I struggled to name what I'm asking about here. I'm talking about the kind of voting that happens on many websites, including stackexchange: you can upvote something (a question), or you can downvote it. In other words, you can cast a positive vote or a negative vote on anything.

Note: I don't mean simply where you give each candidate (or whatever) a positive score from (say) 1 to 5. Youtube used to use this system for its videos, but switched to what I'm calling negative voting: thumbs up or down.

Has this ever been tried for real-world elections? You could for example vote:

Gaullists: 1

Socialists: 0 (no vote)

Communists: 0 (no vote)

National Front: -1 (negative vote)

To tally the results the returning officer would subtract a candidate's negative votes from their positive votes, and award the victory in this district to the candidate or party with the highest net score.


Gaullist, 2000 up, 1500 down.

Socialist, 1500 up, 500 down.

Communist, 100 up, 75 down.

National Front, 300 up, 400 down.

The winner in this seat would be the Socialist candidate.

Has this ever been used for anything other than internet purposes? I'm pretty sure it's never been used for government elections at any level, or major political parties, but it would be interesting to know.

Has any prominent interest group or academic ever proposed using it? What is the thinking on whether it would be possible to design a negative voting system which satisfied all the requirements of a fair voting system described by Arrow?

Edit: It's gratifying that this question has received so much attention. I'd like to point out I'm not proposing this system or even trying to predict what its effects would be on elections, politics or governments. This isn't the place to make proposals, or to knock the imagined proposals of others.

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    Do I have 1 vote that goes either to candidate I vote for or to candidate I vote against? Or can I vote on as many as I wish?
    – Agent_L
    Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 9:09
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    @Agent_L, I was envisioning one positive and one negative vote.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 9:25
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    One thing to remember with a system like this is highly polarizing candidates can get a very low score as about equal numbers vote for and against them while a more neutral one can get a much higher score as they are more likely to have people vote neutrally and less likely to vote against them.
    – Joe W
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 17:01
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    Shouldn't under such system a Controversial Party ask a few friends to create Puppy Killing Party, whose sole purpose would be to attract all negative votes?
    – Shadow1024
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 9:11
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    @Shadow1024 As described, you can downvote as many candidates as you wish, so the Puppy Killing Party could only serve to change perception of the "bottom"; it wouldn't actually "use up" the negative votes.
    – endolith
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 16:52

10 Answers 10


This is functionally identical to range voting

Mathematically, it is irrelevant which range you pick of a given size, be that 1 to 3, -1 to 1, or -997 to -995.

Let's run your sample election at two ranges (I'm assuming 3500 voters as it's the smallest number you need, but you can add more voters and it does not change the result):

-1 to 1

2000*1 + 0*0 + 1500*-1 = 500
1500*1 + 1500*0 + 500*-1 = 1000
100*1 + 3325*0 + 75*-1 = 25
National Front:
300*1 + 2800*0 + 400*-1 = -100

1 to 3

2000*3 + 0*2 + 1500*1 = 7500
1500*3 + 1500*2 + 500*1 = 8000
100*3 + 3325*2 + 75*1 = 7025
National Front:
300*3 + 2800*2 + 400*1 = 6900

As you can see, both the results and margins are the same.

While there may well be cognitive differences (voting against might seem more aggressive than simply giving the lowest score, people may be more likely give the middle score as it is inaction) there are no mathematical changes based on the range you choose.

This means that this method has the same advantages and drawbacks as range voting. While it may appear to violate Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, that is because it is a cardinal voting method, while the "universality" criterion of Arrow's theorem effectively restricts that result to ordinal voting methods.
It also fails both the Condorcet and Majority criteria.

Range voting has never been implemented for a national election.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about the mathematical and psychological differences between range voting and negative voting has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 8:20
  • It's only the same as Score if voters are required to score every candidate. In the more realistic scenario where abstentions are allowed, Score and CAV have different defaults.
    – endolith
    Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 15:09

Yes, this is called "Combined Approval Voting", "evaluative voting", or "dis&approval voting" and has been proposed and studied by a number of people, including exit poll tests in France. (I've also seen people say that the correct name is "Net Approval Voting", but the people who say that seem to be the only ones calling it that.)

It's mathematically identical to Score/Range Voting (except that blanks are assigned to the middle of the scale instead of the bottom), but not conceptually identical, since it features explicit disapproval, which studies have shown changes the way people vote. (However, the French study has a discrepancy in that the research paper said that blanks get counted as 0, while the ballots themselves said that blanks get counted as -1. I'm not sure if that affected this conclusion.)

The Republic of Venice also supposedly used this type of ballot, except with balls placed in green and red urns to indicate approval or disapproval. It's hard to find a convincingly reliable source, though.

There's also another Taiwanese proposal with the same type of ballot, but different rules, called "Negative Vote". The difference is that it only allows you to vote for or against one candidate, and all other candidates must be left blank, so it still suffers from vote-splitting effects.

There's also Explicit Approval Voting, with the same ballots and rules, but abstentions are counted differently. It's used frequently in Wikimedia projects.

  • 1
    Regarding Venice see history.stackexchange.com/questions/52174/… although H SE can be even more of a crapshot than P SE in my experience. Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 22:19
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    "But the people who say that seem to be the only ones saying that". Quite a tautological statement you have there :)
    – dsollen
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 19:13
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    People who point out tautologies always say things like that :D
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 21:47
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    @Shufflepants Yeah I don't like Negative Vote because it still suffers from the same fundamental flaw as FPTP: Allowing you to express an opinion about only one candidate.
    – endolith
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 16:45
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    @Shufflepants Left-of-centre parties in FPTP or SMDP systems (Single Member District Plurality, the technical name for FPTP) often advocate for a different system, because they think they'll do better. Right-of-centre parties usually oppose this change with equal self-interestednesss, because they think they'll do worse. However practical experience doesn't always bear this out. For instance Australia uses AV, and is more reliably rightwing than UK or US. They have complusory voting too which is often supposed to favour leftish parties. Not always as clearcut as one might think
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 10:51

A certain kind of this voting actually happens in all elections in Latvia.

The Central Election Commission’s website seems to have been redesigned recently and I can’t find descriptions/infographics of this in the new design, so I’ll use old images and references to laws.

All candidates in an election are split into lists (corresponding to political parties or alliances). When a voter arrives at the polling station, they are given a whole pack of ballot sheets, one per candidate list. Each of these sheets looks like this:

A sample ballot showing a box next to each candidate. For some candidates, “+” is written into this box. Some other candidates’ names have a horizontal line drawn through them.

It has the list’s name and number, an ordered list of candidates and a box next to each candidate’s name.

The voter chooses one sheet and votes for the corresponding list. (The one sheet is cast into the ballot box and the others discarded.) But beyond that, they may choose to vote for or against any individual candidate(s) on this list by either putting a plus into the box or drawing a line through their name:

An instruction graphic in Latvian showing how to put a plus or strike out a candidate’s name to vote for or against that candidate.

Eventually when the votes are counted and seats are distributed, seats are distributed between candidate lists (ignoring the pluses and strikeouts), and within each list candidates are ordered by the individual votes they’ve got. Only in case of ties are candidates ordered the way they were listed in the ballot (which was decided by the corresponding party itself when it applied for the election).

Usually, parties put their most well-known and popular members at the top of the list to catch the voter’s eye and collect many pluses, but it’s not uncommon for candidates near the top to be struck out a lot and fall behind or for candidates who start several places behind to catch up and surpass the list’s leaders.

Unfortunately, the relevant laws don’t have official English translations, but for reference:

In the Parliament election law:

  • §23.2–3 describes how a voter can add a “+” or strike out a candidate;
  • §35 describes how these marks are added up for each individual candidate;
  • §39 describes how candidates are rearranged in order of “number of ballots + number of pluses − number of strikeouts” (with ties resolved in the original order the candidates are listed on the ballot) and the top of this list are elected.

In the European Parliament election law:

  • §24.2–3 describes how a voter can add a “+” or strike out a candidate;
  • §40 describes how these marks are added up for each individual candidate;
  • §39 describes how candidates are rearranged in order of “number of ballots + number of pluses − number of strikeouts” (with ties resolved in the original order the candidates are listed on the ballot) and the top of this list are elected.

In the local election law:

  • §29.1–2 describes how a voter can add a “+” or strike out a candidate;
  • §40² describes how these marks are added up for each individual candidate;
  • §41.6–7 describes how candidates are rearranged in order of “number of ballots + number of pluses − number of strikeouts” (with ties resolved in the original order the candidates are listed on the ballot) and the top of this list are elected.
  • Confirmed from nsd.no/european_election_database/country/latvia/… "Electors vote for lists of candidates but can also indicate specific support or rejection. [...] Distribution of seats among [parties] is based on the Saint-Lagüe method. Within each list, the order of candidates is re-arranged to reflect the preferences expressed by the voters. The vote for each candidate is equal to the number of votes cast for the list, plus or minus specific votes." That page also describes the overall system as "Direct, simple majority and preferential vote". Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 6:22
  • The latter term is rather ambiguous though en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preferential_voting but it does include score voting as one of the sub-categories. Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 6:24
  • Many thanks for pointing out a real-world example. It's always nice to hear about those, particularly from outside the Anglosphere!
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Apr 24, 2019 at 14:30

What you're describing is a form of disapproval, negative, or anti-plurality voting, although this version (allowing up and down votes) doesn't seem to be widely used, if at all.

One possible example of being able to vote either for or against a candidate comes from the Soviet Union in the late 1980's, as described in this 1987 New York Times article:

According to the rules for the experimental multimember districts, the number of candidates in each district would exceed the number of seats allocated. Voters may withhold their vote from particular candidates by crossing out their names on the ballot.

Candidates backed by at least half of the registered voters in the constituency would be considered elected. If the number of elected candidates exceeds the number of seats allotted to the constituency, those with the least number of votes are declared stand-by members...

In essence, this voting system gave each candidate a +1 vote per ballot cast by default, voters could cast a -1 to cancel that out, and every candidate who didn't lose half of their votes got elected. The forced +1 to start with isn't really in the spirit of what you're describing, but it's close.

However, there are many voting reform proposals across the world with varying levels of traction, and at least some are bound to be similar to what you describe. One such proposal was detailed in this Desert Sun article from January:

If we want our civic life to be more positive, we might need to vote in the negative.

That’s the compelling case that Sam Chang, a retired banker who lives in Taipei, was making as I rode BART with him between meetings with California election experts.


His concept of “the negative vote” is straightforward. Today we can vote for one candidate in each race. Chang proposes to give voters the ability to use that one vote to cast a ballot against the candidate instead. In such a system, each candidate’s tally of votes would be a net — between the number of positive and negative votes.

More details can be found at what appears to be a page dedicated to Chang's proposal, but they don't really cover any of the Arrow theorem stuff and their main selling point seems to be that it potentially increases voter turnout because people like saying no to things.

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    Chang's proposal only allows you to vote for or against one candidate, though, not every candidate.
    – endolith
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 16:22

To address your title question, according to some sources, parts of the system to elect the Doges of Venice had a three-option voting scheme with choices either approval, disapproval or "doubt" for each candidate. Unfortunately, other sources disagree, and it's certain that the system changed over time. It also involved a very small electorate and multiple rounds of voting.


Check out Democracy 2.1. It is a proposed voting system whose advantage is that it produces less controversial and more consensual outcomes. The idea is that each voter has more votes than there are electable candidates, and for every 2 (or more) positive votes they cast, they may optionally cast a negative vote. In other words, voters have to select multiple acceptable outcomes if they also want to cast the negative vote. This encourages consensus building and hopefully rational thought, and the results indicate not just who won by the greatest number of votes, but also who is the most acceptable and who the most controversial or even not acceptable.

(I say "who" but it can just as well be "what". The system has for example been used for participatory budgeting in New York.)

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    It sounds like CAV but with additional restrictions "For every minus vote cast, voters must cast at least twice as many plus votes." It's not strictly what the OP is asking about. Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 23:02

Ostracism was an Athenian democratic procedure in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state for ten years. It was used as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state or a potential tyrant. The procedure is well described in Wikipedia.

The name originates from the Greek word ostraka, broken pottery shards on that the citizens wrote names of these who they want to expell. The shards were later counted, and if some name appeared enough times, the person was expelled. Hence the procedure was anonymous. The public vote has been carried in advance if ostracism procedure should be used this year (without specifying on whom).


In Armenia, the election specified when there is only one candidate, the ballot must provide the choice to vote No.

Various persons have referenced my proposal. Here is my 10-minute presentation made at the World Forum for Democracy, Nov. 2017. https://youtu.be/b6tauXJgLoM

I am the principal supporter of a citizen’s initiative to implement this reform in Taiwan and also am currently working on a ballot measure to implement this reform in El Cerrito, CA. We expect to start collecting signatures in December 2021.

A RAND Corp research showed, had the option been available in 2016 Presidential election, voter participation rate would have been 7.2% higher. A similar study by RAND in 2020 election showed, voter participation rate would have been 3.4% higher in the 12 swing states. Both studies also showed Trump would have received net negative votes. https://www.negativevote.org/news/pid_1/72.html https://www.negativevote.org/news/pid_1/97.html

In the last selection of the U.N. Secretary General, members of the Security Council went through 6 straw polls, the option to discourage was available. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_United_Nations_Secretary-General_selection

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    You state that this country is Romania in your answer. Yet your linked resource (of which you appear to be the author, which is problematic since you don't disclose that) refers to Armenia.
    – Luuklag
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 13:23
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    You are correct, it should be Armenia, not Romania
    – Sam Chang
    Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 8:19

A problem with approval voting is that to vote against one candidate you do have to vote for every other candidate, even candidates that you actually would support as a compromise with those who like the candidate you oppose.

In my opinion, a much better system is what I call Balanced Approval Voting. Here, I'd like to link to an article I have submitted for publication but has not yet appeared at OpEdNewsBalanced Voting. As an alternative I should suggest one on substack. BAV improves on AV by allowing a voter, for each candidate to specify either support or opposition and the winner is determined by the difference. This is the voting system used in Latvia. It also seems the voting method described in the question.

I should add that while this system is mathematically equivalent to range voting with three possible scores, the mathematical model requires voters to specify a score for each and every candidate. A real voting system must take account that some ballots will fail to specify a score for every candidate and it is important how these scores are handled. If the real voting system assigns one of the scores as a default then there is not just a single range voting system with three equally spaced scores but in fact three. Balanced approval voting, the system described in the question, assigns the middle value as the default. The canonical form for such a system is to use the scores -1, 0 and 1.

  • 1
    You don't link to an article directly at Balanced Voting, you rather link to a page without any clue as to what article is exactly your writing.
    – Luuklag
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 13:25
  • The now published article can be found at the OpEdNews: opednews.com/articles/…
    – DeBias
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 17:37

I have always liked the idea of approval voting, where you can vote for only one candidate, for all but one candidate, or for any set of candidates you choose. The candidate who gets the greatest number of approvals wins.

Voting for all of the candidates except one, is in effect casting a purely negative vote against that one candidate.

Voting for only one candidate, is equivalent to first-past-the-post, which some say (with fairly good reason) forces you to cast a negative vote against all bar one of the candidates.

The good thing about approval voting is that it would be possible for multiple candidates to stand for the same party (reflecting shades of opinion within that party), without harming each others' chances. An elector who simply wanted that party to get in, would vote for all of its candidates, and none of the others, but those who took a more nuanced view would decide which one got elected.

I don't know of anywhere that uses this simple system, rather than PR-priority systems.

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