Let’s Reform Our Democracy to Properly Represent The Interests Of All Americans
Welcome to my website where you can find more on my recent book, The Democracy Amendments, an archive of my periodic Vermont Public Radio commentaries, opinion pieces, plus brief details and links to democracy building events I support as an activist, and a gallery of photos drawn from activities I’ve enjoyed. Thanks for visiting.
TIME TO ELECT ALL OUR REPRESENTATIVES WITH MAJORITY RATHER THAN MINORITY VOTER SUPPORT
Commentary in VTDIGGER on Fri. Aug 7th, 2020
In deciding how to vote in our August 11th primary election, many of us are faced with a dilemma.
It’s due to our widespread use of plurality voting in which the candidate or candidates with the highest vote totals, but not necessarily a majority of voter support, go on to the general election in November.
Do I vote for the candidate or candidates I like best, or should I narrow my option(s) to choose among only the candidate(s) I believe are most likely to be elected, so I don’t waste my vote? Our present way of voting in Vermont can and likely often does result in our electing candidates that a majority of us would not necessarily support, and this increases the political division and partisanship we see in our American politics today.
Unless choosing among only one of two candidates, we face this dilemma every time we vote, whether in the primary or general election for electing our US President and Vice President, US Senators and Representative, our Governor and all other state and local representatives. If I vote for my first choice, will I actually help elect my worst choice?
This dilemma applies across all parties in all elections. However, this year’s Democratic primary ballot in the Chittenden District to select among 13 candidates to fill 6 Vermont Senate seats provides an extreme example. Four current Senators are up for re-election and thus are better known to many voters. But there are many potentially well qualified alternatives in the race. If 100 percent of votes were equally divided among all 13, each candidate would receive less than 8 percent of the vote. This hardly indicates that a majority of voters would support any particular candidate. When the actual votes are counted, the 6 with the highest number of votes will go on to the general election in November. However, with so many candidates, it’s highly unlikely that any of the six will obtain a 50% majority of the vote. Most of the six winners will be nowhere near 50%.
Whether locally, statewide or nationally, our present plurality-based voting system works in ways that undermine, rather than strengthen, our democracy. It helps to elect leaders with a passionate but minority base of support, that a majority of voters might never approve of. As voter interest and participation drops in elections, it makes it easier for the passionate minority to win. It also provides incentive for the passionate minority to “game” the system to their advantage by, for example, limiting voter turnout by others who might vote differently.
This system of electing our representatives with a plurality rather than a majority of votes is one, though not the only, big reason our country is so ideologically divided and our federal political system has become so widely viewed as dysfunctional. It doesn’t have to be this way.
We can and should instead strengthen our democracy by adopting a method of voting that ensures that each of the candidates we ultimately select, regardless of party or ideology, has a majority of all voters in support. This can easily be done in an election by using ranked choice voting. This popular electoral system allows voters to rank candidates by preference, meaning they can submit ballots that list not only their first-choice candidate for a position, but also their second, third and so on.
The candidate with the majority (more than 50%) of first-choice votes wins outright. If no candidate gets a majority of first-choice votes, then it triggers a new counting process. The candidate who did the worst is eliminated, and that candidate’s voters’ ballots are redistributed to their second-choice pick. In other words, if you ranked a losing candidate as your first choice, and the candidate is eliminated, then your vote still counts: it just moves to your second-choice candidate. That process continues until there is a candidate who has the majority of votes.
At a time of great national political division and discord, it’s time to strengthen our democracy in a wide variety of ways to better serve our broad public interests. Adopting ranked choice voting is an important first step.
Letter to the Editor — submitted to The Economist on July 18th, 2018
America’s dysfunctional politics (The Minority Majority, July 14th) is, at root, a system problem. The way it currently is structured and financed has many inter-related parts contributing to its failure to provide proper representation for the broad public interests of its citizens – the very reason colonists broke from Great Britain, declared independence, and founded our country.
Today, despite our many ideological differences, Americans all have a common interest in achieving this goal of proper representation.
A system problem cannot be repaired by correcting only a few of its many dysfunctional parts, and a broad enough movement cannot be mounted, much less be successful, without a strategy that is broad and comprehensive enough to be understood by tens of millions across party lines to, if enacted, actually repair the broken system.
Sadly, such a strategy and movement doesn’t yet exist in America. Instead, the Boards of Directors of hundreds of activist non-profits, direct their organizations to push back against the continuing erosions of voting rights, consumer protections, and more that are merely symptoms of the systemic political dysfunction. To be fair, outcomes would be worse without this pushback.
Meanwhile, the majority of these same activist non-profits have, unsuccessfully for decades, continued the strategy of pressing Congress to reform the structure and financing of our political system. It hasn’t worked. Our Founding Fathers believed that, if we came to this point in the future, Congress would never initiate comprehensive reform. It’s simply not in Congress’s interest.
For this reason, our Constitution provides, in Article V, an alternate way that we citizens can use to have much more control over reform proposals. We can press our state legislatures to call a Constitutional Convention to propose amendments. Properly worded amendments will strengthen our Constitution so that our elected representatives have much more incentive to prioritize the broad public interests of citizens over narrower private interests.
Sadly, the Boards of Directors of most of the hundreds of activist non-profits do not support such a strategy. But Boards of Directors have a duty to members of their organizations, to accomplish the goals set on behalf of their members. When not making progress toward these goals, and instead only pushing back against the symptoms of political dysfunction that continually erode progress towards these goals, it’s time to re-assess that strategy.
South Burlington, Vermont