An Even Better Idea for Reforming Presidential Elections

Research report

ballot

Imagine if there was no possibility of being a “spoiler” in the general election for President. Bernie Sanders could run as an independent, as he has for most of his career. Donald Trump also may have run as an independent, allowing the Republicans to choose a candidate more acceptable to the majority of the party.

Then in November you could choose from Sanders, Clinton, Trump, a Republican Party candidate and third party candidates, free of worry about “spoilers,” “wasting your vote,” voting for the “lesser of two evils,” or any of the other problems that saddle us every four years with only two realistic choices.

Two choices. That’s just one more than you would have had in the Soviet Union or some dictatorship somewhere. Shouldn’t we do better than that?

Last month I offered a proposal to use ranked choice voting in the general election for the President, greatly reducing the possibility that any candidate would become a spoiler. Since then I’ve had an even better idea. Using the Bucklin system, an alternative form of ranked choice voting, would address the spoiler problem, is easy to understand, and is feasible with current voting technology. Continue Reading

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Ranked Choice Voting Initiative Launched in Oregon

News report

rcv ballot 2

An initiative campaign has been launched in Benton County, Oregon, to elect the County Commissioners and Sheriff by ranked choice voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting.

RCV allows voters to rank the candidates for an office in order of preference. If no candidate gets a majority of the first place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those votes are transferred to each voter’s next choice. This process is repeated until a candidate gets a majority.

RCV frees voters to vote for their true first choice without the fear of “wasting” their vote. Benton County Commissioners are elected on a partisan ballot, unlike most elected county officials in Oregon. If the initiative passes, this will provide an opportunity to see whether the number votes for third party and independent candidates is affected by the changed voting format.

The chief petitioners are Dan Rayfield, State Representative for House District 16, and Blair Bobier, a Corvallis lawyer and long-time electoral reform activist. The initiative is intended as part of a long-term strategy to bring RCV to other Oregon elections and eventually institute it statewide. A Political Action Committee has been formed, an initiative petition filed, and a website is up (Better Ballot Benton).

The sponsors have endorsements from local elected officials and have consulted with the county clerk to verify that the county’s vote tabulation machines can handle RCV. About 3,000 valid signatures from Benton County registered voters will be needed by August to put the initiative on the November 2016 ballot. Continue Reading

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A New Idea for Reforming Presidential Elections

Research report

voting box

The pathologies of our election system have been glaringly obvious for several Presidential election cycles, this year more than ever. Voter frustration with a two-party dominance propped up by our electoral laws has metastasized across the electorate.

Third party candidates like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader drew enthusiastic voter support in their campaigns, ultimately only to be crippled by the “spoiler” role. Now we have candidates best suited for independent candidacies—Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—trying to run within the dominant parties but being resisted or openly opposed by party regulars.

Why can’t we have a real choice of a variety of candidates in the general election instead of the dilemmas of “spoilers” and intraparty warfare? Well, we can. The cause of these problems is “winner take all” plurality rules which herd candidates and voters into just two parties. I propose a simple reform to the general election of the President which will:

  • reduce the spoiler problem,
  • allow independent and third party candidates a fair opportunity to run,
  • free voters to vote for their real first choice of the candidates,
  • and insure majority support for the winner.

This can be accomplished by using ranked choice voting in the process of translating the popular vote in each state into electoral votes. And it doesn’t require special ballots, new election technology, changes to federal law, or buy-in by all the states to begin improving the process. Continue Reading

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Where To Bring Ranked Choice Voting in Oregon

Research report

voting

The roilings of the two dominant political parties by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have more in common than “voter anger.” Both stem from serious defects in our plurality voting system: vote splitting and spoilers.

In plurality voting a voter can choose only one candidate for an office, and whichever candidate gets the most votes wins. In the Republican primaries votes are being split between multiple similar candidates, thus allowing a very different candidate—Donald Trump—to come out the winner with a minority of the votes. (As of Super Tuesday he’s been receiving from 21.3% to 49.3% of the vote, averaging 34.6%.)

Because of vote splitting, candidates are usually pressured to drop out of the race and not be a “spoiler” for “taking away” votes from another candidate. To avoid being a spoiler in the general election, Bernie Sanders is running for the Democratic Party’s nomination instead of running as an independent. However, insurgent campaigns like Sanders’ risk resentments between the insurgents and the party regulars, antagonizing those who would otherwise be allies against a common enemy.

The vote splitting and spoiler defects are common in elections at various levels in the United States, most of which use plurality voting. But there are alternative democratic voting systems, one of which is ranked choice voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting. RCV can lessen the vote splitting and spoiler problems and has been slowly spreading to cities and counties across the U.S.

What are the opportunities for bringing RCV to elections in Oregon? This report identifies which elected offices in Oregon would be capable of being filled by RCV given current election technology. Continue Reading

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How Not To Mobilize People

Book reviews

ameican insecurity

American Insecurity: Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction (2015)

It may be a jarring question to ask amidst Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Presidency, but why haven’t people been more politically active on issues of economic insecurity? After all, the public’s sense of economic insecurity has been growing at least since the 1980s, yet has rarely provoked mass political action like this. (I’ll return to Sanders in a moment.)

Adam Seth Levine, a professor at Cornell University, has published a solid work of political science addressing this question in “American Insecurity: Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction.” His thesis is one of those ideas that is so compelling that as soon as you read it, you start to believe you already must have known this. But you didn’t.

Levine first demonstrates that people are less likely to donate money or time to causes related to economic insecurity issues (unemployment, retirement security, health care costs, rising college tuitions) than to other issues (such as gun control, abortion, or the federal deficit).

That’s the gist of the mystery, although it’s a little more complex than that. For one thing, and counter-intuitively, those whose personal lives are affected by the issue are less likely to act on it than those whose personal lives are not affected. For another, those who are part of the labor force (working or seeking work) are less likely to act than those who are outside of it (the retired, the disabled, students). Continue Reading

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