The Case for Utilitarian Voting

Homo Oeconomicus, Vol. 22, No. 3, 2005

27 Pages Posted: 15 May 2006

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Utilitarian voting (UV) is defined in this paper as any voting rule that allows the voter to rank all of the alternatives by means of the scores permitted under a given voting scale. Specific UV rules that have been proposed are approval voting, allowing the scores 0, 1; range voting, allowing all numbers in an interval as scores; evaluative voting, allowing the scores -1, 0, 1.

The paper deals extensively with Arrow's impossibility theorem that has been interpreted as precluding a satisfactory voting mechanism. I challenge the relevance of the ordinal framework in which that theorem is expressed and argue that instead utilitarian, i.e. cardinal social choice theory is relevant for voting. I show that justifications of both utilitarian social choice and of majority rule can be modified to derive UV. The most elementary derivation of UV is based on the view that no justification exists for restricting voters' freedom to rank the alternatives on a given scale.

Keywords: Approval voting, Arrow's impossibility theorem, cardinal collective choice, evaluative voting, majority rule, range voting, utilitarian voting

JEL Classification: D71, D72

Suggested Citation

Hillinger, Claude, The Case for Utilitarian Voting. Homo Oeconomicus, Vol. 22, No. 3, 2005, Available at SSRN:

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