidates as they choose to bestow votes to. Or they can abstain from granting any votes at all to any of the candidates as they reject by simply ignoring them on the ballot.

They respond rather nicely when you describe how if five voters grant (1) vote to two of the candidates and (2) votes to one other candidate, while you bestow (5) votes to the two candidates and (10) votes to the one candidate, your ballot will provide the same portion of assertable support as do all of the other five voters combined.

I happen to have had the experience of helping organize several previous demonstrations for various causes, some in Washington, D.C. I think I will order one of these:

Large Hi-Vis Yellow Polyester High Visibility Reflective Safety Vest

EDIT: In the above case of the five disadvantaged voters, I am of course assuming that only the three mentioned candidates are granted votes.


What specific types of resources are you looking for these websites to offer? For example, would articles sharing how voting method reform impacts specific policy areas be helpful?

We’re all ears in terms of creating new content that is helpful to share with those trying to share the idea of cardinal voting reform.


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Some things I have emphasized in letters to people involved in local politics:

  • The spoiler effect is effectively a punishment for participating in politics.
  • Vote splitting can allow someone whose views were rejected by a large majority of the population to win just because that large majority was divided.
  • Extremists only face vote splitting on one side of the political spectrum, whereas moderates face vote splitting on both sides, causing plurality to be biased towards extremists.
  • Since IRV uses plurality totals to pick whom to eliminate, it is also biased towards extremists.
  • Score increases voter freedom/choice, since you can effectively vote the old way with score, but not the other way around.
  • The current system requires voters to not only evaluate candidates by how good a job you think they would do, but how competitive you think they’ll be, since if they lose badly, your vote is wasted. Often “proving that you can compete” is the same thing as “spending a lot of money”, which means that plurality voting (and any other system with spoilers) increases the importance of money in campaigns.


This was an interesting read

The thing that stuck out to me is the idea of having three components to your speech:

  1. Logic/reason/fact
  2. Authority/credentials/trust
  3. Emotional appeal

We psephology nerds often focus purely on #1, because we know appeals to authority and appeals to emotion are “logical fallacies”. But they are actually useful to include, especially when talking to less-academic people.

For instance, I think #2 could be as simple as “I’ve been studying this stuff in my free time for several years, and I’ve come to the conclusion of x”. It emphasizes that you have some research backing up what you’re saying and didn’t just get all your ideas from watching one CGP Gray video.


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If you’re going out canvassing on the street, create a few approval/score ballots and then ask them to fill it out, ask them about the experience, and then get them to sign a petition.

If someone came to me with the site ballot I’d have a really good time. I’d sign up for their mailing list and see who won the ‘mock election’
Great way to have people both sign a petition, learn about alternate voting methods, and subscribe them to a mailing list / cause.


Suggestion: Lead with the why, then explain the ballot. Frame your why in terms that people on the street want. “Vote your conscience, never waste your vote, and the candidate with the most support actually wins” is my favorite pitch. I think all three of those are more true with STAR, but I’d feel good saying that about Score too.

Then describe the ballot and how a person might vote. “Score candidates you support from 0 up to 5, so your favorite would get 5, somebody you like almost as much might get a 4, someone who you’d only support if it really came down to it might get a 1, and you can leave people blank or give them a zero if they are the absolute worst.”

Hope that helps. If you get stuck ask them what they think the problems are, then talk about how STAR/Score Voting would do better.


Some other suggestions here: