Why the United States Needs to Switch Away from First Past the Post Voting

In the United States, we use a system of voting called First Past the Post (FPTP). FPTP is as simple as it sounds; the candidate with the most votes wins. The second rule in FPTP is that each citizen gets one vote. This does sound like a great system. However, it is not. FPTP results in many problems, like minority rule, and will inevitably result in a two-party system, over time. However, the biggest problem with this system is the Spoiler Effect.

When I said that the United States of America’s voting system results in minority rule, that probably came as a surprise to you. It did for me. However, when you think about it, it does seem more clear. For example, say there were 5 candidates in a Presidential election. In First Past the Post, the candidate with the most votes wins. However, in an election with 5 candidates, you are guaranteed to win if only 20% of the citizens vote for you. That is minority rule; a candidate is not favored by a majority of the population, yet wins the election.

So, because of minority rule, citizens will realize that they must vote strategically to ensure that their least favorite candidate is not the winner. Over time, this leads to a two-party system. For example, let’s say that there was a presidential election, and last year the minority rule took place. The citizens ditch their preferred candidates for a more popular candidate, in order to keep the other candidate out of office. Over time, this results in a two-party system.

You could say that we could just start voting for a 3rd party candidate, but that is where the dreaded Spoiler Effect comes into play. The Spoiler Effect is the effect that happens when a 3rd party candidate gets lots of traction in a two-party system. This effect does not occur in other voting methods like Single Transferable Vote or Alternative Vote. A great example of the Spoiler Effect is the U.S. Presidential election of 2000. In that election, many blame Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for Democratic candidate Al Gore’s loss. Since many leftist voters voted for Nader in 2000, that took many votes away from Gore. The Spoiler Effect makes it so that if you try to change the two-party system by voting for your absolute favorite candidate, you end up helping a candidate that you dislike win the election.

FPTP has many other bad effects as well, like the ease of Gerrymandering. I believe that now you can probably understand just how bad the First Past the Post voting system is. You might be wondering what options there are instead of FPTP. Single Transferable Vote and Alternative Vote, like I mentioned earlier, are both great. I will write more on those voting systems soon. Ask Lessig to include these systems in the Citizens Equality Act of 2017 or write to your Representatives and Senators asking to change our voting system.

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