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In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche


Five Changes to Our Electoral System I would love to see

Most Americans hate their electoral system. Notably, former President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) has gotten a lot of support by attacking the electoral system.

Trump is not alone other politicians, including Stacy Abrams (D-Georgia), have made similar attacks. Abrams’ and Trumps’ election attacks work because America’s voting system is often frustrating and confusing. Worst of all, the present American electoral system leaves large segments of the population with no representation.

There is no such thing as a perfect electoral system. However, there are many improvements we could make to America’s election system. Fortunately, there are efforts to implement some electoral reforms in America including widespread efforts to adopt ranked-choice and mail-in voting. Yet I believe those efforts do go far enough.

Five Changes to Our Election System that could make America more democratic

Here are five changes to our election system that could make America’s government more representative and responsive to the people.

1. Proportional Representation

In proportional representation legislators represent a percentage of the electorate rather than a geographic area. To explain, each district gets two or more representatives, each of of whom represents a proportion of the electorate. Hence, the term proportional representation.

For example, in a district with three proportional representatives. The three candidates that get the most votes go to Congress or the legislature. If the Democrat won 43% of the vote, the Republican won 37% of the vote, the Libertarian won 15% of the vote and the Green won 5% of the vote. The Democrat, the Republican and the Libertarian get seats in the legislature.

The advantage to proportional representation is that members of minority parties and groups get representation. For example, Democrats in Red states such as Texas and Republicans in Blue states such as California. Under our current system, Democrats in Red areas and Republicans in Blue areas get no representation in Congress or state legislatures.

Moreover, proportional representation could encourage third parties by giving them a chance to elect legislators or representatives. Proportional representation could reduce gerrymandering by taking away the principal motivation for gerrymanders. That motivation is the fear some groups will have no representation without gerrymandering.

Proportional Representation has been successful in many countries including Ireland, Malta, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Norway, and Spain. Notably, when authoritarian Viktor Orbán began limiting democracy in Hungary one of his first efforts was to scrap proportional representation.

2. Party-List Elections

In a party-list system people vote for political parties which chose the officeholders.

The advantage to party-list elections is that they can depersonalize electoral contests. The election is about the party not the candidates. Party list could eliminate much of the mudslinging and name calling that dissuade many people from voting. Ideally, elections could become about policies or ideas rather than personality contests.

Party-list is not as undemocratic as some people believe. Many people only vote for parties and pay no attention to the candidates. For example, many Republicans mindlessly vote for Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) despite his blatant racism, corruption, misogyny, and arrogance. In a party list system, party leaders could ignore celebrity politicians such as Trump. Or use somebody like Trump as a figurehead to attract votes.

One advantage to party list systems is to eliminate the need for special elections or gubernatorial appointments. Instead, when a seat becomes vacant the party that won the last election fills it. If voters dislike the party’s choice they have a chance to vote the party out at the next election.

3. Ranked Choice Voting/Instant Runoff

In Ranked Choice Voting, or the Instant Runoff. Voters rank candidates as their first, second, third, fourth, or fifth choices. Hence the term Ranked Choice.

Election officials, or algorithms, then eliminate the candidates that get the least votes until just one candidate, or a few candidates in Proportional Representation, are left. Thus, the term Instant Runoff.

Here’s how Ranked Choice could work. You get five choices on your ballot: Green, Democrat, Whig, Libertarian, and Republican. You are a strong gun rights advocate so your first choice is Libertarian. However, you could live with the Republican or the Whig. Yet you cannot stand the Democrat or the Green.

Thus your vote will be as follows: Libertarian, Republican, Whig, Democrat, Green. In the election the Libertarian gets 15%, the Republican 25%, the Green 5%, the Democrat 25%, and the Whig 30%. Election authorities hold runoffs until somebody gets a clear majority. In the first runoff they eliminate the Libertarian and the Green. They transfer your vote to the Republican. They continue eliminating candidates until there is a clear winner or winners.

For example, whoever gets the Libertarians’ 15% is the winner. Thus Whigs, Republicans, and Democrats will be competing to meet Libertarians demands in order to win. However, in a proportional system, the Whigs, the Democrats, the Libertarians, and the Republicans could win seats.

An advantage to Ranked Choice is that candidates will pay attention to and respect other parties’ voters because they could need them on election day. Hence, Ranked Choice could eliminate a lot of the nasty campaigning that turns voters off. No Republican will call Democrats Communists if he needs their votes, for example.

4. Abolish Primary Elections

Primary elections are undemocratic because under 20% of the electorate votes in the typical primary. For example, Pew Research estimates 19.6% of voters cast ballots in the 2018 US House of Representatives primaries.

Thus, primaries give a minority effective control over the electoral process. Primaries are unfair because that minority that not reflect the electorate. For example, primary voters are usually, older, whiter, better educated, and more ideological than the majority.

One problem with primaries is that issues that appeal only to the minority that votes in them dominate the election cycle. For example, abortion, gun rights, tax reduction, gay rights, trans rights, etc. Similarly, candidates concentrate on policies such as income tax rate cuts which benefit older and more affluent people at the majority’s expense. Hence, America has a tax system where factory workers pay higher tax rates than millionaires.

Meanwhile candidates ignore issues that matter to most voters such as healthcare, the cost of living, crime, foreign policy, education, jobs, etc. An inevitable result of this focus on minority issues that a large proportion of the people tune out the election because all they hear is talk of things they do not care about.

Another inevitable result of the primary system is a system in which a large percentage of the population refuses to vote. The nonvoters rightly conclude their vote will have no effect and decide not to waste their time with elections.

Forcing parties and candidates to only run in the general election could make them responsive to most voters. Pew estimates around 33% of eligible voters or 80 million Americans, refused to cast ballots in 2020.

5. Abolish Midterm, Off-Year, and Special Elections

Interestingly, one of the most undemocratic features of America’s electoral system is the plethora of midterm, off-year, and special elections. These contests are undemocratic because most people do not vote in them.

For example, 36.7% of eligible voters participated in the 2014 midterms, the United States Election Project estimates. In 2018, a record-high midterm turnout consisted of 49.3%, or less than half, of eligible voters.

Midterm elections are bad because they give a minority an effective veto over the wishes of the majority. Moreover, midterms allow extremist groups such as the Tea Party and “Moderate Democrats” (in reality extreme neoliberals) to masquerade as majorities because their members are more likely to vote in off years.

I think a better system could be to give US Representatives a four-year term concurrent with the President. Hence we could hold just one Federal and state election every four years.

Off-year elections and primaries are getting worse. For example, South Dakota’s government scheduled a referendum on Medicaid expansion for 7 June 2022, Washington Post Columnist Dana Milbank notes.

June 7 is the date of South Dakota’s primary elections, when mostly Republicans could vote which makes the referendum preventing Medicaid expansion more likely to pass. To explain, Republicans oppose Medicaid expansion but polls show most South Dakota residents support expansion. Hence, South Dakota’s Republican government is using a special election to circumvent democracy.

One way to prevent such circumvention is to take away the off-year and special elections. If states hold referendums require them to be at the same time as the presidential election.

Eliminating mid-term and off-year elections could give us a Congress, governors, and legislatures elected by the majority. Notably, 60.1% of eligible voters participated in the 2016 presidential election and 66.8% of eligible voters participated in the 2020 presidential election.

Abolishing off or odd year elections, special elections and runoffs could make the system more representative. We could eliminate the need for runoffs with ranked choice voting and instant runoffs. Party-list elections could eliminate the need for special elections by allowing the party that won the last election to fill empty seats. That could eliminate the problem of Governors appointing replacements of their party against voters’ wishes.

Holding one election every four years will be cheaper. It’ll also be easier on politicians who will have to spend less time fundraising and campaigning. For example, US Representatives run every two years so they spend half or more of their time either campaigning or fundraising.

Holding one election every four years will be cheaper. It’ll also be easier on politicians who will have to spend less time fundraising and campaigning. For example, US Representatives run every two years so they spend half or more of their time either campaigning or fundraising.

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