Less Can Be More: Conflicting Ballot Proposals and the Highest Vote Rule

36 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 3 Aug 2015

See all articles by Michael D. Gilbert

Michael D. Gilbert

University of Virginia School of Law

Joshua Levine


Date Written: March 12, 2009


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.

Suggested Citation

Gilbert, Michael and Levine, Joshua, Less Can Be More: Conflicting Ballot Proposals and the Highest Vote Rule (March 12, 2009). Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 38, p. 383, 2009, Virginia Law and Economics Research Paper No. 2010-05, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1448026

Michael Gilbert (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Joshua Levine

Independent ( email )

No Address Available
United States

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