Tuesday, December 4, 2012

American Federal Government Presentation #2: Instant Runoff Voting

Instant Runoff Voting: A Solution to Hyperpluralism

Hyperpluralism is a problem. The idea of our pluralistic system is one of distributed power. Interest groups influence the government, and the government makes policy. This works best when there are many special interests groups promoting candidates from which we choose representatives, who then balance one another within our government. In the US, we have many, many political parties, but rarely do we notice anyone not from the two largest parties. This has led to a state of hyperpluralism, wherein our two main parties have grown so strong that they've suppressed both the power of the government and the will of the people. We now have two angry mobs playing Tug of War with our civil rights, our economy, and our lives. We should reform our Presidential electoral system in order to provide a robust selection of candidates, which would in turn, reintroduce balance to our system of governance.

The United States was not designed to be hyperpluralistic, nor even a two-party system. The exact method of determining electors to elect the President was deliberately left up to the will of the state legislatures, whom have generally chosen to use an indirect popular vote. Since the creation of our Constitution, our Presidential electoral system has evolved in accordance with the principle of Duverger's law, wherein weaker parties are abandoned for stronger parties, and remaining weak parties ally to become a single party. (Schlesinger, Joseph) There are a few benefits to a strong two-party system, including the preservation of the "one person, one vote" principle that was cited multiple times during Supreme Court cases concerning gerrymandering in the 1960's. In addition, some supporters view a two-party system as more stable, and one that works to diminish the risk of extremist special interest groups. However, these benefits are far outweighed by the hyperpluralism that has overtaken our country.
The United States has many political parties that have managed a decent showing time and time again. Since 1990, third-party/independent candidates in about ten percent of Senate elections have managed to obtain at least five percent of the vote, and two of those candidates actually won. During the same time, third party/independent candidates in about fifteen percent of gubernatorial elections have managed to obtain at least five percent of the vote, and six of those candidates actually won. Since 1856, third-party/independent candidates in about thirty percent of presidential elections have managed to obtain at least 5% of the vote. Prior to the 21st Century, we elected governors from Progressive, Reform, Farmer-Labor, Populist, and Prohibition and many other parties. However, in the last century, we've been overtaken by our two-party system, which is the result of our single-seat plurality electoral system. Despite this, voters have begun to show a predilection for unlikely candidates, including Bernie Sanders, a noted Democratic Socialist, Jesse Ventura, a pro wrestler, and Lisa Murkowski, a candidate who was so popular that she won against a fellow Republican candidate via write-in votes (Rosen). The US has clearly shown that we have the ability to field candidates that don't subscribe to our current brand of stranglehold politics and that resonate with candidates... So why don't these candidates win elections?
Unfortunately for the US, plurality electoral systems discourage true voting in favor of tactical voting, which is also known as voter compromise, wherein voters are pressured to vote for a Big Two candidate, even if they don't like either one. A vote for any other candidate is seen as a 'waste' that will have no impact on the final result. This difficulty is sometimes summed up as "All votes for anyone other than the second place are votes for the winner", because by voting for other candidates, they have denied those votes to the second place candidate who could have won had they received them. An example of tactical voting is the 2000 Presidential Election, where in Democratic Candidate Al Gore lost to Republican Candidate George W. Bush. In this election, many people publicly blamed the people who voted for Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader because exit polls indicated that they would have preferred Gore to Bush. (Herron) So no Nader or no votes for Nader would have led to more votes for Gore. This is also known as the ‘spoiler effect’.
In addition, tactical voting relies heavily on voters' perception of how other voters intend to vote, which lends a great deal of power to the media and their corporate ownership thereof. Voters tend to believe the media's assertions as to who the leading contenders are likely to be in the election, and even voters who distrust the media understand that other voters do trust the media, and will vote for the of the Big Two. As fewer choices are offered to the voters, voters may vote for a candidate with whom they largely disagree so as to oppose a candidate with whom they disagree even more. The downside of this is that candidates will less closely reflect the viewpoints of those who vote for them. As an example, 2012 Presidential candidate Gary Johnson was allowed on the ballot in almost every state, had an impressive political record, stood with the majority of Americans on many large issues, including marijuana legalization, immigration reform, and guns, but received almost no media coverage. (Schlesinger, Craig) This media stranglehold subverts the power of the individual voter, which further compromises our electoral system.
The solution to this huge electoral problem is instant runoff voting. Instant runoff voting "allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference... without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their most preferred candidates. First choices are then tabulated, and if a candidate receives a majority of first choices, he or she is elected. If nobody has a clear majority of votes on the first count, a series of runoffs are simulated, using voters' preferences as indicated on their ballot. The candidate who receives the fewest first place choices is eliminated. All ballots are then retabulated, with each ballot counting as one vote for each voter's highest ranked candidate who has not been eliminated. Specifically, voters who chose the now-eliminated candidate will now have their ballots added to the totals of their second ranked candidate just as if they were voting in a traditional two-round runoff election, but all other voters get to continue supporting their top candidate who remains in the race. The weakest candidates are successively eliminated and their voters' ballots are added to the totals of their next choices until a candidate earns a majority of votes." (FairVote)
Instant runoff voting has the effect of avoiding tactical voting, the spoiler effect, returns the power of the media to the people, and would result in an end to the hyperpluralism that is holding our country hostage. It would supersede the 'one person, one vote' principle, but it would replace it with 'one person, one ballot', thus retaining the principle of equality behind that ideal. It would also require a Constitutional amendment abolishing our electoral college, but I think we can all agree that voters would not necessarily find this troubling.
Instant runoff voting has been successfully used in the United States since 1912. Many cities in the United States, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Aspen, Minneapolis, along with smaller cities and counties in Vermont, Maryland, Washington, Minnesota, and North Carolina, continue to use instant runoff voting for municipal and country elections today. I hope that you agree that the implementation of instant runoff voting for Presidential elections is a reform that needs to happen. Thank you for your time.

Works Cited

Herron, Michael C.; Lewis, Jeffrey B. "Did Ralph Nader Spoil a Gore Presidency? A Ballot-Level Study of Green and Reform Party Voters in the 2000 Presidential Election" UCLA. 24 April 2006. PDF. 1 December 2012.

Rosen, Yereth. "Senator Lisa Murkowski wins Alaska write-in campaign" Reuters. 17 November 2010. Web. 1 December 2012.

Schlesinger, Craig D. "Gary Johnson Supporters Protest Media Blackout Across Nation"  Independent Voter Network. 17 July 2012. Web. 1 December 2012.

Schlesinger, Joseph A; Schlesinger, Mildred S. "Maurice Duverger and the Study of Political  Parties" French Politics 4: 58. PDF. 1 December 2012.

"What Is IRV?" Center for Voting and Democracy. Web. 1 December 2012.

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