Our democracy is under attack, and it’s not difficult to identify the approaching armies. The big guns of campaign financing are substituting $1 for one vote. District boundary gerrymandering is unleveling the playing field for many candidates. Voter suppression is decimating the electorate one vote at a time. And, the Electoral College can result in the preferred candidate losing an election. Again, you decide whether your legislators are fighting for democracy or for your party. That’ll tell you whether you’re complicit in these attacks on our form of government.
There’s one enemy of our democracy that both major parties of our two-party system of politics support: our two-major-party system of politics. All of the attacks on our democracy are wreaking havoc, but the foundation of our dis-politics is the polarity created by our only having two viewpoints, two choices, two disparate ideologies to choose from. Why only two? Our nation’s problems are not black and white but come in various shades of gray. There are not just two ways forward.
The problem, unfortunately, is that both parties are complicit in keeping our two-party system the rule of engagement. The Republicans fear another Ross Perot, just as the Democrats don’t ever again want to see a Ralph Nader muddy the electoral waters. And yet, a viable third, maybe even a fourth party is just what our nation needs to stop all the bipolar bickering that’s created the demilitarized zone of moderate, centrist politics that is the natural home for many of us who want to bring our nation back together. It’s OK to admit it: we’re not the extremists our friends think we are. We just look that way because we only have two choices. What we need is more.
Fortunately, there is a way to enable people to vote their consciences without the sense that they’re throwing their votes away on some bound-to-lose candidate from a third party. It’s also a way that does not pose an existential threat to either major party and offers a way to bridge the divide that is tearing our nation apart.
It’s ranked choice voting.
Here’s how it works. If there are five candidates for one office, everyone marks the ballot with their first, second, third choice, etc. When the elections office tallies the votes, if a candidate has a majority of first-choice votes, that person is elected. If no candidate has more than 50% of the first-choice votes, the votes for the candidate receiving the least first-choice votes are redistributed according to those voters’ second choice. This process continues until one candidate rises above 50%. Nobody is ever again elected without a majority preference. It’s that simple. Everybody’s vote counts.
The benefits of this type of voting are obvious. The winning candidate has majority support. People can vote their real preference without fear of throwing their vote away. No more lesser-of-two-evils voting. The major parties don’t have to worry about the spoiler effect of a third-party candidate robbing them of the votes they need to win because everybody’s preference counts no matter whom they vote for. And no one can win an election with barely a third of the votes as recently happened in the 2016 Calaveras County Board of Supervisors election.
These benefits are all obvious. But think about how this type of voting would change campaigning. This would reduce the negative campaigning and attack ads that plague our current system. Candidates would be compelled – can you imagine? – to be civil, respectful, even courteous toward other candidates because they don’t want to alienate any voters, especially those for whom they might be their second or even third choice.
This could lead to a Congress with not only Republicans and Democrats but duly-elected members of a newly formed independent party or moderate party or the Green Party or the Libertarian Party. How refreshing would that be? Think about how the legislative agenda and political processes would change if there weren’t just two sides of the aisle but many aisles and many avenues for democracy to represent all the people. Does the word “compromise” come to mind? How about “moderation,” centrist attitudes, coalition building, even cooperation. Can you imagine politicians needing to work together to get legislation passed?
It’s time to end the war on our democracy caught between two partisan factions shelling each other from over the horizon with our nation in the line of fire. We need change. We need peace in the government. Some people are afraid of change. In the evolution of a species – or a civilization – the inability to adapt to a new environment means death and eventually extinction. Certainly we’re in a new and rapidly evolving environment, evolving faster than at any time in human history. We’ll either adapt or go extinct. Let’s not allow our nation to implode because we’re too afraid of change. We’re already at the brink.
Jim Pesout is a retired high school teacher who lives in Mountain Ranch. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.