Polarizing Politics and Ranked Choice Voting
Every two years, the entire United States House of Representatives is up for re-election. This seemingly sets up the chamber to be composed of different members every cycle; however, without term limits, limits on fundraising, and having only one alternative candidate districts turn into reliably red or decisively blue districts, electing the same member or a different member from the same party year after year, cycle after cycle. This creates a multitude of problems such as members not representing the values of their constituents, rather the fringe voters who elect them in the primaries, members becoming corrupt and complacent in the process, and members not serving, but being served by the system. The only way to combat these difficulties is by reforming our electoral system to reconstruct the stagnant body of politicians into a progress-filled chamber.
Initially, The United States House of Representatives was set up to be the people’s house — a place where constituents could easily influence policy and make sure their interests were being heard. Members, unlike the Senate and Presidency, were, and are still up for re-election every two years, so they need to please their constituents or they will be voted out. At least that is how President Washington and the founding fathers envisioned it. Today, we find ourselves with a divided congress, reluctant to make change, along with an American populace who is disgruntled with the process. This explains why on November 9, 2016, according to Real Clear Politics, only 14.9% of Americans approved of the job congress was doing, however contrary to this information, 97% of House members were re-elected (Jarvis).
Precisely where the problem lies is in our electoral system. Every American who voted on November 9, 2016, voted for their House member or their opponent. Whichever received more votes, whether it be by a landslide or by a single vote, would represent the district for two years. This is because we elect our members using a system widely regarded as the First Past the Post system, or FPP (King). In this system, a majority is not needed, but rather a simple plurality. Proponents argue that this is the fairest way to determine winners and losers, because it simply awards the person who received the most votes. I disagree. The First Past the Post system is what has caused us to have unfair, one sided elections and invincible members of the House.
The two-party system is not a problem, yet how the two parties constructed their primaries is. Far-left democrats choose their ideal candidate in their primary, and extreme-right Republicans choose their ideal candidate in their primary for the two to face off. This leaves a multitude of people who identify as centrists, a completely different political ideology, without a candidate. The Centrist Project, while having a different approach to the same goal, describes the utter importance and need of more ideologies within our politics today. “Our political system is at a crossroads. Our two parties are producing zero results for the American people, as they are more focused on running to the extremes to win elections than coming to center to solve problems. The political pendulum swings back and forth, but very little is getting done. It’s time to change the equation (Wheelan).”
Easily, activists turn to a third party, and yet the valiant call for a third party is uniquely unattainable in America because of the monopoly the Republican and Democratic parties have on the system and the difference between federal government and state government. My goal of reforming how US House members are elected, will not affect how Senators, Governors, or the President are elected, nor should it. Having a third party in the House but nowhere else in our government would be odd at best and working as obstructionists at worst. Asking for a third party and desiring more diversity of opinion within our two parties are unalike.
Nevertheless, while third parties are unattainable, electoral reform isn’t. By keeping the districts the same single-member districts they are today, we keep the benefits of our system today, such as having a single member representing the district and being grouped with like minded individuals in the district. The only change that would be noticeably different would be at the polls when we switch to a Ranked Choice Voting System, or RCV.
In fact, according to fairvote.org, this system would not necessarily change who wins but how they win. Former President Barack Obama (D-IL) and his rival, Senator and Former Presidential Nominee John McCain (R-AZ), both agree, RCV is the fairest way to have a representative democracy. For this reason, we find ourselves progressed past the possible issue of RCV helping one party or the other and into the reason of why we would benefit.
To illustrate, RCV ballots look similar to FPP ballots but with a few differences. Imagine for a moment a fierce feline, Mr. Tiger, a moderate feline, Mrs. Cat, and a courageous canine, Mr. Coyote, are running for a House district. They each have some support within their constituency, and no one can predict who will win. In a FPP system, either Mr. Tiger or Mrs. Cat would drop out, or their supporters would consolidate around one or the other because, at the end of the day, a feline is better than a canine. If they split their votes between the felines, the Coyote will surely win. This is, essentially, the problem with the FPP House districts.
Alternatively, in a RCV district, Mr. Tiger’s supporters would rank Mr. Tiger on their ballot as 1, Mrs. Cat as 2, and Mr. Coyote as 3. Mrs. Cat’s supporters would do the same, except with Mrs. Cat at the top. Mr. Coyote’s voters would put him at the top, and would mostly put Mrs. Cat as 2, because a moderate feline is much better than a fierce feline. If the district was 50%+ canine, the canine would win, as he has secured a majority of the votes, but if the district was 50%+ feline, Mrs. Cat would likely win as she is the number one choice of her own supporters, and the number two choice of both Mr. Coyote’s and Mr. Tiger’s supporters.
As a result, ranked choice voting takes out costly primaries and runoffs, as it is an immediate primary, general, and runoff election, all compiled into one election. It is frequently referred to as “instant-runoff voting” (Richie). It combats voter fatigue, but most importantly, it allows centrist candidates, such as Mrs. Cat, a shot at winning a congressional seat.
Thus, by simply reforming how members are elected, we completely alter the outlook on American politics today. Members will be more in line with all of their constituents, not just a select plurality, and will truly have to work for progress. RCV provides voters with more power, better representatives, and a congress working for everyone, not just the extremities.
Jarvis, Sonia R. “Reelection Rates Over the Years.” Open Secrets. N.p., 31 Dec. 2016. Web. 4 May 2017. <https://www.opensecrets.org/overview/reelect.php>.
King, Charles. “Electoral Systems.” Electoral Systems. Georgetown, 2000. Web. 05 May 2017. <http://faculty.georgetown.edu/kingch/Electoral_Systems.htm>.
Richie, Rob. “Electoral Systems.” FairVote. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017. <http://www.fairvote.org/electoral_systems#research_electoralsystemsus>.
Richie, Rob. “Ranked Choice Voting/Instant Runoff.” Fair Vote. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2017.
Wheelan, Charles. “Bringing Innovation to Politics.” The Centrist Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2017. <http://www.centristproject.org/mission>.