Less Can Be More: Conflicting Ballot Proposals and the Highest Vote Rule
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
This paper examines conflicting ballot proposals - two or more measures that run contrary to one another and that citizens vote on in the same election. Sometimes a majority votes in favor of more than one conflicting proposal, generating a legal impasse that courts resolve by applying the “highest vote rule.” The rule upholds the proposal that received the greatest number of affirmative votes and invalidates all competing proposals, even though they also garnered majority support. Using spatial models, we show that the proposal receiving the most votes is not systematically closest to the median voter’s ideal point, and consequently the rule can generate anti-majoritarian outcomes. We discuss the implications of our finding, analyze and reject existing alternatives to the highest vote rule, and propose an original solution to the problem.