Approval Voting

He’s not seeking votes, just approval

Littleton activist uses presidential bid to get eyes on voting campaign

Posted 10/24/16

Frank Atwood is running for president, but he doesn’t want your vote.

It says so right on the website of the Approval Voting Party, for which he is the nominee. The Littleton activist isn’t even voting for himself.

“I will most likely be …

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Approval Voting

He’s not seeking votes, just approval

Littleton activist uses presidential bid to get eyes on voting campaign

Posted

Frank Atwood is running for president, but he doesn’t want your vote.

It says so right on the website of the Approval Voting Party, for which he is the nominee. The Littleton activist isn’t even voting for himself.

“I will most likely be voting for Gary Johnson,” the 67-year-old retired Department of the Navy employee said.

Atwood was a registered Libertarian before he and his running mate, Blake Huber, 66now retired from the telecommunications industry, created a party focused on advocating for approval voting, which is a system that allows voters to select multiple candidates.

The elevator pitch for approval voting is simple: “Check all the candidates yea or nay, the most yeas wins at the end of the day.” Those are the words to a jingle that Atwood recorded on his smartphone and which are printed on his fliers.

“Approval voting is simply saying, mark off all that you approve of,” Atwood said.

Atwood and Huber, who first registered as a Libertarian in the 1970s, see approval voting as a solution to hyper-partisanship, as voters will not have just one vote to cast.

They also believe it solves the problem of spoilers, like Ross Perot in 1992 or Ralph Nader in 2000, as people can vote for their preferred candidate, as well as one they don’t like as much but can live with.

“Approval voting encourages better candidates,” Huber said, saying that what he calls the “choose-one system” incentivizes negative campaigning.

For Atwood and Huber, approval voting is not only political silver bullet, but a solution people can use in their day-to-day lives. Huber points out it can be used among groups of friends to select movies, pizza toppings and more.

Atwood, a common fixture at public meetings, political discussion groups and community events, stands out wherever he his.

He’s the 6-foot-4 bald man who is more often than not wearing a bright yellow T-shirt emblazoned with the approval voting message. A scan of a parking lot can let you know if he’s around — just look for the Toyota minivan wrapped with graphics matching his shirt.

Atwood cops to being a “nut.” But “it’s the nuts that change the world,” he recently told the Littleton City Council in one of his regular public comment appearances. The tagline was lifted from Kind Snacks, and when he was done, Atwood distributed Kind bars to the councilmembers and audience.

Littleton Mayor Bruce Beckman doesn’t just know Atwood as an activist. They lived across the street from one another for about a decade.

“Frank would never miss an opportunity to talk to you about the things he believes in,” Beckman said.

“You have to,” Atwood said about talking to people about his message. “You push through. You talk with everyone.”

Added Beckman: “There are things I agree with him on and things I disagree with him on, but I always find him interesting to talk to.”

The roots of the Approval Voting Party lie in a trip that Atwood and Huber took to present their ideas at Freedom Fest, an annual “gathering of free minds” held in Las Vegas in July 2015.

Atwood and Huber had been discussing the best approach to getting more eyes on their message.

“Half of the money you spend on advertising is wasted, you just never know which half,” Atwood said. “And then Blake and I realized it would be fun.”

When they got back to Colorado, the pair got a lawyer and managed to get a meeting with Secretary of State Wayne Williams at a Colorado Rockies game. They disaffiliated from the Libertarian Party, found nine unaffiliated registered voters willing to sign on to be electoral college delegates in the event they win the vote in Colorado, and filed paperwork to form their new party.

The Quixotic presidential bid is not Atwood’s first foray into electoral politics — he scored 3.3 percent of the vote in the 1st Congressional District race in 2014 as a Libertarian, even though he didn’t live in the district.

Retired from the federal government since 2000, the same year he moved to Littleton, Atwood has been a fixture at community events, public meetings and political gatherings. He counts running a chess club in Highlands Ranch and advocating for approval voting as his two passions.

He stumbled onto the Libertarian Party in the mid-’90s and was attracted by its message of fiscal responsibility and social tolerance.

“I was a milquetoast Republican, willing to vote for Bob Dole, and then Bob Dole just annoyed me,” he said, talking about the 1996 presidential race.

Atwood became interested in approval voting during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“My wife brought home the book `Gaming the Vote,’ “ he said.

The book, by William Poundstone, is subtitled “Why Elections Aren’t Fair (And What We Can Do About It)” and posits that several presidential races have been won by the second-most popular candidate due to the influence of “spoiler” candidates.

After Atwood read the book, he researched alternative voting systems and decided approval voting is the way to go. Atwood then turned his friend Huber onto the idea, recommending the book to him.

“I called him up and I said `Frank, I drank the Kool-Aid,’ ” Huber said.

While Atwood and Huber’s presidential bid is essentially a stunt campaign to draw attention to their cause, it won’t be the endgame for them. They plan to work for statewide rules for jurisdictions that want to use approval voting.

Said Huber: “We’ll be advocating in the state Legislature next year.”

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