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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Robert Reich Nails It

Book reviews

saving capitalism

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (2015)

I’ve read tons of books on politics and the economy over the last thirty years, and this is the easily one of best of the lot. Not only is it clear enough to recommend to lay people, finally I’ve found a book I fully agree with. (What higher endorsement is there than that?)

The author, Robert Reich, was Labor Secretary during the first Clinton administration, only to see the “Putting People First” agenda he signed on for being cast overboard to please bond traders. He left before the second Clinton term and has continued to write and speak out on economic issues since then, recently endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders for President.

Reich’s view on the declining fortunes of most Americans and the rising fortunes of the wealthiest fraction of them can be simply stated: globalization and technological change have destroyed jobs even as political decisions have shifted the rewards of economic growth more and more toward the wealthy. I concur.

His view on contemporary political debates can also be stated succinctly: the government vs. market debate is totally beside the point, because the real issue is the fundamental political structure of the economy. He hammers home the reality that there is no such thing as a “natural” market economy, because a market is the creation of laws. I emphatically concur.

The underlying structure of our market economy is where the most consequential political decisions have been made since the 1980s. Reich identifies five key arenas: 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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My Mojo Ain’t Working

Book reviews

american mojo

American Mojo: Lost and Found (2015)

Why is the U.S. middle class in economic decline and what can be done about it? These questions are given the attention they demand by Peter D. Kiernan in “American Mojo: Lost and Found,” but unfortunately the book is frustratingly incoherent.

Kiernan writes in an engaging, reportorial style and amasses lots of pertinent information from a multiplicity of sources. But I had the sense that he got lost in this sea of information and failed to find a compass to guide him through it. I did learn a few things, but came away without feeling any more illuminated on the problem than I had been before.

Part I, comprised of the first eight chapters, retells yet again the oft-told story of the rise of the U.S. middle class in the two decades following World War II and its decline from the 1970s into the present. In essence, the middle class rose because the U.S. was in a favorable economic position vis-à-vis other countries and declined as other countries became serious competitors.

That seems to be his central theme, or at least he says so in his introduction. But he also says the middle class rose due to “government interventions,” “a harmonic convergence of world events,” “a nationwide unity of vision,” “the driving force of its ambition and aspiration,” and “hard work.” Certainly there were multiple causes, but how are we to sort out the more important of these from the less important? (Or the outright spurious—“a nationwide unity of vision”?) Continue Reading

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