Election Ideas

One of the endur­ing com­plaints peo­ple have with Amer­i­can polit­i­cal sys­tem is the two party sys­tem. We have two war­ring polit­i­cal par­ties which posi­tion them­selves in the cen­ter of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics and take oppo­sites sides of every con­tro­ver­sial issue at stake and them some. They cre­ate an arti­fi­cial dichotomy where Amer­i­can vot­ers are con­sis­tently forced to choose side on issues which they would oth­er­wise not care about in order to choose the “lesser” of two evils. The two par­ties have a polar­iz­ing effect on Amer­i­can pol­i­tics where peo­ple are lumped into “right” and “left” cat­e­gories and have their views increas­ingly flan­der­ized. The two party sys­tem is clearly a prob­lem, but how can it be dealt with? Here are a few suggestions.

One of the chief causes of the two party sys­tem is the cur­rent setup of the elec­toral sys­tem. Like most of the rest of the world, the United States uses a First Past the Post (FPTP) vot­ing sys­tem. In a FPTP sys­tem, vot­ing cit­i­zens each have one vote which they cast for a can­di­date, and the first can­di­date to win a major­ity of the votes, wins the elec­tion. This sounds sim­ple and fair but it has prob­lems, the chief of which, is that it enforces the two party sys­tem.

Look at it like this: When peo­ple vote, they actu­ally have two goals in mind. One is to place a can­di­date they like in pow­er. The oth­er, is to pre­vent a can­di­date that they don’t like, from gain­ing pow­er. Very often, the lat­ter of the two goals is the more impor­tant. What this means is, that given a list of can­di­dates for office which a voter finds accept­able, he will often choose the one most likely to win, in hopes of pre­vent­ing can­di­dates which he finds unac­cept­able from win­ning. Another issue is that vot­ers can only vote for fron­t-run­ners if they at all hope for their vote to sway the elec­tion, requir­ing them to pick among the least unac­cept­able of a small num­ber of can­di­dates. This leads inex­orably to a two party sys­tem with vot­ers pick­ing which can­di­date they find least detestable. Vot­ers rally behind one of two can­di­dates all in the hopes of defeat­ing the other one. This is called Tactical Voting

This video give a very good overview of what gen­er­ally happens:

The chief prob­lem here, is that one-per­son­-one-vote is not a very good way of rep­re­sent­ing a vot­ers actual pref­er­ences. With on vote, a voter can rep­re­sent his first choice, but what about his sec­ond? Can he vote against his last? What if he wants one can­di­date in one cir­cum­stance, but an other in an entirely other cir­cum­stance? This is actu­ally a com­pli­cate ques­tion, but there are actu­ally ways to improve this, upon the FPTP sys­tem.

One pos­si­bil­ity is to allow a neg­a­tive vote. With a neg­a­tive vote, a voter would be allowed to, instead vot­ing against one spe­cific can­di­date, to vote against a can­di­date. Rather than that vote being added to the vote tally of the voter’s pre­ferred choice, it would be sub­tracted from the tally of the voter’s least pre­ferred choice. In this way, a voter would­n’t need to sup­port a can­di­date, to oppose a can­di­date which he did­n’t like.

Another alter­na­tive, is a pref­er­en­tial vot­ing sys­tem. Pref­er­en­tial, or ranked, vot­ing sys­tems allow vot­ers to actu­ally list their can­di­date choices in order of pref­er­ence an then a win­ner is cho­sen based on the pref­er­ences of all of the vot­ers. The most com­mon form of this is the Instant Runoff Vote (IRV) In which all vot­ers first choices are tal­lied, and if a major­ity can­di­date (a can­di­date with >%50 of the vote) is found, then that can­di­date wins, else the least pop­u­lar can­di­date is elim­i­nated and his votes are given to his vot­ers sec­ond choic­es. This process is repeated until a sin­gle can­di­date achieves major­ity and the win­ner is picked. This sys­tem allows vot­ers to freely and can­didly vote for unpop­u­lar can­di­dates with­out feel­ing like they are giv­ing a vote to a pop­u­lar ene­my, reduc­ing the dan­gers of tac­ti­cal vot­ing.

There are actu­ally a num­ber of dif­fer­ent vot­ing sys­tems and Wikipedia gives a tol­er­a­ble overview of many of them: Voting Systems. Of course chang­ing the vot­ing sys­tem for the United States would require a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, and the cur­rent polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment, that is the two major polit­i­cal par­ties, have a vested inter­est in keep­ing the cur­rent sys­tem in place, so the intro­duc­tion of a new vot­ing sys­tem any­time soon is unlike­ly. How­ev­er, given the real unpop­u­lar­ity of the cur­rent sys­tem, it seems like look­ing at a few alter­na­tives would be a nice idea.

    Last update: 09/11/2012

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