Credit: CBS News

How to Solve the Broken American Political Arena

By Ben Nebesky

American politics is experiencing a much more volatile political climate than earlier in history. Politicians focus more on a opponent’s personality rather than their policies as a driver for their campaign. This type of mudslinging leads to a less bipartisan form of representation that does not represent our population. Redistricting, also known as gerrymandering, also contributes to this misrepresentation in our various levels of legislature and government. This all has resulted in a style of campaigning and media coverage that does not focus on one’s policy, but rather a candidate’s personal history and personality traits, rather than their policy points.

Alternative voting methods present a way to relieve these types of faults in our democratic system. In comparison to a computer, as one of the oldest democracies in the world, the United States has not “updated” its operating system that it uses to elect its leaders and representatives. Much younger democracies such as Ireland have started to use these alternative voting methods to avoid some of the inequities in ours (Adler, Hunte, Nasser, Lechtenberg, & Qari, 2019). The State of Maine and cities such as San Francisco have recently utilized these voting methods as a solution. These American constituencies are acting as perfect testing grounds for a little known option to alleviate frustration with our government. The best part, it works.

There are two main forms of alternative voting methods that are very popular. The first, called Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), is used most widely and has started to gain traction with its use in the United States. Some of the most notable, as stated earlier are the State of Maine and the City of San Francisco. Voters literally numerically rank as many candidates as they wish so they do not have to decide between the “lesser evil.” However, it is only used when a candidate does not receive more than 50% of the “number 1” votes. The votes of the candidate that received the least percentage are redistributed to the other candidates and so on until a candidate reaches 50% (“Ranked Choice Voting/Instant Runoff”, n.d.).

RCV sample ballot from Maine, Credit: New York Times

When RCV is used in a multi-winner district platform, it is called single transferable vote. This is the form of RCV that is used in the country of Ireland. A massive benefit to RCV, when used with a multi-winner district system, would result in the virtual elimination of the effects of partisan gerrymandering (Spencer, Hughes, & Richie, 2015). With a multi-winner district system, multiple voices from each constituency would be able to be heard which eliminates the need for partisan gerrymandering (Spencer et al., 2015). Although, a switch to an alternative voting system and a multi-winner district system is a long shot. Additionally, RCV would also save money (“Ranked Choice Voting/Instant Runoff”, n.d.). Another name for RCV is “Instant Runoff Voting,” since votes are automatically redistributed through the nature of it’s process, runoff elections would no longer have a need to exist.

RCV does have some disadvantages. In a study done on elections that use RCV in local elections, there was evidence that voters would rely on candidate traits to make their decisions in the ballot box (McDaniel, 2018). Due to the cognitive difficulty, there was a correlation found between positive increases in ballot errors with foreign-born voters (McDaniel, 2018). There was also evidence that the use of RCV correlated to increased disparities between the groups that are more or less likely to vote (McDaniel, 2018). However, I would argue that these are inequalities that are engrained deeply in our society and is not evidence of a fault in Ranked Choice Voting. It is instead evidence of some of the very inequalities that RCV will present opportunities to correct.

Credit: The Center for Election Science

Approval voting is different than RCV but often yields the same positive effects. Instead of the traditional plurality voting method in which the candidate with the most votes wins, approval voting allows for your vote to live on through many choices. When you cast your ballot and you are faced with multiple candidates, you may state your opinions about each candidate by giving a “yes” or “no” vote for each candidate. Subsequently, the candidate with the most “yes” votes wins theelection. This prevents any candidate from “stealing” the votes from another, meaning if you support two candidates, you may state such approval through this method (“Approval Voting”, n.d.).

Approval Voting does not seem very popular when it comes to the actual implementation into elections. Ranked Choice Voting, however, is gaining traction and it has been for many years. When President Barack Obama was a State Senator for the State of Illinois, he introduced a bill in order to make a state constitutional amendment in order to establish multi-winner districts in 2001. A year later, he introduced another bill in order to require partisan primaries for congressional office to use RCV in Illinois and the bill also allowed local constituencies to use it as well. In the same year, it also earned the approval and backing of John McCain (“Ranked Choice Voting/Instant Runoff”, n.d.).

One of the most important and critical benefits of the alternative methods is the reduction of volatile political rhetoric (The Editorial Board, 2018). This can be attributed primarily to the need for widespread support in order to win an election. Candidates don’t want to attack their opponents so that voters will still put them as their second, third, etc. option. In an age of political rhetoric where virtually nothing is off limits, this is a desperately needed change. As a new voter, I am worried about elections will look like in the future. Voters should be focusing on a candidates qualifications and policy, rather than their social media. These alternative voting methods also increases the chance for third party candidates to win elections. By far, the most important benefit to both of these voting methods, is that a candidate needs widespread support from all voters in order to win (Brams & Fishburn, 2007).

Campaign ad for the Maine Gubernatorial race

Generally, most solutions to our political inequities and issues in our society are complex and complicated. The way we vote is a solution that has been overlooked for many years. It is absolutely abhorrent to me that there is a very simple solution to multiple fundamental problems with our great republic. It would cure most of the ailments that is slowly chipping away at our values that we are so famous for. It may be an uncomfortable change, but it is one that we desperately need. It is also proven that voters are significantly more satisfied with Ranked Choice Voting compared to the traditional plurality (Donovan, T., Gracey, K., & Tolbert, C., 2016).

Instead of having an election end with half the country (or state, county, etc.) furious at the results, lets have most of the country unite. Why not have elected officials that everyone can support on some level? No, you may not get the candidate that you view as the most ideal, but you will get someone who is more focused on policy rather than what the other side is doing. You may not get radical change, but you will get change that you and your neighbor can probably support. Imagine not screaming over politics with your politically crazy relative at Thanksgiving dinner, oh what a world that would be. That is what our communities would look like if we changed our voting system. A truly United States, where we stop spending our time arguing, and actually get something done.


Bibliography

  1. Adler, S., Hunte, T., Nasser, L., Lechtenberg, S., & Qari, S. (2019, November 4). Tweak the Vote. Radiolab. Podcast retrieved from https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/tweak-vote
  2. Approval Voting. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.electionscience.org/learn/library/approval-voting/
  3. Brams, S. J., & Fishburn, P. C. (2007). Approval Voting. New York (NY): Springer.
  4. Donovan, T., Gracey, K., & Tolbert, C. (2016). Campaign civility under preferential and plurality voting. Electoral Studies, 42, 157–163 doi: 10.1016/j.electstud.2016.02.009
  5. McDaniel, J. (2018). Does more choice lead to reduced racially polarized voting? assessing the impact of ranked-choice voting in mayoral elections. California Journal of Politics and Policy, 10(2), 0_1,1–24. doi:http://dx.doi.org.unr.idm.oclc.org/10.5070/P2cjpp10241252
  6. Niemi, R. (1984). The Problem of Strategic Behavior under Approval Voting. American Political Science Review, 78(4), 952–958. doi:10.2307/1955800
  7. Ranked Choice Voting/Instant Runoff [Webpage] (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.fairvote.org/rcv#where_is_ranked_choice_voting_used
  8. Spencer, A.; Hughes, C.; Richie, R. (2015). Escaping the thicket: The ranked choice voting solution to america’s redistricting crisis. Cumberland Law Review 46(2), 377–424.
  9. The Editorial Board. (2018, June 9). Vote for Me! For Second Place, at Least?. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/opinion/ranked-choice-voting-maine-san-francisco.html
  10. Washington Post. (2018, October 31). How ranked choice voting could tip the scales in Maine’s tight 2nd District. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3crCblDahy8