Step-by-Step Guide to Fixing US Elections

A couple of days I promised some family members that I’d write out how we can fix the broken voting system in the US. Why the voting system? Because until we can break free of the two-party system, nothing else in government is getting fixed.

Many parts of life in the US are broken. I’m not offering a fix for all of them. This is specific to voting- and party-systems. Fixing this will make it easier to fix other things, but that’s another essay.

Step 1. Forget the national elections.

Nothing is going to get fixed on the national level. The federal system of government means that all major fixes need to start lower. Vote at the national level for whoever you think will keep the system running because once the system goes smash we’re screwed. But don’t expect them to fix anything.

Step 2. Find a 3rd party you can get behind.

The US has lots of third parties. Most of them are small. Libertarians and Greens, of course, are trying to function on the national stage. With uniformly poor outcomes beyond gaining name recognition. At this point, it doesn’t really matter what 3rd party you join. Try to find one whose platform you agree with, or at least one you can live with.

Step 3. Work to get your 3rd party behind voting reform.

If your chosen 3rd party isn’t already in support of voting reform, try to get it added to the platform. Start small — most parties have several divisions. They function at county level, state, level, national level, and sometimes other levels as well.

Your county level party platform can include voting reform, even if the state or national level doesn’t. Get it in where ever you can. Voting reform inherently favors 3rd parties. Until there is reform, most third parties are locked out of effective participation.

Voting reform could take several approaches. GCP Grey’s Politics in the Animal Kingdom video series does a good job of introducing the flaws in our current voting system, and some of the alternatives.

Step 4. Focus on local elections.

Before you can push into state and national elections, your party needs two things: experience and a proven resume. So you need to start locally. Focus on getting your candidates into town councils, mayors offices, and county boards.

Tip: It is very hard to challenge a local incumbent. Look for elections where someone is retiring and run your candidate for those positions.

Step 5. Make alliances with other 3rd parties.

Reach out to local 3rd parties. You may have very different platforms, very different ideas for how local, state, and national problems can be fixed, even different ideas as to what the problems are. But you share one important thing: You are trying to overturn the existing system. So where you can, make alliances. Agree to not run against each other in local elections and support each other’s candidates. If your candidates are running for different positions in the same voting district, they can campaign together.

Step 6. Take it to the state level.

Once you have some candidates who are experienced at the local level and can wave an impressive resume around, it’s time to look to the state house. If you’ve been focusing on local elections across several towns or counties, you should have a fair bit of name recognition in some of the state-level voting districts. Again, look for a race where you won’t be running against an incumbent. These are your best chances.

If your other 3rd party allies are running at the state level as well, talk with them about how you will handle your campaigns. Will you continue not running against each other? Your candidate can run for state congressional district 12 and theirs can run for district 13. Or you might run candidates against each other but agree to focus your campaign on the major parties and not on attacking each other.

Step 7. Get enough people in the statehouse to push for reform.

Voting reform will happen at the state level. It is the states who decide how voting works. State legislatures draw up the voting districts. State legislatures decide if the state’s electoral college vote will be winner-take-all or proportional. State legislatures decide if votes for the national congress will be first-past-the-post or proportional or some other system.

Option: reach out to the weaker major party. Many areas of the US are dominated by one of the two major parties. If your state is dominated by Republicans, then it will be to the Democrats advantage to get voter reform on the state level. Most voting reform options will undermine the problems of gerrymandering. In states gerrymandered to favor Republicans, this gives Democrats incentive to support voting reform.

Step 8. Start building your next generation of candidates.

With your party’s candidates in the state legislatures, they can select aides who will learn the system from the inside. This will give them an advantage when it comes to running for election themselves and maneuvering through the system to make the changes they want.

Step 9. Take it federal.

With candidates experienced at the state level, you can start looking at elections for Congress, and eventually the Presidency.

Again, breaking open the voting system to allow for more representation will not fix all the problems in the US or the US government. But it will give us a chance to (eventually) vote for people we believe are worth voting for, instead of endless choices between the “lesser of two evils.”