How An Instant-Runoff Voting System Would Restore Democracy To America
One year ago — as Americans counted down the final months of the Bush Presidency — a progressive firestorm ushered the Democrats into power with a resolute mandate for CHANGE. The electorate had turned its back on nearly a decade of neo-con lies, the biggest warmongering con job in our nation’s history, war crimes, mismanaged disaster-relief efforts (Katrina), a gutting of the Constitution and the rule of law, a staggering debt, and the collapse of our entire financial system. The country (and the entire world for that matter) took a deep sigh of relief that the Republicans were gone and that CHANGE was on its way.
And here we are approaching Obama’s one year mark, wondering “where the hell did our CHANGE candidate go to?” The Democrats — though nowhere near as destructive as the Republicans before them — have proven to be every bit as corrupted by our two party system. I just recently blogged about this — pointing out that progressives would eventually have to punish Democrats at the voting booths for turning their backs on real change and instead pretending the status-quo was essential for bipartisanship.
The U.S. political system has become a government for and by the political elites and special interest groups — largely immunized from voter outrage by our ridiculous two-party system. The whole notion that this is a ‘democracy for and by the people’ has become something of a farce, not unlike Fox News calling itself ‘Fair and Balanced’.
Take for example, health care reform: an overwhelming majority of the American people want a robust public option as part of a health care reform package, as does an overwhelming majority of American Physicians. Well, TOO BAD for us, because that works against the interests of the political elites who are shoveling millions of dollars into their political coffers by the health insurance industry and lobbyists, as well as lining their spouses up with cushy high-paying jobs (i.e. ask Senator Joe Lieberman’s wife, Hadassah about that). And if you even think about voting against these corrupted Politicians — for say, a 3rd Party Candidate — then you’ll soon watch your 3rd Party candidate defeated, and know your vote unwittingly helped elect some Republican freak-show candidate a la ‘Michele Bachmann‘.
What is needed is an underlying overhaul of our system’s electoral processes. Something that would strengthen our democracy, by better aligning our politicians’ interests with those of the electorate. Two possibilities come to mind:
1) Publicly funded elections (i.e. ending all campaign contributions). This is the most obvious solution.
2) The Preferential Voting System (also called Instant-runoff voting)
Instant-runoff voting — adapted by the Australian and Irish Democracies, as well as by others — is one where each voter ranks a list of candidates in order of preference. The 1st choice candidates selected on the ballots are tallied, and if none of the 1st choice candidates gets a majority of the votes, then the candidate with the least amount of #1 preference rankings is eliminated and his/her votes get redistributed to the remaining candidates (the ones indicated by the #2 ranking preferences). This process repeats itself again and again until one of the remaining candidates has reached a majority of total votes.
EXAMPLE: Here’s a sample ballot for this kind of voting system along with fictitious candidates to show how it works:
Let’s assume you like John Citizen the best — he’s a Left leaning 3rd Party Candidate whose platform is in line with your own principles — so you make him your #1 Preference.
Mary Hill, the incumbent, is the Democratic Party candidate. She speaks a good game, but has proven to be beholden to special interest groups, and continues to legislate in a way that puts their interests above your own. You make her your #2 preferred candidate.
Jane Doe is the Libertarian Candidate. You find yourself on the same side as Libertarians on some issues, but at the polar opposite on others. You decide to make Jane Doe, the Libertarian, your #3 preferred candidate.
Then there’s the Neo-Con, Joe Smith (the Republican candidate), and Fred Rubble (another Far-Right freak show). These misfits won’t ever get your vote — so you leave them blank.
So the voting precincts close later that night, and all the votes are tallied. Your #1 preference, John Citizen only got 5,000 #1 preference rankings and the Libertarian Jane Doe (your #3) only got one thousand, and Fred Rubble (Freak Show) got a hundred. All three of these tallies are a mere pittance when compared to the top two-party candidates, Mary Hill (Democrat), and Joe Smith (Republican), though neither got a majority of all votes cast. Therefore, the candidate with the least #1 preference rankings (Freak show Fred Rubble) gets eliminated, his votes get redistributed to the #2 preferences, and the ballots get recounted, and this process is repeated again and again until a majority is reached by one candidate. Your vote for John Citizen ultimately gets converted to your #2 preferred ranking, Mary Hill.
When the dust clears, and a majority has finally been reached, it appears the Democratic Candidate Mary Hill BARELY wins, beating the Republican candidate by only two thousand votes.
Do you see what just happened here, and the resulting impact it would have on the U.S. political system? Your vote for the Left-leaning 3rd Party Candidate, John Citizen, didn’t automatically ensure the victory of the dreaded ‘Dick Cheney equivalent’ Joe Smith — who would have clearly won within our current U.S. electoral system.
In an Instant-runoff voting system two important things are achieved:
- There’s no longer an incentive to vote strictly along party lines. Citizens can vote their conscience without worrying about “throwing their votes away” or “ensuring that the greater of two evils gets elected.” As a result, many people would begin to vote for third party candidates, thus ensuring a gradual end to the current two-party stranglehold.
- The overall will of the majority always gets realized in the outcome of each election. In this example a majority of the electorate clearly wanted someone from the Left to win (either the Democratic Candidate, Mary Hill, or the Left-leaning Third Party Candidate, John Citizen), and they ultimately were awarded that — a winner from the Left. Under our current system, the candidate from the Right — the Dick Cheney equivalent, Joe Smith — would have won this election, despite the fact the majority of those who voted clearly preferred candidates who leaned Left.
Had we used this Preferential System in the 2000 Presidential Elections what would have likely resulted? Ralph Nader would have gotten a hell of a lot more votes, and Al Gore would have ultimately won a decisive victory over George W. Bush.
Just something to think about …